Tips for Going Vegetarian: There’s Vegetarian. And there’s Vegan. Most people know these diets are related, but some may not know exactly what differentiates them from one another.
Both diets eliminate meat, fish, and poultry. Vegans don’t eat any dairy, eggs, or other products derived from animals. Sub-types of vegetarianism, however, make exceptions for certain animal products:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat both dairy products and eggs
- Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but avoid eggs
- Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy products
If you are already on one of these dietary paths, or you are considering shifting to one, it’s important to be aware of common issues that can occur and may adversely affect your health.
Understanding these pitfalls can help you maintain a nutritionally sound vegan or vegetarian diet:
Consuming too much fruit sugar. Fruit is an important part of any healthy diet, but consuming too much fruit sugar on a daily basis can have a detrimental effect on blood sugar.
Also, fruits alone fail to provide the diversity of nutrients a body needs to thrive. Balance fruit intake with veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Lacking dietary variety. Being a creature of habit, or being afraid to try new foods or recipes, can leave your diet deficient in nutrients, and your taste buds in a sorry state. You’ll have food cravings, hunger pains, and might just give up on vegetarianism.
To help maintain your commitment, consider following these famous Dr. Seuss characters’ advice: Try New Things; You Might Like Them!
It might sound silly, but it’s an important point–don’t knock something until you’ve tried it, and even if you’ve tried it, try it again. This is especially true of vegetables, which can vary widely in taste and texture based on preparation.
Tipping the carb scale in the wrong direction. With so many convenience foods for vegetarians, it’s easy to get tricked into thinking you’re making a healthy choice by selecting “fortified with (fill in the blank)” products over fresh foods. The problem is that many such products are loaded with hidden sugars and sodium.
The better alternative is to aim to get complex carbs and grains from whole, organic food sources such as barley, wheat, rye, millet, flax. Buy dried berries and nuts without added sugar or salt.
Mismanaging your protein. New vegetarians and/or vegans may not initially understand how to properly combine foods to provide sufficient amounts of complete protein for their age and activity level. Many people wind up relying on protein shakes, which is not the ideal way to obtain protein.
Most of your protein should come from whole, real, fresh foods. Your physician can help you establish good, flavorful meal planning strategies.
Both vegetarians and vegans need to pay attention to the intake of nutrients lost by omitting meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. As noted above, “fortified with” foods aren’t the best because the nutrients aren’t in the most bioavailable state for the body to utilize. The nutrients most commonly lacking in vegan/vegetarian diets are:
(Supplements link to my recommended vegetarian supplements.)
To track your nutritional intake, try this awesome program: cronometer.com. It has both free and paid account options.
To understand your nutrient needs and assess risk for deficiency, talk to your physician about a nutrient assessment test. There are fantastic, comprehensive micronutrient tests, such as the one offered by SpectraCell, that can reveal any deficiencies or borderline deficiencies you may have.
Your physician can then offer recommendations how to best support your health with the right dose and type of supplements for you.