Congratulations on making the life-changing decision to go vegan! A well-planned vegan diet is the best diet for your health, the animals and the planet but there can be a steep learning curve at the beginning of your plant-based journey. Thankfully, we are here to remove some of the hurdles and help you avoid some common mistakes.
1. Not eating enough
Sometimes when people go vegan they complain that they’re always hungry and that vegan food isn’t filling them up. This is because plant-based whole food tends not to be as calorie dense as animal products. This is why a plant-based diet is a useful weight-loss tool for some people. However, if you are feeling hungrier than usual after adopting a vegan diet, it’s probably just because you aren’t getting as many calories as you were before. The simple solution: eat more food. You can also easily add some more calorie-dense plant foods to your diet, such as nuts and nut butters.
2. Forgetting to supplement B12
Everyone following a plant-based diet must supplement vitamin B12, but if you’re not used to taking vitamins it can be easy to forget. Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient as it helps make our red blood cells and DNA and keeps our nervous system healthy. It’s an essential nutrient as our body cannot make it itself so we need to obtain it from external sources. It’s made by soil bacteria so once we would have got it it from unwashed plant foods, nowadays we need to take a supplement, as do many farmed animals for the same reason. This is not a weakness of a vegan diet, but a reflection of the times in which we live.
3. Not getting enough calcium
For non-vegans, dairy is usually the go-to source of calcium so as soon as this is removed from your diet, you may need to find other sources. Luckily many plant foods contain plenty; dark leafy green vegetables like kale are an excellent source of calcium. However, an easy way to boost your calcium intake is to buy fortified milk alternatives, such as soya, almond and oat drinks. These often also come fortified with vitamins B12 and D (the latter of which UK cow’s milk is not a source of).
4. Not getting enough omega-3
If you used to rely on fatty fish as your source of omega-3, you will now happily be avoiding all those nasty toxic pollutants found in fish but you may need to find omega-3s in other places. Flaxseed, chia seed and walnuts are great sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which our body can turn into the long-chain fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). However, the conversion rate for ALA to EPA and DHA is notoriously low so you might want to consider taking an algal EPA and DHA supplement. A high intake of omega-6 oils (found in sunflower oil and processed foods) can also inhibit omega-3 conversion so, for this reason, it’s important to have a good balance of fats in the diet – most people need a little more omega-3 and a little less omega-6.
5. Not planning ahead
Thankfully, these days it’s easy to be vegan but there will be times when planning ahead comes in very useful. If friends suggest going to a particular restaurant, check the menu to see what is suitable for vegans. If they don’t have much, you can suggest somewhere else, contact the restaurant in advance and ask if they can cater for you, or just ask off menu, most chefs will happily be creative and you may end up causing food envy at the table! If you go travelling to remote places, make sure you take plenty of snacks, but once again, if you contact caterers, restaurants and hotels in advance, they are usually able to provide vegan food.
6. Relying too much on mock meat and dairy
While mock meats and dairy alternatives are usually delicious, convenient and an easy swap for animal products, they sometimes have downsides. Some products might be high in salt, sugar and saturated fat. It’s important to remember that just because something is labelled ‘vegan’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy. If you became vegan to benefit your health, these items should be seen as an occasional treat rather than a staple food.
7. Neglecting protein
The concern for obtaining adequate protein on a plant-based diet is certainly overblown, but nonetheless protein is an important nutrient – especially for building muscle and maintaining it as we age. But fear not, it is easy to get enough protein without eating animal products and soya is a great source. One hundred grams of fried tofu contains about 24 grams of protein. Although all plants contain protein, not all contain all the essential amino acids we need, which is why we need to eat a varied diet. However, soya contains all eight essential amino acids (protein building blocks) our body needs for healthy growth and repair. In addition to tofu, tempeh, seitan, nuts and seeds, beans and pulses are great sources of protein. If you workout a lot, you might also want to consider a vegan protein powder, but this is certainly not essential.
8. Rejecting foods too soon
For some people, going vegan might be the first time they’ve tried soya milk, vegan cheese and tofu. You might not be used to some of these flavours or think they taste weird when compared to you were used to. But be patient and give your taste buds time to adapt – it really doesn’t take long. Soon, these flavours will just become the norm. Of course, there might just be some brands that you never like, so experiment with different options. For example, there are infinite brands of soya milk available and all have slightly different taste profiles. One of the fun things about becoming vegan is exploring all the options and finding new recipes to try.
9. Blowing out on beans
Beans are a true superfood! They’re a great source of protein, complex (healthy) carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Because of this, some people start piling beans on the plate when they go vegan. However, if you’re not used to eating so many beans, the fibre can lead to digestive discomfort, causing some people to give up on beans altogether. The trick is to add small amounts of beans to your meals so that your gut can adapt to all the fibre. Once it does, you can gradually increase the serving size and reap all the benefits of beans.
10. Being too hard on yourself
Although being vegan is easier than ever, there is still a learning curve and everyone makes mistakes at the beginning. Animal products can be hidden in the most unexpected foods and might not even be clearly listed on the ingredients lists – E numbers, such as e120 and e904, which come from insects, are good examples of how animal ingredients are not always easy to spot. But don’t let any mistakes put you off and don’t blame yourself. Just hop back on the vegan wagon and begin again. See our A to Z of Hidden nasties.
There has never been a better, or more important time, to go vegan and Viva! is here to make sure your transition to a plant-based diet is a success. For more useful information about going vegan go to: viva.org.uk/lifestyle/going-vegan/