As most people who’ve become vegan curious know - a balanced vegetarian or vegan diets can provide many health benefits. Such benefits range from associations to weight loss, better blood sugar control, a decreased risk of heart disease and a lower risk of certain types of cancer.
Yet, such dietary changes can be quite challenging in several ways from getting the well-rounded amounts of nutrients one needs to maintaining it. So if you’ve already switched and stumbled across issues, or you’re still on the fence this Vegan Month, we’ve got some common mistakes everyone makes and how to avoid them.
1. Assuming Products Are Automatically Healthier & Not Eating Enough Whole Foods
Sadly for those of us that are plan-based, products that are plant-based aren’t necessarily healthier or even good for you. If it’s from animal products doesn’t mean it contributes anything to your diet.
The best example of this is one of the most popular plant-based products, and often staple in vegan diets - are almond milk and soy-based “meats”. Soy burgers, nuggets and meat alternatives are often highly processed, with long lists of artificial ingredients, making them no healthier than non-vegan processed foods. On top of that they are high in calories, yet lacking in protein, fiber and nutrients necessary for a balanced meal.
Almond Milk, while low in calories and has several vitamins and minerals, only has 1 gram of protein, and sweetened alternatives are very high in added sugar (16g/cup).
There are pre-packaged alternative sources that can definitely help a dietary transition while you learn the basics, but be weary to consumer them in moderation with rich nutritious wholefoods.
Using the transition as an opportunity to reduce processed foods and increasing nutrient-dense, wholefoods will help get the valuable vitamins, minerals and antioxidants the body needs to prevent nutrient deficiencies. Don’t just think this is all health and no fun. If you’ve ever wished your metabolism processed food like a teenage girl that eats maccas and still has a thigh gap this is it.
How? Studies have measured that participants that ate meals made with processed foods or whole foods where both groups were equally full, yet those who ate the wholefoods burned nearly double the calories. (Postprandial Energy Expenditure)
Where to start? Swap out refined grains for whole grains, limit the amount of processed and convenience food as well as add more vegetables and fruits to your meals and snacks throughout the day
2. Not Eating Enough Protein-Rich Foods
Protein is essential to building tissue, creating enzymes and producing (and balancing) hormones - particularly in promoting fullness and reducing cravings that many struggle with when switching to plant-based diets. High protein diets can promote muscle strength, satiety and weight loss.
As a point of reference, currently, recommendations suggest adults should eat at least 0.8 grams of protein per day for every kg of bodyweight. So if you weigh 60kg you’d need around 48g of protein.
There are numerous sources of protein, including vegetables such as potatoes, broccoli, kale and mushrooms, when making the vegetarian or vegan diet change.
We’ve calculated the top 5 go to Protein Sources:
- Hemp Seeds are low-calorie foods that are rich in fiber and heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp seeds are a complete protein offering 5 g of protein per tablespoon. That is approximately 40 g per ½ a cup.
An alternative to this is chia seeds, which are also a complete source of protein, but contain only 2 g of protein per tablespoon. That is approximately 16g per ½ a cup.
- Spirulina is blue or green algae that contain around 8 g of protein per 2 tablespoons. That is approximately 32g per ½ a cup. It is also rich in nutrients, such as iron, B vitamins — although not vitamin B-12 — and manganese.
- Peanuts are protein-rich, full of healthful fats, and may improve heart health. They contain around 20.5 g of protein per ½ cup. Peanut butter is also rich in protein, with 3.6 g per tablespoon, making peanut butter sandwiches a healthful complete protein snack. That is 28.8g per ½ cup.
- Almonds offer 16.5 g of protein per ½ cup. They also provide a good amount of vitamin E, which is great for the skin and eyes.
- The most common and highly talked about sources, actually have less protein which is the soy family:
- Hemp seeds/seeds contains about 15 g of protein per ½ cup
- Mycoprotein is a fungus-based protein. Mycoprotein products contain around 13 g of protein per ½ cup serving.
- firm tofu (soybean curds) contains about 10 g of protein per ½ cup
- edamame beans (immature soybeans) contain 8.5 g of protein per ½ cup
- The other go to beans:
- Cooked lentils contain 8.84 g of protein per ½ cup.
- Cooked chickpeas are high in protein, containing around 7.25 g per ½ cup. With hummus being approximately 12g per ½ cup.
Please note: there are plenty of other sources you can incorporate. To make sure you get the enough protein try incorporating at least one or two protein sources (including beans, lentils, nuts, nut butters, tofu and tempeh) in each meal.
3. Not Getting Enough Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is arguably one of the most important micronutrients, involved in the metabolism of every single cell in your body. It’s very important in the creation of red blood cells and DNA among other bodily processes. Deficiency in it can cause fatigue, memory problems, numbness and can lead to megaloblastic anaemia (caused by having lower-than-normal red blood cell count).
This is actually NOT just a plant-based diets issue, but also for those who lead a meat based dietary lifestyle. If you didn’t know, meats don’t actually contain that much B12 themselves because Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria, not animals or plants. A Framingham Offspring study found that 39% of the general population may be in the low normal and deficient B12 blood level range. This is as protein-bound B12 in animal foods is difficult for the human body to absorb.
