Despite entering my fourth year as a vegan, there’s still so much to learn.
In fact, if I didn’t create this blog, I probably wouldn’t have learned as much as I did.
Initially, I figured that by simply avoiding animal products my health would be fine and dandy, but unfortunately, there’s much more to it. I can’t speak for every vegan on the planet, but I want to share some of the mistakes I fell victim to. Or perhaps the mistakes I almost fell victim to during and after my transition to a vegan lifestyle.
By writing this post, I don’t intend to replace experts, I simply want to share my experience. Let’s face it, the majority of people that go vegan won’t visit a nutritionist to get advice until something goes wrong.
However, I feel like that’s a big mistake because having a good, early grasp of nutrition will help you properly manage your vegan diet without running into deficiencies.
So that brings us to the first mistake most vegans make.
1. Not getting advice from a nutritionist
First off, why should you visit a nutritionist? Well, to get some guidance.
While most documentaries love to embellish veganism, they never speak about the potential loopholes you may find when adopting a vegan diet. For example… did you know that bone mineral density is lower in vegans?
Bone mineral density is a measure of osteoporosis, and many studies show that BMD is lower in vegans than non-vegans.
More importantly, similar studies on Western vegans show that vegans over time have higher fracture rates. That happens because vegans don’t consume nearly enough calcium as people consuming dairy, calcium-fortified foods, and supplements.
If you visit a nutritionist that specializes in plant-based nutrition, you will also learn that foods high in oxalate (spinach, swiss chard, and beet greens), should be consumed less because they deter calcium absorption.
Another nutritional tip
Akin to 80% of people in modern society, I love my cup of coffee.
In fact, I probably drink coffee 4-5 times a day.
The problem, however, lies in the timing.
Drinking caffeine after a meal actually prevents iron absorption, which is something you must consider if you want to meet healthy levels of iron intake.
Moreover, if you eat iron-rich foods alongside foods rich in vitamin C, you can increase iron absorption, and avoid dialogues of iron deficiency in the future.
Unless you invest your time in research or visit a nutritionist — it’s likely that you don’t know about this, which is another reason why having a good grasp of nutrition is important.
2. Skipping supplements (don’t do it)
Whatever you do, don’t listen to the minority that tries to make you think that supplements are futile. If you want to have a thriving vegan diet, you must count on certain supplements to be healthy.
There is at least one supplement that is mandatory, and one which depends on how your body reacts to sun exposure.
Vitamin B12: why you should not skip it
Vitamin B12 can be found in most animal foods, but there’s no reliable source of b12 in plant-based foods. This being said, it’s still fairly easy to obtain a status equal or superior to meat-eaters if you decide to take supplements.
But what if you just decide not to consume vitamin b12?
Well, one study conducted on vegans found vitamin b12 deficiency, with some even suffering from nerve damage and dementia. This is not the only case where you can find individuals suffering from b12 deficiency.
In fact, there is countless research available which has led to a general consensus among health professionals (even those supporting a vegan diet), that b12 fortified foods and supplements are required for a vegan to have optimal health.
As I said, you may find a few vegan advocates challenging this notion because they believe “plant-based foods have every nutrient a human being needs”. And you may also find others that suggest we only need a small amount of b12 in our body.
While it’s true that our body stores vitamin b12 (and can do so for years), markers of vitamin b12 can increase abnormally within months.
This is why you should also conduct regular blood tests to keep your b12 levels in check.
Vitamin D: is it necessary?
Most people get vitamin D through the UV rays acting on their skin. While the body can store vitamin D produced in sunnier months to help you get through less sunny months… that theory may not work for everyone.
In fact, you can find many people with low levels of vitamin D living in sunny climates.
Low-levels of vitamin D can result in fatigue and bone pain since vitamin D also acts as a regulator for calcium absorption.
The only significant and natural sources of vitamin D are fatty fish, eggs (from chickens fed with vitamin D), and mushrooms treated with UV rays. Other than that, you must rely on fortified foods or supplements.
The vegan diet has no reliable and natural sources of vitamin D, other than the sun. But that is also assuming you spend most of the year in a sunny climate and your body has the ability to properly produce vitamin D.
Reliable sources of vitamin D
There are two reliable sources of vitamin D apart from the sun.
- Fortified foods like plant-based milk, vegan margarine, and vegan yogurt;
- Vitamin D supplements.
