The 4 Most Common Vegetarian Diet Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
April 25, 2018
About 7.3 million Americans are vegetarians with another 22.8 million following a “vegetarian-inclined” diet. For many, it is a long-term commitment with nearly 60 percent following it for over 10 years. People have many reasons for making this choice with animal welfare and improvement of overall health leading the pack.
However, there are health risks associated with any diet that excludes certain food groups. Therein lies the problems some may find with a vegetarian option. Some issues are obvious, while others fly under the radar. The signs are often subtle so that you might not even consider diet as the cause. Many involve the intricacies of body chemistry.
Mistake #1: Not Meeting Your Protein Needs
Protein is the big one. Let’s start with how much you need. As a general rule, your RDA is your weight times 0.36. This online calculator can help you tweak the amount to your lifestyle. You might think that it’s easy to get enough, especially if you eat a lot of meat. The fact remains that over 40 percent of Americans fall short of the RDA.
It’s especially difficult for vegetarians because of their diet. There are nine essential amino acids that your diet must provide. You can think of these chemicals as the building blocks for proteins. Each one has a certain sequence of amino acids. If one is missing, your body can’t make the proteins that require it.
While many plant-based foods contain protein, not all of them have the full complement of amino acids. That means that a vegetarian must eat a variety of foods to ensure they have all nine in their diet. Your body can’t make up the difference and produce more of them.
Getting adequate amounts means that a vegetarian must pay closer attention to their diet. Diets that include meat don’t have that issue because they are complete proteins.
Increase the variety of protein-containing foods. Ideally, have more than one at each meal. Excellent sources include:
- Beans and bean products like hummus
- Soy and soy products like tofu
- Nut and nut products like almond butter
You may find it helpful to track your eating using a food diary to make sure you’re covering all the bases.
Mistake #2: Missing Out on Getting Enough Calcium
This issue is one of the more insidious consequences of a vegetarian diet. When you eat a plant-based diet, you’re consuming higher quantities of foods that contain oxalic and phytic acids. Vegetables like spinach and beans are rich sources of the former, while nuts and seeds often have the latter.
The problem is that they may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium. It is a vital nutrient for many body processes including heart and nerve function. It’s so important to your health that your body will tap into your stores of it in your bones and teeth to get enough. Deficiencies in calcium increase your risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
This one is tougher to identify since it really needs to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Many other foods contain calcium too. To ensure adequate amounts, make sure to include fat-free and low-fat dairy products in your daily diet. Your doctor can test your blood for its calcium level if you have concerns. Just be aware that dairy-based foods are essential.
Mistake #3: Where’s Your Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is another nutrient that you have to pay attention to when you go vegetarian. It’s a bit of an anomaly when it comes to the B-complex vitamins. Plants provide excellent sources for most of the others. This one is the exception. The foods that have the highest amounts are primarily meat and fish based, with the exception of fortified breakfast cereals.
And as if that weren’t enough, vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient. That means that your body doesn’t store any excess amounts you get from your diet. It puts the daily in RDA. Deficiencies aren’t just a vegetarian issue. Your ability to absorb it from foods declines with age. The steps that you take to correct a deficiency are ones that many of us will likely have to follow too.
Dairy products and eggs can provide vegetarian-friendly options. Your doctor can order a blood test to determine your level. She also may recommend a dietary supplement. Otherwise, you might make that bowl of cornflakes a part of your daily diet.
Mistake #4: What Vitamin D Too?
Vitamin D may not present the same problems as other nutrients for two good reasons. First, they don’t call it the sunshine vitamin without a reason. You can get enough if you spend as little as 15 minutes outside a couple of times a week. Second, unlike B12, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. That means that your body will store any extra you get so that none goes to waste.
Sun exposure is the best way to get enough. However, Chicago, we have a problem. If you live north of the 37th parallel, the vitamin D generator turns off during the winter months. That includes any place above an imaginary line at the end of the state of Illinois and going coast-to-coast. You’ll have to look toward your diet to meet your body’s needs.
Like B12, most of the best dietary sources are meat and fish based. However, you’re not out of luck. You’ll find many fortified products such as coconut milk or orange juice that contain extra calcium. Dairy products like milk and yogurt are good sources too. Keep your calories in check by opting for fat-free or low-fat beverages.
Being a vegetarian doesn’t mean you can’t follow a healthy diet. Instead, you need to pay closer attention to what you eat. Make it a high priority to include a variety of foods and drinks in your diet. Choose the ones that are nutrient-dense to tick off as many of the boxes as possible. There’s no reason why vegetarian diet can’t offer the same nutritional value as one that includes meat.