Plant-based diets continue to rise in popularity—and for good reason. They’re healthy, ethical, and effective for those who work out often. With so many people attempting to go vegan or vegetarian, you might be tempted to, as well. But, before you decide to start a vegan diet overnight, do your research. In an attempt to ease the transition, we’ve compiled the biggest mistakes new vegans make when starting out (plus how to avoid them).
Assuming All Vegan Foods are Healthy
Many people jump head-first into veganism thinking that it’ll help them get healthier and shed pounds. It’s true a vegan diet can help you maintain a healthy weight and improve your heart health. But you still need to be aware of what you eat.
Not all products labeled “vegan” are created equal. A lot of processed vegan foods are filled with preservatives and artificial ingredients. Which means, sadly, that vegan mac n’ cheese and dairy-free ice cream aren’t necessarily doing your health any favors. It’s common for meat replacements (like veggie burgers and meatless chicken) to have a long list of unfamiliar ingredients, too. It’s true that a few choice ingredients in these alternatives might be better than their counterparts (for example, coconut milk vs. cow’s milk). But it all comes down to macronutrients, vitamins, nourishment.
A good rule of thumb is to always check the ingredients and the nutrition label. If it includes any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, ditch it.
Not Eating Enough Whole Foods
Plant-based foods are typically quite healthy. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans all contribute nutrients, vitamins, and necessary fiber to a very healthy diet. There are, as mentioned, a lot of processed vegan foods and meat substitutes that are full of unhealthy ingredients and additives. They’re easy swaps that remind us of standard non-vegan staples.
Instead of opting for these fake foods, though, use veganism as an opportunity to eat more whole, nutrient-dense, non-processed foods. Get creative with starchy vegetables and other plant-based sources of protein. Swap the meat replacements in your meals with jackfruit, mushrooms, lentils, cauliflower, or potatoes. When stocking up on groceries, try to minimize the amount of packaged foods you buy. The exceptions to this, of course, are foods like rice, beans, and oats.
Thinking You Don’t Have Many Options
Many new vegans complain about the lack of food options when dining out or in general. When you’re just starting, the lack of animal products can zap your energy levels. But don’t lock yourself in a kale-filled box. While vegetables should definitely be a major player in your plant-based diet, they’re far from all you can eat. In fact, eating only raw fruits and vegetables will likely put you severely under your daily caloric needs.
Trust us when we say that there are countless snack, meal, and even dessert options for vegans. Thanks to the versatility of vegan ingredients and the creativity of vegan food bloggers, there’s no shortage of vegan recipes to try. Do your research and learn common vegan swaps. With some effort, you’ll never feel unsatisfied.
Eating Too Much Protein and Not Enough Fat
It’s a myth that all vegans suffer from protein deficiency. Most vegans eat enough servings of vegetables alone per day to satisfy their daily protein needs. Yes, vegetables have protein. To put it comparatively, 100 calories of steak has eight grams of protein, while 100 calories of broccoli has eleven. Plus, a variety of plant-based foods are high in the macronutrient. Beans, lentils, and legumes average around 13 grams of protein per cup. One cup of quinoa has 18 grams of protein. Edamame (18 grams per cup), chickpeas (12 grams per cup), and soybeans (28 grams per cup) also contain large amounts of protein.
So long as you eat enough of the right foods throughout the day, protein shouldn’t be a problem. It’s estimated that those on a vegan diet actually get 70 percent more protein than they require.
The nutrient you want to eat more of is actually fat. Our bodies can’t absorb all of the great nutrients we eat without it. It won’t serve you to avoid healthy fat-filled dressings or always opt for the fat-free options. Eat enough healthy fats by including foods like avocados, almonds, olive oil, and tofu into your diet.
Not Drinking Enough Water
As if you needed another reason to drink enough water! Everyone needs water. But it’s especially important for high-fiber diets, which includes veganism. Studies show that while the average meat and plant eater gets around 27 grams of fiber a day, the average vegan gets around 41 grams per day. Because water is essential to the digestive system, this means that it’s important to drink up. It helps move fiber through the digestive tract, while also preventing bloating and constipation. Make sure that you’re spreading your water intake throughout the day to aid in digestion and keep hydrated.