While you could rely solely on fortified foods to maintain healthy vitamin D levels, you would have to eat higher quantities of fortified foods. In my case, that’s not viable since I don’t eat many times throughout the day.
In addition, even though I live in sunny Portugal, I spend most of my time inside four walls, thus not having as much exposure to UV rays. As such, I have chosen to buy a vitamin D supplement, which I take once a week.
Generally, you have two types of Vitamin D supplements: ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3).
Ergocalciferol (D2) is typically used to increase bone mineral density when you’re grazing deficiency levels. On the other hand, cholecalciferol (D3) is used to keep vitamin D levels raised when taken weekly.
From what I know, most people supplement with Vitamin D3 (including myself), but I’d try to learn a bit more about it.
3. Not eating a balanced diet
Trust me, I know how convenient it is to stick to the same foods time and time again. Pasta, pizza, tortillas, sandwiches are all foods that are easy to arrange and are certainly quite delicious.
However, those foods are very limited in the variety of nutrients they provide. Plus, they tend to contain processed ingredients that are very harmful to your health.
Macronutrients like protein, carbs, and fats are quite easy to manage.
However, the part that is slightly more complicated is ensuring that you chow down a good variety of micronutrients every day.
In every meal, I typically try to include good sources of iron, calcium, iodine, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin A and omega 3’s. These micronutrients may not all come together on a single plate, but I try to make sure I consume these sources throughout the day.
Healthline shares a complete vegan meal plan that seems to be quite balanced and nutritious.
Suggestion: To make your life easier, let me also suggest a plant-based cookbook that will introduce you to a healthy vegan diet without sacrificing taste. For most people, adopting a vegan diet can be gruesome, because most people immediately link a vegan diet to tasteless food. But that’s not the case at all.
4. Eating too many meat and dairy substitutes
Perhaps I’m not giving you any news, but meat and dairy substitutes are not the healthiest foods around. Unless you decide to make them at home using fresh and organic ingredients, the substitutes bought in stores are filled with additional crap.
For instance, almond milk is considered by the majority to be a healthy drink. But while almond milk is surely low in calories and enriched with several micronutrients, it contains a ton of added sugars.
Yes, you have the unsweetened version, but that’s not what most people go for.
Other veggie products like soy-based burgers, nuggets, seitan, and tofu are often highly processed — with numerous artificial ingredients. So they’re just as unhealthy as non-vegan processed foods.
If you want to have a successful vegan diet, you have to fuse these ingredients with nutritious, whole foods, and not make the substitutes the core part of your meals. A real vegan diet is based on whole foods, and not substitutes.
Conclusion: Frankly, it’s very difficult to find substitutes that contain little to no artificial ingredients. If you are a bit more health-conscious than most, consider making those substitutes at home.
5. Not eating enough calories
Eating a whole-food plant-based diet means you’re eating more fiber than usual.
It also means you’re tricking your body into thinking you’re full, which lowers your calorie intake.
This may look positive if you’re overweight, but at the same time, in the long-term, you may feel weaker, and eat less of the right nutrients because you’re feeling full with the least amount of food.
More importantly, since you’re no longer consuming highly caloric foods like meat and dairy, that may drop down your energy levels, and lead to malnutrition. In fact, calories are your main source of energy, and your body needs a certain amount to function properly.
Your body is like a vehicle, and it needs the right amount of fuel to function properly. To give you a quick example, I went through a period of hair loss because my body was malnourished, and didn’t have enough energy to preserve healthy hair growth.
The same can happen with other bodily functions.
6. Not doing blood tests
Rather than doing blood tests each time a predicament comes up, you should do blood tests regularly to check if you’re coming close to having a deficiency. A successful vegan diet typically comes down to managing your nutrition by understanding the things you’re lacking the most in your diet and filling in the gaps.
Try to blood tests every 6 months. This way you’ll know which nutrients you’re missing the most, making it easy for you to know what you should be eating more of.
People who quit veganism do it because they run into problems caused by a lack of certain nutrients. Generally, the problem is with their diet, so doing blood tests is extremely helpful in that regard.
7. Ignoring ground flaxseeds (and other sources of omega 3)
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of any healthy diet.
They have numerous benefits, and their role in our body aids in the reduction of blood triglycerides, inflammation, and protection against dementia. However, the most sought sources of omega-3 are fish and fish oil.
