There is no perfect diet. Whether vegan, ketogenic, Atkins, blood type, or the paleo diet, there has yet to be one strategy that works for everyone. That’s because everyone responds to food differently.
Unlike other diet strategies that focus exclusively on one’s health outcomes, a vegan diet has a deeper-rooted meaning. Specifically, avoiding animal products because of the cruelty and suffering needed to create them.
Yet even with all of the great health and environmental benefits of eating vegan, it’s still not perfect. So whether you’re knee-deep in vegan eating or just about to dip your toes into the water, continue reading to learn the quick fix methods to overcome the most common challenges of a vegan diet.
1. You could gain weight
Over the past year, the vegan product market reached $3.1 billion dollars in sales and still continues to climb. Vegan snack foods, alternative cheeses and mock meats, and ice creams are now becoming common place in households. This type of consumerism typically leads to poor dietary choices, which in turn can lead to weight gain.
The most nutritious vegan diet stems from whole plant foods that are unprocessed and unaltered. If it comes in a bag, it’s usually loaded with cheap vegetable oil, sodium, and/or sugar.
- As a rue of thumb, fill 50% of your grocery cart with produce (fresh or frozen) every shopping trip
2. It lacks nutrients
On paper, eating a vegan diet makes it more challenging to obtain vital nutrients that your body needs. Those nutrients are iron, calcium, and zinc. However, with proper planning, you can meet the recommended daily intake for each one.
The most respected professional nutrition organization in the world, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees that an “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
- Soak your dry beans before cooking to increase zinc absorption
- Pairing foods high in Vitamin C with iron increases absorption by up to 500%
- Drink calcium-fortified plant milk
3. You lose your most prominent source of Vitamin B12
The most prominent source of Vitamin B12 in our society today is meat. That’s because livestock and other animals grown for slaughter are fed this supplement in their food.
Vitamin B12 is well-known for its role in neurological development, as well as blood cell formation. In other words, it helps to protect our brains and build our DNA.
Given it’s importance to our bodily functions, health professionals recommend that adults over 50 years of age supplement with Vitamin B12, regardless of their diet. More specifically, the National Institutes of Health recommend healthy adults take 2.4 micrograms (mg) daily.
Most supplements are 1,000 mg per dose, more than enough to cover the daily recommendation. You can also eat B12 fortified foods like Bragg Nutritional Yeast or Eden Foods Soy Milk.
- For pennies on the dollar, you could easily be covered for a full year with a supplement
4. You lose your primary source of Omega-3s
In the Standard American Diet, fish is the primary source of Omega-3 fatty acids. This fatty acid is important for proper brain development, regulating blood clotting, and reducing cholesterol.
There are three different chains of Omega-3s: ALA, DHA, and EPA. ALA is essential, as we can only obtain it through diet.
EPA and DHA can be obtained from an ALA fat source or be consumed through either food or supplements.
In order to ensure you’re getting the proper dose of ALA in your diet, simply eat whole foods like flax seeds and English walnuts. Vegetable oils are another source of ALA Omega-3’s, but should be used sparingly.
5. It can set unrealistic expectations
Today’s culture looks towards health as perfection. Magazines, TV ads, and internet pop-ups market sex, beautiful bodies, and rock hard abs in as little as 10 minutes a day! By now, you know it’s not that easy.
Eating a vegan diet does not mean automatic health, happiness, and a shrinking waistline either. It takes consistency and dedication to avoid eating animal products. Plus, it’s easy to fall into eating a junk food vegan diet, which will edge you further away from the health you’re seeking.
Although, you might be relieved to know that if you stick to a vegan diet that is whole foods based, your chances of success increase dramatically. Once you decide to transition, take it one day at a time.
- Avoid comparing your results others, as everyone’s situation is different
- Keep learning about all the positives of a vegan diet
- If you’re new to cooking, follow easy to make recipes
6. It can cause gas and bloating
Beans and high fiber vegetables are a staple of a vegan diet. At the beginning, gas and bloating are one of the most commonly cited complaints of a vegan diet. Due to the huge influx of high fiber foods like beans, broccoli, and leafy greens, this can cause discomfort.
High fiber foods are great for your gut, but need some time to adapt, especially when coming from a meat-heavy diet. Luckily, these side effects disappear in as little as a month.
- Eat smaller meals more frequently
- Ease into harder to digest foods like cruciferous vegetables, onions, and garlic
- Avoid carbonated drinks and gum
- Eat ginger, sip herbal teas, and exercise regularly
7. It could interfere with medications
A vegan diet is well-known for its health promoting effects. People who have transitioned have been able to cut their daily medication intake by as much as half, and others have ditched them completely.
But it’s still important to realize that certain dietary changes can affect drug interactions, so always make sure to talk with your doctor before transitioning.
One notable blood thinner, Warfarin, can have negative interactions with dark, green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale. Additionally, soy milk, char-grilled foods, and sushi containing seaweed may also decrease the effect of Warfarin.
- If you take medications and want to transition to a vegan diet, talk with your doctor first. Keep the line of communication open to prevent unfavorable drug reactions
8. A strict vegan diet isn’t always easy to follow
Following a strict vegan diet is sometimes challenging. Constantly reading nutrition labels and explaining your needs to restaurant servers can get exhausting at times. Labels make it easier to identify vegan options now, but in everyday products, it’s hard to identify all animal-derived ingredients.
