Most of us know someone that has tried a vegan or vegetarian diet but eventually ended up reverting back to eating meat. Perhaps they didn’t feel great on it, felt hungry too often, or had low energy.
*Student raises hand* “But, teacher, if being vegan is as great as you’ve been claiming, then why does this happen?!”
From what I’ve seen this is due to a few different things.
–>They were accidentally undereating
–>They were relying on processed carbs to fill them up
–>They were consuming too much vegan junk foods/faux meats (which are virtually void of nutrients)
–>They were not supplementing with vitamin B12
Let’s dive a little deeper and go over some solutions.
When first adopting a vegan diet, especially a low-fat, plant-based one, many people make the mistake of just eating a bunch of salads with a small portion of rice or potatoes. As I mentioned in this post, most plant foods are less calorie dense than meat, dairy, and processed foods. This means not only can you get away with eating a larger volume of food but you really should in order to reach your daily energy needs. Being sure to eat enough food on a vegan diet will help you maintain your energy levels and feel your best. A good rule of thumb is to follow this plate formula. Fill at least half of your plate with non-starchy veggies, 1/4 of your plate with a whole starchy carb (potatoes or whole grains), and 1/4 of your plate with plant protein (beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh). This is a simple formula and can be varied to fit your needs and goals.
Filling up on too many processed carbs
You will not find me hating on carbs as long as they are whole and intact. Our bodies are made to run on glucose which primarily comes from carbs. The type of carbohydrate is important though in how our bodies are going to feel. Often people on a vegan diet will eat a lot of pasta and bread to replace meat and cheese. Things like pasta, bread, crackers, and chips are highly processed. The fiber has been stripped from them and they are often filled with added sugar and salt. On the other hand, if you are opting for whole carb sources like potatoes (all kinds), squash, fruit, lentils, beans, and whole grains in the form of brown rice, oats, quinoa, etc. you are going to feel much better. And your body is going to look a whole lot better. By consuming these types of carbs you are going to be loading your body up with fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins instead of unhealthy calories.
Choose whole foods vs. processed
I recommend this to any eater whether they are meat eaters or vegans. Processed foods are void of nutrients but generally loaded with sugars, chemicals, excess salt, and oils. Eat foods in a form that keeps their nutrients and health benefits intact. Choose a potato over a french fry and a french fry over a potato chip. When buying peanut butter choose one that has 2 or less ingredients-peanuts and maybe salt. Avoid any with added oils and sweeteners. Choose a whole fresh piece of fruit over dried and choose dried over fruit juice.
As for vegans and vegetarians, it’s fun and comforting to eat faux meats when you are first switching your diet. I get that. But make sure this habit doesn’t last because most faux meats are incredibly processed and unhealthy. Look at this ingredient list for a popular vegan sausage substitute:
Water, vital wheat gluten, organic tofu (water, organic soybeans, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride), non-GM expeller pressed canola oil, organic cane sugar, yeast extract, oat fiber, vegan natural flavors, non-GM corn starch, sea salt, potassium chloride, granulated garlic, calcium lactate from beets, onion powder, spices, citric acid, titanium dioxide (a naturally occurring mineral)
Besides the tofu, water, and spices this is a pretty disappointing ingredient list. Save the faux meats for special occasions like a holiday or a fun meal out. There are some awesome recipes out there to make your own vegan sausage and burgers that use things like beans, veggies, and grains. By opting for those most of the time you will be saving money and making your health a priority.
Supplement with vitamin B12
Did you know vitamin B12 is not made by animals? It’s actually made by microbes that live in the soil and on plants. Those plants are then eaten by the animals that humans then eat and that’s how meat eaters get their B12. It is vital to supplement with B12 on a vegan or plant-based diet. The results of a B12 deficiency are devastating and include symptoms such as anemia, shortness of breath, fatigue, memory loss, paralysis, and blindness. Avoiding this is as easy as taking a supplement as little as once a week. Dr. Greger recommends that adults under age sixty-five take 2,500 mcg/week. A daily dose is 250 mcg. For those over 65, a dose of 1,000 mcg a day is optimal. B12 supplements are quite cheap and taking a B12 supplement is nonnegotiable if you are centering your diet around plant foods.