These sources contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), two forms of omega-3. On the other hand, plant-based sources are known to contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 that your body converts into other forms of omega-3, DHA and EPA.
Since vegans can’t consume fish or fish oil, they must have a diet rich in ALA. They must consume enough ALA-rich ingredients for the body to convert that ALA into the other two forms of Omega-3.
So what should vegans eat in order to have healthy Omega-3 levels?
A simple recommendation from Dr. Greger (Founder of NutritionFacts.org) is consuming one spoon of ground flaxseeds per day. Apparently, if you ensure the optimal levels of ALA, it gives your body enough room to convert ALA into EPA and DHA.
This being said, it’s still unclear whether your body can convert ALA into healthy DHA levels. As such, some (not all) vegan professionals suggest taking a DHA supplement.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about Omega 3s in a vegan diet, click here.
8. Not planning your meals
Being vegan is following the least convenient route.
This means planning your meals based on nutritional guidelines, and cooking ingredients that are preferably not refined. Generally, this includes dry ingredients such as chickpeas, lentils, beans, quinoa, rice and nuts like cashews and almonds.
Interestingly, before cooking chickpeas or black beans, you usually have to soak them, which takes about 10-12 hours. Therefore, you can only soak beans if you know what you’re cooking beforehand.
Plus, cooking plant-based meals demands that you cook wisely, and always have balanced meals to cope with your nutritional needs. This is even more important if you’re traveling, given how some restaurants offer limited choices for vegans.
Trust me, if you just eat avocado toasts and completely ignore the panoply of whole ingredients available, you’ll learn how nutrient deficiencies can push you through the edge and make you quit the vegan diet.
9. Eating the same foods frequently
Again, don’t be like the previous me.
Don’t be lazy about your meals, and cook the same thing over and over again.
If you don’t diversify your food, it becomes harder to sustain a vegan diet. Plus, if you don’t diversify your meals, that means you’re getting too much of one group of nutrients and leaving other specific nutrients aside.
In addition, if you don’t like cooking, you should at least try to make it more interesting by cooking things you haven’t tasted in the past. That’s how you make a vegan diet more interesting.
Here are a couple of recipe websites you should follow for amazing vegan recipes:
With these amazing vegan recipe websites, it’s very difficult not to find something that appeals to your creative side. 🙂
10. Being too hard on yourself
When I first went vegan, I was a bit too hard on myself.
If I found out something I ate wasn’t vegan, I would feel bad about it for days. I never did it intentionally, but it was usually because of my carelessness when reading product labels.
Mistakes are bound to happen, and you just have to realize that no vegan is perfect.
Perhaps one of your friends cooks you a dish he thought it was vegan, but it ended up containing honey, or another less obvious animal-based ingredient.
Or maybe you go to a restaurant, ask the waiter to remove any animal ingredients from the option you chose, but amidst the meal, you realize they still left an ingredient in there.
So what do you do in those situations? Well, you let it go, to be honest.
Being vegan is about making a conscious effort to not participate in the consumption of animal-based ingredients. So a tiny mishap should not change who you are or what you stand for.
11. Not being a good vegan advocate
When you first turn vegan, a question you will hear often is — “why are you vegan?”.
Whether you like it or not, people will come to you with different questions out of curiosity. If you make a conscious effort to give them coherent answers, you might even convince someone else to try out the vegan lifestyle.
Being a good vegan advocate is informing others of the right reasons that empowered your choices. It’s not about enforcing your ideas on others but it’s to give people a reason to consider veganism.
Whether you’ve chosen to go vegan because of ethical, environmental, or health reasons — be sure to know the ‘why’ fully well.
12. Putting yourself on a pedestal
Regardless of whether we’re right or wrong by embracing veganism, it shouldn’t be a reason to treat others with disdain. Even if people vehemently disagree with you, that doesn’t make them inferior, or superior.
A vegan diet can be amazing, especially if you follow what is originally know as a whole foods plant-based diet. The diet itself can improve your health, minimize animal suffering, and help save the planet from destruction.
But again, it doesn’t give you the right to bash others.
Instead, be open to other’s opinions, and respect whatever they have to say. You have once stood in their shoes, so you surely understand where they’re coming from. Knowing the answers to the most pressing questions can be very helpful to open the minds of those that never even considered going vegan.