Other weekly traditions like office birthday parties and social outings become temptations versus celebrations. Fresh baked goods, that sometimes sneak honey into the ingredients are difficult to identify, unless there is a label.
Other hard to identify non-vegan ingredients are conventional items like confectioners glaze on candies which is derived from insects, isinglass that is extracted from fish bladders to make beer and wine, and L-cysteine (duck feathers) that is used in bread products.
When in doubt, put it down. If you’re unsure whether or not a product is vegan, assume it isn’t. There are very few situations where you have to eat what is served.
9. You could have difficulty when dining out
Vegan dining options continue to grow, but given the relatively young age of mainstream vegan eating, options are not plentiful. At first you may find it difficult or cumbersome to plan dining out. However, as time goes on, this becomes much easier and more fun too.
Eating vegan is particularity difficult with invitational food outings. Unless the event organizer knows your dietary restrictions, there will times when your meal is made up of side dishes.
This is one of the first noticeable cons of the diet you can overcome with a couple of easy solutions.
- Search menus online using Google, Yelp or Happy Cow
- Call the restaurant ahead of time and ask them to prepare a special meal for you (I’ve done this several times; chefs are very accommodating)
- Memorize common non-vegan ingredients for ease of explanation with your server
- Suggest a vegan-friendly restaurant to your group ahead of time
10. Planning new meals can be monotonous
Let’s face it, meal planning isn’t always fun. Sometimes you just want to hit the easy button and voila, your meal is ready. Since a vegan diet is naturally restrictive, planning ahead of time is crucial.
Thankfully there are meal planning resources likes Pinterest, vegan food bloggers, and Google. Even though it’s easier to hop in your car, grab fast food, and call it a night, it’s not worth it. Most of the benefits from eating vegan start at home in your kitchen.
Preparing bulk meals in advance is an easy strategy. Slow-cooker recipes are a great place to start. You could also double up any recipe you decide to cook so there are leftovers the following night.
- Eat the same breakfast and lunch each day. This will dramatically cut down on your food decisions and save you from unhealthy, impulse purchases
- Use Pinterest, Google, or other tasty recipe resources to plan out your meals for the week
- Go for frozen! Frozen fruits and veggies make for easy prep and consumption. They are just as, if not more nutritious than their fresh counterparts
11. It can feel carb heavy
It’s no wonder the longest living populations on earth thrive on a diet high in carbohydrates.
For most coming from the traditional diet heavy in meat, dairy, and processed foods, it’ll feel like you’re eating too many carbs. That’s a fair thought when 97% of Americans do not consume the recommended amount of fiber (carbs) each day.
That recommendation is equivalent to 30 grams of fiber per day or about 1 cup of cooked black beans. A very manageable eating task.
- Eat high protein and high fat vegan foods to start. As you get more comfortable, add in more carbohydrates
- Use MyFitnessPal to track your carbohydrate intake. Make notes about how you feel on higher and lower carbohydrate days and adjust
12. Replacing items can deflate your wallet
I transitioned to a vegan diet cold turkey. After the initial panic of what am I going to eat now wore off, I started putting together a grocery list of the staples and went shopping. As the cashier rang up the last product and the total cost displayed on the register, I swallowed hard and begrudgingly swiped my card.
It was expensive to say the least. The first few weeks after that were similar experiences because I was continuing to replace my old animal based products with vegan ones. Luckily, this inconvenience was short-lived, but inconvenient nonetheless.
- If your budget is tight, then transition slowly. There is no better way to switch to a vegan diet than the way that works for you
- Plant Based on a Budget is a great resource for inexpensive vegan meals, as well as dispelling any vegan diet cons
13. It may cause personal or social awkwardness
Everyone seems to become a nutrition expert when you tell them you’re vegan. “What about protein? You’re going to be deficient in B12! How are you going to get your calcium without milk?” It’s actually quite comical, but can get awkward at times.
Something similar happens at the dinner table too. Whether you like it or not, the conversation usually ends up centering around your diet.
People seem to love to share every reason why they can’t do it or why it’s too hard to eat vegan. You start to hear the same excuses and may find it hard to sympathize, especially after it becomes normal for you.
Despite your feelings, always take the high road and encourage, educate, or entertain. You never know what may resonate with your family and friends.
Less commonly, you may become the target for food humor. Statements like: “this meat tastes so good, you want some? Are you just going to eat spinach and carrots every day? Our ancestors ate meat, so should we!”
If you were the first one to go vegan in your circle, you know what I mean.
- Browse through nutritionfacts.org. Dr. Michael Greger, author of the New York Times Bestseller How Not To Die, makes easily digestible, five-minute videos about the amazing benefits of a plant-based diet.
- Learn the answers to the most common questions
- Let your results speak for themselves. After your health and life start to improve, others will look to you for help. Always use this opportunity to educate and raise awareness.
As you can see, even a vegan diet has its drawbacks. However, with a little creativity and craftiness, you can sidestep each one.
There are tons of free resources available to help you succeed. You can start by cooking, simple tasty recipes and educating yourself. As time goes on, eating a vegan diet becomes a normal part of your life.
Remember that the most successful diet out there is the one you can follow the longest. The benefits of eating vegan outweigh any of the cons listed above. Practice patience and persistence and you will see the fruits of your labor in no time.