Veganism is set to be one of the major nutrition trends of 2019 and in case you missed it, Veganuary (celebrated in January – i.e. now) is a charity set up to inspire people to give this way of eating a go. Lots of people are asking the question ‘should I go vegan’ or ‘how can I be a healthy vegan?’
We’ve certainly seen a massive increase in this way of eating in Australia over the last few years; now, you don’t have to go too far in Brisbane to find a vegan restaurant!
Remember I don’t engage in debates about ‘which is the best diet’ given that all of us humans are completely unique. It’s my job instead to make sure, however you decide to eat, you are doing it the very best way. So, if you are giving veganism a go in January this year, or at any other stage of the year for that matter, here are the top 5 rookie errors I witness in ‘new vegans’ in the clinic:
1. Thinking it’s just about ‘giving up meat.’ No. You give up 1 thing (in this case, it’s more than just meat, it’s all animal products) you are going to need to ensure you include a wide variety of other things instead. Otherwise you will end up with the following 4 problems.
2. Not getting enough protein: yes it’s important for muscle and all that, but protein goes a lot further than that. Amino acids (protein broken down) make up our digestive enzymes which literally makes absorbing nutrients possible.
They also make up our neurotransmitters – these are the chemicals in our brain that keep us happy, level headed, help us sleep etc. Protein is also needed for hormones. So I can go on… but seriously, having enough muscle is the least of your worries when it comes to protein. Replacing said animal proteins with a huge variety and enough plant based proteins is now key. I will emphasis variety too. because too much of anything has consequences. Legumes, tofu, seeds, tempeh, nuts, good quality protein powders, higher proteins grains (buckwheat, quinoa etc.) will now need to be an integral part of your diet. Please, do be realistic. If you can’t stand legumes or you refuse to eat tofu… well, maybe going vegan just isn’t for you? You can’t exist on air. For more on mental health and nutrition you should also read this article here.
3. Missing out on essential nutrients, particularly B12, iodine and iron. These are big ticket items and again, really important for our mental wellbeing, muscle and nerve function, energy, oxygen transportation around the body, thyroid function, immune system… again, I could go on. You can’t just ‘exist’ on suboptimal iron and B12 levels so these little numbers need to be checked
regularly, say every 12 months. It’s likely B12 will need to be supplemented as its simply too scant in a diet completely devoid of animal products and iron levels will need careful monitoring. Book in for a consult if you have concerns around these key nutrients and we can talk more detail one on one.
4. Trying to combine ‘multiple diets’ in one. E.g. low carb and veganism. Personally I think when we get wrapped up in labels and start combining ‘trends’ it means more restriction, less variety, more complication, more rules, less intuition… it’s just a recipe for disaster (pardon the pun). In particular, the combo I just listed – low carb veganism just ain’t going to work together. Refer to point 5 if you are all muddled up and guilty of trying to follow everything that’s trendy all at once.
5. Why are you starting? Going vegan is a big decision. Don’t do it for a friend or a family member and damn, do not do it because some model with a 6 pack is endorsing it. Do it for you, because it aligns with your values and it feels good for you. If you are clear on this, point 4 shouldn’t be an issue.
Finally, please be brave enough to tweak things if it just isn’t working for you. Personally, I think some of us thrive on plant based proteins and others just thrive when we include animal proteins. We aren’t all the same. That’s what makes life kinda cool but also a little messy sometimes. Whatever you do, don’t stick with something that just doesn’t feel right for you – find something that feels right on all levels. Make THAT your goal for 2019!