Adopting a vegan lifestyle is becoming increasingly popular - and for good reason! For starters, it’s effective for people trying to shed excess fat or maintain a healthy weight. It’s also known to regulate blood sugar levels and enhance kidney function while reducing the risk of developing various cancers. Besides the numerous health benefits, animal welfare and environmental preservation are other popular reasons why one in ten Americans eat plant-based meals. However, it’s not uncommon for beginners to make mistakes that prevent them from reaping the full benefits of plant-based diets. Here are some things to avoid when transitioning into a vegan lifestyle.
Not understanding (vegan) nutrition
Most people know that going vegan means eliminating meat or animal-based products from their diet. However, depending on the nutrient quality of their diet this can have adverse effects and defeat the purpose of adopting the vegan lifestyle in the first place. Like any healthy diet, plant-based meals should contain all necessary nutrients to keep you in a state of wellness. While some processed foods like potato chips and Oreos can be vegan, they are not necessarily a healthy choice. Likewise, certain meat substitutes can have high salt levels, which can harm your health in various ways. Therefore, understanding how vegan nutrition works and pairing the right meals to achieve a balanced diet is key.
Many health experts recommend opting for high-protein foods. Products like tempeh, tofu, legumes, and beans are good protein sources and should be prioritized. Working with a plant-based dietitian can help curb some of the challenges when it comes to finding the right balance for you.
Being too hard on yourself (aka being a perfectionist)
I get it, you’re excited about making the big change. However, putting undue pressure on yourself to be the perfect vegan can cause you to rush your transition. You are bound to make mistakes, and being hard on yourself can cause you to quickly give up on your goals. What’s worse, you risk increasing your stress levels and adopting unhealthy eating habits. I've seen clients with the best of intentions develop orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with healthy/perfect eating). Therefore, it’s important to ease into the vegan lifestyle to maintain consistency.
Some foods may be thought to be vegan but in actuality contain animal products, and you can’t punish yourself for unknowingly consuming them. While mistakes are inevitable, you can reduce them with the right steps. For instance, take your time when grocery shopping so that you can read all labels thoroughly before purchasing. To ease into the vegan lifestyle, try introducing a few vegan meals weekly and reduce the proportion of animal products in your meal. Starting out by consuming plant-based breakfasts is also a great way to prepare your body for the transition.
Increasing fiber too quickly
Being vegan means replacing animal proteins like meat, fish, eggs with plant-based alternatives to meet your daily protein requirements. However, consuming fiber-rich foods like legumes, beans, and vegetables too quickly can be problematic for some people. Digestion issues like abdominal pain, bloating and gas, diarrhea, constipation, mineral deficiency, temporary weight gain, etc. have all been reported as side effects of increasing fiber too quickly.
To prevent this from happening, slowly introduce fiber-rich foods into the diet. If you’re passing loose stools, you can try increasing soluble fiber to reduce the symptoms. Likewise, insoluble fiber will work well for constipation, so may be of benefit. You'll also want to boost your water intake when you increase fiber-rich foods, so as to avoid bloating or constipation.
Not preparing enough before eating out
There are days you may not feel like cooking and opt to eat out instead. While this is convenient, certain restaurants may not have vegan-friendly meals. It’s essential to thoroughly do your research inn advance to discover vegan-friendly restaurants or meal options.