In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority established a new ‘adequate intake’ of 4μg (microgram) per day for the general population, where 100g of meat has 0.6μg most of which can’t actually be absorbed.
The "natural" way of consuming B12 is actually from unwashed vegetables and unfiltered water. This isn't safe for humans because there are also other less desirable bacterias present in these places such as E. coli and salmonella - which could be of great risk to one's health.
There are also foods available to help meet our B12 needs including fortified foods and certain types of edible algae.
This is why in the modern world it's much safer to just get our B12 from a supplement.
4. Eating Too Few Calories
While this may be a huge added bonus for a lot of people working towards weight goals during the switch, it’s important to remember that calories are the main source of energy for the body and a certain amount is needed for functionality.
Over restricting calorie intake, particularly for prolonged periods of time, can lead to several negative side effects, including nutrient deficiencies, fatigue and a slower metabolism.
If you’re not fond of calorie counting, the other best solution is to really plan meals ahead to grasp the understanding of how many calories the foods you’re eating have.
5. Not Drinking Enough Water
While this is something that is important for everyone, it’s especially important for those eating a lot of fiber, such as those on a plant-based diets.
Have you switched to plant-based eating and found yourself having issues like being gassy, having bloating and/or constipation? Well that’s probably because you need to increase your water intake to assist the fiber increase in your diet.
Fiber is incredibly important for health, being linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity. But fiber needs water to help it move through the digestive tract so make sure you create an environment of least resistance for yourself to remember to consume more water, including having a bigger bottle, having a bottle with
6. Forgetting About Iron
One of the main losses of moving away from meat products is having a stable source of many important vitamins and minerals, including iron - particularly heme iron which is easily absorbed.
In comparison, plant sources of iron, while there are many fruits, vegetables, cereals and beans that contain iron, these are predominantly non-heme iron which is not easily absorbed. This is why there is a greater risk of developing iron-deficiency anaemia, whereby there aren’t enough red blood cells in ones body resulting in fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness.
Planning ahead is the most crucial part of switching to a plant based diet in order to meet daily needs. This includes consuming plenty of lentils, beans, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds, oats and leafy greens.
The biggest trick here is actually pairing iron-rich foods with those that are high in vitamin C, as the combination has been said to enhance the absorption of non-heme iron.
7. Consuming a Diet Low in Calcium
Yes, it’s true we as humans don’t actually need dairy, as it doesn’t actually provide the nutritional requirements much of the marketing industry has created to encourage it’s use. BUT that doesn’t mean we don’t need to still get some essential nutrients and minerals for optimal health.
To keep our bones and teeth strong, our muscles working more efficiently and support the function of our nervous system, calcium is essential - so much so that deficiency can lead to osteoporosis (conditions that cause weak, porous bones and increases risk of bone fractures).
Plant foods such as kale, collard greens, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, figs, oranges and fortified foods can actually be a good calcium-rich source. So just incorporate these into your meals and snacks throughout the day.
8. Underestimating the Importance of Meal Planning
We’ve said it a couple of times already, but we’re gonna say it again - meal planning is essential to doing the switch.
Planning can help ease your transition by not only getting inspired by other healthy chefs but also excited to make the meals can really affect if you stick to the diet, particularly by making sure the meals are diverse, balanced and filling.
It’s particularly important when planning to eat out as some places offer limited choices to looking in advance can help make informed decisions and select the most nutritious choices.
9. Not Getting Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Another essential part of any diet is Omega-3 fatty acids as they’ve been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, alleviate inflammation and protect against dementia.
Usually, this well known fatty acid is associated with fatty fish and fish oil as they contain DHA and EPA, which are the two forms that have been shown to be the most beneficial. While plant foods usually contain ALA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that our bodies must actually convert to DHA and EPA. This is a particular issue as only about 5% of ALA gets converted to EPA and less than 0.5% to DHA.
To meet the actual needs for a plant-based diet, taking plant-based omega-3 supplements like algal oil is usually recommended. One can also get the needed nutrients from ALA plant sources such as hemp seeds , chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, brussel sprouts and perilla oil.
Hemp seeds in particular contain 6,000 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, for every 28 grams, or 375–545% of the daily recommended intake - that is on top of protein, magnesium, iron and zinc. What an amazing plant right?!
10. Eating Too Many Refined Carbs
Once again linking back to poor meal planning, refined carbs such as pasta, bread bagels, cakes and crackers often end up as a main ingredient in plant-based diets.
As refined grains are stripped of beneficial fibres found in whole grains during processing, the benefits of fibre that help ward off chronic disease, including diabetes while keeping one feeling full and slowing the absorption of sugar to maintain steady blood sugar levels can have negative prolonged effects on our bodies.
Try switching our refined grains like white bread, pasta and white rice for wholegrains such as quinoa, oats, brown rice and buckwheat.
For the most nutritious and balanced diet don’t forget to pair those wholegrains with plenty of fruits, vegetables and legumes!
So hopefully you’re more well prepared and feeling a little less alone if you’ve faced some of these challenges already!
Adopting a vegan diet may help keep blood sugar in check and type 2 diabetes at bay, but incorporating hemp Kombucha in this diet leads to optimal results!