A balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can provide many health benefits.
These diets have been associated with weight loss, better blood sugar control, a decreased risk of heart disease and a lower risk of certain types of cancer (1, 2, 3, 4).
However, it can be challenging to maintain a well-rounded vegetarian diet that provides all the nutrients you need.
This article uncovers some of the most common mistakes people make on a vegan or vegetarian diet, and how to avoid them.
1. Assuming That Vegan or Vegetarian Products Are Automatically Healthier
Unfortunately, just because a food product is labeled “vegetarian” or “vegan” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier than the regular alternative.
For example, almond milk is a popular, plant-based milk that’s often a staple in vegan diets.
However, while almond milk is low in calories and enriched with several important vitamins and minerals, it is not necessarily healthier than cow’s milk.
For example, 1 cup (240 ml) of low-fat cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein, while the same amount of unsweetened almond milk contains only 1 gram (5, 6).
Sweetened almond milk can also be high in added sugar, with 16 grams of sugar in just 1 cup (7).
Other vegetarian products, such as soy-based veggie burgers, nuggets and meat alternatives, are often highly processed, with a long list of artificial ingredients. So they’re often no healthier than other non-vegetarian processed foods.
Despite being vegetarian, these products are also often high in calories, yet lacking the protein, fiber and nutrients necessary for a balanced meal.
While these products may ease your transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s best to consume them in moderation with a diet rich in nutritious, whole foods.
SUMMARY:Many foods marketed as vegetarian or vegan are often highly processed, high in added sugar or lacking in nutrients. If you include these products in your diet, eat them only in moderation.
2. Not Getting Enough Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 plays several important roles in the body. It’s important in the creation of red blood cells and DNA, among other processes (8).
Unfortunately, the main sources of vitamin B12 are animal products, such as meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs and milk products.
For this reason, vegetarians have an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency (9).
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause fatigue, memory problems and numbness. It can also lead to megaloblastic anemia, a condition caused by having a lower-than-normal amount of red blood cells (10).
Unfortunately, a high intake of folate can actually mask vitamin B12 deficiency, hiding symptoms until the damage becomes irreversible (11).
However, there are foods and supplements available that can help vegetarians meet their vitamin B12 needs.
Besides animal products, fortified foods and certain types of edible algae also contain vitamin B12 (12, 13).
Vegetarians should monitor their vitamin B12 intake carefully and consider taking supplementsif their needs aren’t met through diet alone.
SUMMARY:Vegetarians and vegans are at a greater risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, so make sure you consume fortified foods or B12 supplements.