A balanced vegan diet can provide many health benefits, like improved blood sugar control, weight loss, and a reduced risk of heart disease.
However, it can be challenging to get all the nutrients the body needs while trying to maintain a wholesome vegan diet.
Here are some common pitfalls of following a vegan diet:
1. Assuming that vegan products are healthier
Just because a product is labelled as “vegan”, does not make it automatically healthier than its regular alternative.
An example of this is “vegan” almond milk compared to low-fat cow's milk. Cows' milk contains more protein and is not necessarily less healthy.
“Vegan” burger patties and other meat alternatives can also be highly processed and include artificial ingredients, which makes them less healthy than their regular alternatives.
It is best to include these vegan products in moderation or take note of the ingredient list on the product. Try to choose meat alternatives made from nutritious whole foods.
2. Not getting sufficient Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the production of red blood cells, among many other benefits, and it is found mainly in animal products such as poultry, meat, shellfish, eggs, and dairy.
People following a vegan diet are at an increased risk of developing Vitamin B12 deficiency, which can eventually cause fatigue and anaemia.
It is recommended to monitor Vitamin B12 levels and consider a supplement if the requirement cannot be met by food alone.
3. Not consuming enough Calcium
The most common source of calcium is dairy products, although it can be found in a variety of plant foods like kale, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, figs, and oranges. Foods fortified with calcium are also a great source.
When following a vegan diet, it's important to monitor calcium intake and include calcium-rich plant foods to prevent calcium deficiency.
4. Forgetting about iron
While meat contains heme iron, the kind of iron that the body can easily absorb, plant-based iron sources contain non-heme iron. This means that the body cannot easily absorb the iron from foods like fruits, vegetables, cereals, and beans.
Because of this, people on a vegan diet have an increased risk of developing iron-deficiency anaemia.
When following a vegan diet, it is important to include lentils, beans, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds, oats, and leafy greens, which are good sources of iron. In addition, pairing these foods with Vitamin C rich foods can help to increase the absorption of non-heme iron. By doing this, one should be able to meet their iron needs while following a vegan diet.
5. Eating too many refined carbohydrates
When people start following a vegan diet they tend to swap meat for refined carbohydrates, which are processed and low in fibre. Instead, it is beneficial to include whole grain carbohydrates like brown rice, oats, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
6. Not drinking enough water
Drinking enough water is especially important for someone following a diet such as the vegan diet that contains high-fibre foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Water helps to move the fibre through the digestive tract and prevents symptoms of bloating, gas and constipation.
If you are just beginning your journey on a vegan diet, make sure you speak to your dietitian to ensure your diet is well balanced and doesn't lead to any deficiencies!