Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Going plant-based is becoming increasingly popular as people learn about the benefits of a meat-free diet. However, switching to a plant-based diet can sometimes be overwhelming, and many people make mistakes that can cause their journey to be less enjoyable and revert to old habits. This article will discuss some common pitfalls of a plant-based diet and what can be done to avoid them.
1. Don't be afraid of volume when you are eating plant-based, whole foods.
Being fearful of volume when switching to plant-based, whole food may challenge people trying to maintain a plant-based diet. When transitioning from meat and processed foods, some individuals may assume they need to limit their portion sizes in the same manner to avoid consuming too many calories.
However, this belief is counterproductive because most whole plant foods are generally low in calories. It's easy to think you are eating enough because the volume of food may look the same on a plate as what you ate before, but more may be needed on a plant-based, whole-food diet to meet your caloric needs.
Restricting portion sizes can lead to feelings of deprivation, increase cravings for calorie-dense, animal-based, or processed foods, and negatively impact your health in the long run. This may be why some people fail at staying plant-based.
Instead, it's essential to include a variety of whole plant foods in your meals and eat until you feel comfortably full, rather than limiting yourself based on portion size. Embracing a high volume of plant-based, whole foods allows you to enjoy delicious, nutritious meals that support your overall health and well-being while meeting your caloric needs.
Note that this suggestion only applies to whole foods, plant-based diets, and not processed plant-based junk food. Many processed foods are high in calories and may cause you to consume too many calories, leading to weight gain. This also applies if you eat too many high-calorie plant foods like nuts.
But generally, don't hesitate to fill your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables, incorporate fiber-rich legumes and whole grains, and snack on healthy foods throughout the day when switching to a plant-based diet.
2. Relying Too Much on Processed Foods
Relying excessively on processed foods can be a pitfall for people attempting to switch to a plant-based diet. Many rely on heavily processed plant-based foods, such as fake meats, vegan cheeses, and other packaged foods.
While these foods can be convenient and tasty, they are often high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium. They do not provide the same nutrient density as whole plant-based foods. Consuming a diet high in processed foods may increase the risk of various health issues, including weight gain, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Furthermore, overly reliant on processed foods can present hurdles in maintaining a sustainable plant-based diet in the long run because of the cost. It's expensive when you buy it from the supermarket and venture out for a bite.
Instead, focus on incorporating a variety of whole plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. These foods provide a wide range of nutrients, are generally lower in calories, and are more sustainable and budget-friendly than heavily processed options.
It's okay to enjoy processed plant-based foods in moderation, but they should not be the mainstay of your diet.
3. Not Planning Meals in Advance
Poor planning of your meals can lead to a reliance on unhealthy convenience foods and potentially falling back into old, animal-eating habits.
Just like in an omnivore diet, planning meals allows you to create a balanced and diverse diet that meets your nutritional needs and ensures meals are satisfying and enjoyable. It also provides that you have a clear understanding of what foods to purchase and prepare, which can help reduce food waste and save money. With meal planning, you can prepare healthy meals, even when short on time or energy.
Meal planning doesn't have to be complicated. Creating a basic weekly meal plan, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Consider incorporating a variety of plant-based proteins, such as beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
Plan to use whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, and oats, to provide additional nutrients and fiber. And remember to include smaller amounts of healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, and avocado. Vary the food weekly to ensure you get all your macro and micronutrients.
By taking the time to plan your meals, you can set yourself up for success. It may take some extra effort, but only initially.
Everything new takes effort during the learning curve until it gets easier one day. As you plan your meals, they will gradually become more intuitive, and the process will feel less burdensome. With time, planning will become second nature, and you will effortlessly create balanced and satisfying plant-based meals.
For quick meal ideas, when you don't have a plan, visit Thirteen Quick and Easy Vegan Meals.
