5 mistakes to avoid for a healthy vegan diet

Vegan and plant-based diets are becoming more and more popular, and I see many vegan patients in clinic. 


Many people embrace this diet for ethical reasons, but also because they believe it is a healthier way of eating. So why do many people start experiencing symptoms such as tiredness, gut and hormonal issues after being vegan for a while? While it's true that a balanced vegan diet can have many health benefits, an unbalanced one can have the opposite effect and leave the body unnourished and deprived of many nutrients.

Below are some mistakes to avoid to ensure your vegan diet is balanced and will help you thrive, but please refer to a professional for a personalised diet which will truly help you reach your health and wellbeing goals.

1. Don’t be a “carbitarian”

I see many patients ditching animal-derived produce and substituting most of them with larger portions of carbohydrates, which end up constituting most of their diet. We need all macronutrients to thrive, not only carbs but also protein and fats.

Having mainly carbs as a source of energy can also lead to the dreaded “sugar roller-coaster”, where energy levels plummet some hours after having a meal leading you to feel hungry and craving more carbs/sugars.

2. Not getting enough proteins

Proteins are essential for muscle and body tissue repair, liver detoxification, hormone and immune system formation and many other functions. Cutting animal-derived proteins shouldn’t mean cutting all kinds of proteins but instead switching to plant-based ones.

Our body needs a minimum of 0.75g of protein per kg weight, more if training or having a very active lifestyle. Legumes are a great source of protein – could be a lentil soup, bean-based burger, falafel or hummus. Not overly processed soy products such as tofu and tempeh are also a great choice. Nuts and seeds are also a source of protein, as well as grains such as spelt, amaranth and quinoa.

Plant based protein sources are not complete, meaning they usually don’t have all the 9 essential amino acids; for this reason, it is important that a vegan diet includes different sources of plant based proteins during the day.

3. Indulging in ultra-processed soy-based meat alternatives and vegan junk foods

If it's vegan it means it's healthy, right? No, it is not. Soy-based “meat” products are often incredibly processed and very high in sodium, unhealthy fats and preservatives, with little nutritional value left in them. Some vegan burgers (not only soy-based ones) have even more saturated fats than an average beef burger.

Vegan sauces can also be very high in salt, sugar, pro-inflammatory fats and preservatives. Studies point out that we harvest more Kcal from very processed foods as our body won’t be using as much energy to digest these kinds of foods, making it not an ideal choice if you're trying to manage weight. Vegan or non-vegan processed foods should be a very occasional treat as they can provide Kcal but not the micronutrients that make a meal nourishing.

4. Not enough variety of foods

A vegan diet should not be bland or limited to a small selection of foods. Variety is key to ensure a healthy gut and microbiota, as well as enough protein and kcal intake. Getting creative with different grains, legumes and vegetables, trying different nuts and nut butters and experimenting with new ways of cooking tofu and tempeh will make your diet varied, flavourful and nourishing. 

5. Not supplementing B12

While a balanced vegan diet can be healthy and provide all needed nutrients, there is one nutrient that is present only in meat, fish and other animal derived products: vitamin B12. UK RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake) for adults is 1.5mg per day. Vitamin B12 is needed to form red blood cells and DNA, conversion of folic acid in its active form, as well as to maintain nervous system health.

B12 deficiency can lead to tiredness, mouth ulcers, pins and needles, headaches, palpitations and ultimately anaemia. Always supplement B12 if following a vegan diet.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, W1S 1HP
Written by Lucia Stansbie, Registered Nutritional Therapist, Dip CNM, mBANT, mCNHC
London, W1S 1HP

Lucia Stansbie, BANT registered Nutritional Therapist founder of Food Power Nutrition

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