6 Mistakes Nutritionists Say You’re Probably Making When Going Plant-Based
Like anything in life, things worth having take effort. The good news: Going vegan—between exploring new cuisines and reaping health benefits like enhanced energy and weight loss—can be a ball. On the flip side, however, many nutritionists see their clients make the same mistakes again and again when starting the lifestyle overhaul. Whether it's loading up on too many processed foods or missing out on vital nutrients, it’s important to steer clear of some common plant-based flubs. Below, top nutritionists chime in on the most frequently seen mistakes, and how to correct them. Consider this your roadmap for going plant-based while covering all your bases.
1. Thinking you can get enough B12 from fortified foods or ingredients like spirulina.
Let’s debunk this myth: You simply can’t get enough B12 from a vegan diet alone. “Anyone on a plant-based diet plus anyone over the age of 50—regardless of diet—needs to supplement with vitamin B12 to avoid potentially irreversible neurological damage,” says Julieanna Hever, MS RD CPT, Plant-Based Dietitian and author of The Healthspan Solution and Plant-Based Nutrition (Idiot's Guides). “We recommend supplementing with cyanocobalamin [a manufactured form of B12] in one of the following three-dose regimens: 50 micrograms (mcg) twice daily, 150 mcg once daily, or 2500 mcg once weekly.”
Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Fitter Living echoes this sentiment: “Not getting enough B12 can lead to pernicious anemia and associated symptoms such as fatigue, paleness, weakness, weight loss and irritability.” Your nervous system and red blood cells will thank you for taking a supplement. Consult with your doctor or nutritionist to review your personal needs.
2. Not drinking enough fluids.
When you go plant-based, the fiber you consume is going to skyrocket (yay for fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains). That’s a good thing, but you need to plan accordingly to keep digestion running smoothly. “Fiber helps move things along in your digestive tract so that you can easily ‘go,’” shares Kostro Miller. “While it’s great to have regular bowel movements from more fiber, make sure you also increase your water intake, otherwise all that fiber can constipate you.”
3. Not getting enough protein.
It may be a little cliche, but nutritionists regularly see this with the vegan and vegetarian set, especially those just starting out who may not know how to compensate for getting enough protein sans meat. “I see this often with plant-based eaters, and the result is often that you may feel hungry all day long,” cautions Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian in the New York City area. “It’s important to include sources of protein with every meal. You can vary these up. For instance, you can include edamame in a vanilla smoothie and kidney beans in a vegan power bowl. You can even include powdered peanut butter in a vegan pudding or vegan cookies”
Other ideas: Nutritional yeast adds protein to pasta dishes or popcorn (not to mention, it has a delicious cheesy flavor to it), and sprinkling hemp, flax or chia seeds into salad dressings or oatmeal enhances the protein content of your meal. Currently, we’re swooning for protein-packed pea milk.
4. You aren’t vigilant against iron deficiency.
Along with B12, iron is another nutrient plant-based people should make sure they’re getting enough of, especially women. “Women of childbearing age and young adolescent females are at increased risk for iron deficiency or iron-deficiency anemia. If you are plant-based, you may not be getting enough iron since animal meat is not consumed and/or your plant-based diet is not well-rounded,” explains Kostro Miller. “Plant-based iron is not as easily absorbed [as that from animal sources], so make sure you eat it with vitamin C foods like a glass of orange juice. Vitamin C helps the uptake of iron.”
In some instances, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement, but that can have not-so-fun side effects like dark stools so you’ll always want to chat with your doc first.
5. Skimping on fruits and veggies.
“An important part of plant-based eating is eating plants! I see too often that vegan eaters want to eat more of the comfort foods such as pasta and less produce,” notes Gorin. “Make it a point to add a fruit or vegetable to every eating occasion.”
It’s easier than it sounds. One of Gorin’s favorite tricks? Adding puréed butternut squash to soups, pasta dishes, sauces, and more. Some of our favorites? Making it a point to enjoy our Smoothies of the Day and never saying no to kale chips.
6. Assuming your new diet is automatically healthier.
“Even though plant-based diets do have vast health benefits, you have to still construct a well-rounded and healthy plant-based diet in order for it to be healthy,” says Kostro Miller. No surprises here but heavily processed vegan fast food is still fast food, and sugar-loaded vegan ice cream isn’t going to make you glow like Gwyneth.
Keep the “plant” plant-based and strive to eat as many plants in their original form and keep as few processed foods in your diet as possible, and you’re sure to feel great. Load up on cookies and french fries? Not so much. To jumpstart your shift to the plant-based lifestyle, we’ve created a two-week clean eating plan with 14 days of recipes, daily motivation to stay on track, expert intel, and more. Now, if you’ll excuse us, that vegan pho with creamy miso broth isn’t going to cook itself.