4. Afraid You're Not Getting Enough Protein
We live in a protein-obsessed society. Many believe consuming high amounts of protein is necessary for optimal health, muscle growth, and weight loss. This belief has led to the popularity of high-protein diets and protein supplements, such as protein bars, shakes, and powders.
However, some people need help understanding general protein requirements. Many overstate their protein needs and think that more is always better when excessive protein intake may have adverse health effects.1
Protein is abundant in plants because all plants have protein. Some are higher protein sources such as legumes, nuts, seeds, seitan, and soy products such as tofu and tempeh.
Others are lower protein sources, but they all have protein with varying amounts of essential amino acids - the building blocks of protein. Combining high and low protein sources through various plants in your diet weekly ensures you get all the essential amino acids your body needs to create different proteins based on specific needs.
Focusing on the quality of the food consumed is essential. This means choosing whole plant foods and minimizing processed options. Paying attention to sufficient calorie intake is also important. Failing at either of these can result in a lack of protein and other essential macronutrients and micronutrients necessary for the appropriate functioning of the body's systems.
Bottom line - for the average Jack or Jill, the secret sauce is embracing variety in your diet, focusing on quality, and ensuring you get enough calories to satisfy your protein requirements. I call it the QVQ of healthy living - Quality, Variety, and Quantity. Stick to that recipe, and you'll be golden!
To understand more about protein requirements for athletes, older adults, and others on a plant-based diet, read this informative article, Protein on a Plant-Based Diet.
5. Ignoring Potential Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
The supplement industry's substantial revenue comes from a broad customer base beyond just those following a vegan diet. Therefore, it is essential for everyone, regardless of dietary choices, to remain vigilant and informed about potential risks to prioritize their well-being.
While concerns about deficiencies arise when following any diet, we must emphasize that we can minimize these risks by educating ourselves about plant-based nutrition from scholarly, quality sources, ensuring we eat enough high-quality and diverse whole foods, and seeking help from knowledgeable healthcare providers.
Regardless of diet, everyone should pay attention to specific micronutrients like B12 and vitamin D and incorporate a variety of whole, plant-based foods to meet the requirements for a healthy lifestyle. However, you may need to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare professional to ensure you meet all your specific nutritional needs. They can provide personalized guidance based on your health status, dietary preferences, and potential risk factors. Regular monitoring of nutrient levels through blood tests can also help identify and address any deficiencies.
Based on the guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom (and many other organizations), a plant-based diet is considered healthy and appropriate for all stages of life.
Many factors can contribute to the need for taking supplements on any diet, such as pregnancy, age, medications, absorption problems, and lifestyle factors (smoking, drinking, stress level, etc). To prevent potential deficiencies, consuming various plant-based foods and considering incorporating fortified foods or supplements as needed is essential.
Always consult a healthcare professional to determine if you have any nutrient deficiencies or need supplements, regardless of diet.
These are informative videos and articles from NutritionFacts.org that will help you understand potential deficiencies more in-depth:
- Potential Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency Risks on a Vegan Diet(video)
- Supplements (article)
- Vitamin B12 (article plus links to more videos)
- The Safety of Heme Iron Vs Non Heme Iron (video)
- Plant Vs Cow Calcium (video)
6. Not Being Prepared When Eating Out
Eating out can be a significant pitfall on a plant-based, but with some preparation, you can ensure you have options no matter where you go. Research restaurants in advance, bring your snacks for long trips, and make sure you know what ingredients to look for on menus. These tips will ensure you stay within your goals of sticking to a plant-based diet.
Going plant-based can be a wonderful and fulfilling experience. Still, it can also be overwhelming, especially if unprepared. Avoiding pitfalls, such as not planning meals, relying too much on processed foods, not understanding your protein needs, ignoring vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and not being prepared when eating out, can ensure you stay on a healthy, balanced plant-based diet.
Going plant-based can be a fun and delicious adventure with the correct information and support. So, don't let common pitfalls hold you back. Take the time to plan, prepare, and enjoy the many benefits of a plant-based diet.