Vegan Diet Mistakes: 5 Common Pitfalls When Starting A Purely Plant-Based Diet
Thinking about adopting a purely plant-based diet?
We get it — after all, it’s been linked with decreased stress and increased happiness.
And who can forget that former president Bill Clinton adopted a meat-free eating plan to improve his heart health? (He underwent quadruple bypass and stent surgeries in 2004 and 2010, USA Today noted.)
But whether you’re doing it for health reasons or ethics (after all, a vegan diet means you aren’t eating any animal products — even fish, dairy and eggs), there are some mistakes a newcomer to the diet might easily make.
We asked two experts in plant-based eating — Amy Lanou, Ph.D., an associate professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina Asheville, and Vandana Sheth, R.D., C.D.E, a Los Angeles-based dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — for their advice for people who are just starting out on a vegan diet.
Their biggest tip? PLAN.
“A vegan diet can be healthy and have many positive health benefits, but ensure that it’s well planned and nutritionally balanced,” Sheth, who is a lifelong vegetarian, tells HuffPost. Make sure it “includes whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables and heart-healthy fats.”
Sheth says that a vegan diet can be healthy as long as you get the nutrients your body needs from a variety of plant-based foods.
Other tips from Sheth and Lanou:
– Drink plenty of water, as your body may not be used to getting all that extra fiber from the added fruits and vegetables.
– Let your doctor know about your new diet. Every body is different, and your doctor can help you understand what you might need more or less of, within the scope of a vegan diet. Also, if you’re on medications (like for blood pressure or cholesterol), your dosages may change.
Read on for some common mistakes Sheth and Lanou say new vegans may make — and their tips for avoiding them.
Are you a vegan? What piece of advice would you give to someone who is starting a completely plant-based diet? Tell us in the comments!
1. Eat The Same Amount As Your Pre-Vegan Days
Always hungry on your new vegan diet? You may not be eating enough, says Lanou.
“What people find when they move to a more whole-foods diet built from plant foods, is they have to eat larger quantities of food,” she says. “People find themselves hungry or not feeling full and it’s because the caloric density of the food they’re eating is lower.”
For example, you can’t expect to go from eating a sandwich that has meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato, to a sandwich with only lettuce and tomato and expect to feel the same amount of fullness, she says. So you “have to eat more food, and that happens anytime you’re taking out, or removing, the calorie dense foods from your diet.”
2. Don’t Seek Out Vitamin B12
There are a myriad of plant-based options to get most of our body’s essential nutrients — you can get calcium, for example, from leafy green vegetables and tofu instead of milk, and you can get omega-3 fatty acids from chia seeds and flax seeds instead of fish. But a big mistake many new vegans make is not going out of their way to find a plant-based source of vitamin B12, which is vital for proper neurological development and functioning, Sheth says.
The nutrient “primarily comes from animal products, so make sure you’re getting it either through things like fortified cereals or plant-based beverages fortified with B12,” Sheth adds.
Lanou explains that because the body is able to store up vitamin B12 for a long period of time, you may not even notice that you’re deficient until a year or more after you’ve started a vegan diet.
Older people who are going vegan should talk with their doctors about getting enough vitamin B12, Sheth notes, because the “intrinsic factor” in our bodies that help us absorb vitamin B12 diminishes with age.
3. ‘If It’s Vegan, It Must Be Healthy’
When some people start a vegan diet, they load up on foods like processed veggie burgers, processed veggie cheese, processed veggie hotdogs, and other, well, emprocessed/em veggie-based foods. While this can help you to stick to your meat- and animal-free goals, some of these foods aren’t giving you the nutritional benefits you would get if you actually ate whole, real, non-processed foods, Lanou says.
“The benefit of going from an omnivorous diet to a vegan diet has to do with what you’re taking out emand/em putting in,” she says. “If you’re putting things in that are too similar, you may not be getting all the benefits you could be getting.”
Sheth agrees, saying that she discourages her clients switching to a vegan diet only to rely solely on those processed vegan foods.
“Those are also heavily processed — high in sodium and fat. But you wont want to live off that either — it’s emstill/em a processed food,” she says.
4. Always Eat The Nuts/Salad When You Are Out And About
Many restaurants and stores now have plenty of options for plant-based eaters — but not all of them. So, it’s wise to carry some delicious, nutritious back-up options if you find yourself in a place where you have nothing to really eat.
“You can always find a bag of peanuts or cashews somewhere, and that’s not bad food, but you don’t want to live on that,” Lanou says.
And the same goes for restaurants — don’t feel like you always have to have the salad if you’re out at a place that serves meat-centered dishes, Sheth says.
“You can customize and say, ‘I’ll have the grains and vegetables that come with the steak,’ but ask if they have tofu or a bowl of chili so you can easily have all the nutrients you need,” she adds.
5. Don’t Listen To Your Body
Every time you alter your diet pattern, it will take about three weeks for your body to adjust, Sheth says, so don’t be discouraged if you’re feeling strange or still adjusting your eating habits when you first start. And don’t take cravings as a sign that your body “needs” a certain food (a bacon craving doesn’t mean your body needs bacon!) as it could just mean you need to reassess what nutrients you’re consuming.
“If you’re craving meat or bacon, what have you been eating the last few days? Maybe you’ve just been living off salads, so you may not be getting adequate heart-healthy fats,” Sheth says. “See if you can balance it out. Is it the fat your craving? The salt? Just assess what you’re doing and see if you’re meeting all your nutritional needs.”
Lanou advises people to listen to their bodies, and adjust accordingly.
“If your body is telling you it’s hungry, eat. If it’s telling you something doesn’t feel good when it’s in your stomach, buy something else,” she says.
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