12 Mistakes to Avoid on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet
By Rachael Link, MS, RD
A balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can provide many health benefits.
However, it can be challenging to maintain a well-rounded vegetarian diet that provides all the nutrients you need.
This article uncovers some of the most common mistakes people make on a vegan or vegetarian diet, and how to avoid them.
Assuming That Vegan or Vegetarian Products Are Automatically Healthier
Unfortunately, just because a food product is labeled "vegetarian" or "vegan" doesn't necessarily mean it's healthier than the regular alternative.
For example, almond milk is a popular, plant-based milk that's often a staple in vegan diets.
However, while almond milk is low in calories and enriched with several important vitamins and minerals, it is not necessarily healthier than cow's milk.
Sweetened almond milk can also be high in added sugar, with 16 grams of sugar in just 1 cup (7).
Other vegetarian products, such as soy-based veggie burgers, nuggets and meat alternatives, are often highly processed, with a long list of artificial ingredients. So they're often no healthier than other non-vegetarian processed foods.
Despite being vegetarian, these products are also often high in calories, yet lacking the protein, fiber and nutrients necessary for a balanced meal.
While these products may ease your transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet, it's best to consume them in moderation with a diet rich in nutritious, whole foods.
Summary: Many foods marketed as vegetarian or vegan are often highly processed, high in added sugar or lacking in nutrients. If you include these products in your diet, eat them only in moderation.
Not Getting Enough Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 plays several important roles in the body. It's important in the creation of red blood cells and DNA, among other processes (8).
Unfortunately, the main sources of vitamin B12 are animal products, such as meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs and milk products.
For this reason, vegetarians have an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency (9).
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause fatigue, memory problems and numbness. It can also lead to megaloblastic anemia, a condition caused by having a lower-than-normal amount of red blood cells (10).
Unfortunately, a high intake of folate can actually mask vitamin B12 deficiency, hiding symptoms until the damage becomes irreversible (11).
However, there are foods and supplements available that can help vegetarians meet their vitamin B12 needs.
Vegetarians should monitor their vitamin B12 intake carefully and consider taking supplements if their needs aren't met through diet alone.
Summary: Vegetarians and vegans are at a greater risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, so make sure you consume fortified foods or B12 supplements.
Replacing Meat With Cheese
One of the easiest ways to make nearly any dish vegetarian is to take out the meat and replace it with cheese. When it comes to flavor, the swap works well for sandwiches, salads, pasta and many other dishes.
However, while cheese does contain a good amount of protein, vitamins and minerals, it doesn't replace the wide assortment of nutrients found in meat.
Cheese also contains less protein and more calories than meat.
Instead of simply replacing meat with cheese, you should include a variety of plant foods in your diet to meet your nutrient needs.
Chickpeas, quinoa, tempeh, lentils, beans and nuts are all excellent options to help round out a vegetarian diet.
Summary: Instead of just replacing meat with cheese, make sure to also include a diverse range of plant foods in your diet to provide important nutrients.
Eating Too Few Calories
Many foods and food groups are off-limits for vegans and vegetarians, which can make it challenging for them to meet their calorie needs.
In fact, vegans and vegetarians tend to eat fewer calories than people who eat both meat and plants.
One study compared the nutritional quality of 1,475 people's diets, including vegans, vegetarians, vegetarians who ate fish, people who ate both meat and plants and people who ate meat only once a week.
Vegans had the lowest calorie intake across all the groups, consuming 600 fewer calories than people who ate both meat and plants.
Vegetarians had a slightly higher calorie intake than vegans, but still consumed 263 fewer calories than people who ate both meat and plants (17).
Calories are the main source of energy for the body, and your body needs a certain amount to function. Restricting calories too much can lead to several negative side effects, such as nutrient deficiencies, fatigue and a slower metabolism (18, 19, 20).
Summary: Vegans and vegetarians tend to have a lower calorie intake than people who eat meat and plants. If you're following either of these diets, make sure you're meeting your calorie needs.
Not Drinking Enough Water
Drinking enough water is important for everyone, but may be especially important for those who eat a lot of fiber, including vegetarians and vegans.
Vegetarians tend to have a higher fiber intake, since fiber-rich legumes, vegetables and whole grains are staples in a healthy vegetarian diet.
One study found that people who eat both meat and plants eat about 27 grams of fiber per day, while vegans and vegetarians eat about 41 grams and 34 grams, respectively (17).
Drinking water with fiber is important because it can help fiber move through the digestive tract and prevent issues like gas, bloating and constipation.
Fiber consumption is incredibly important for health, and has been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity (21).
Current guidelines recommend women consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day, and men consume at least 38 grams (22).
To make sure you're drinking enough water, drink when you feel thirsty, and spread your water intake throughout the day to stay hydrated.
Summary: Vegans and vegetarians usually eat a lot of fiber. Drinking enough water can help prevent digestive problems associated with increased fiber intake, such as gas, bloating and constipation.
Forgetting About Iron
Meat is a good source of many important vitamins and minerals, including iron.
For example, a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of ground beef supplies 14 percent of the iron you need for the entire day (14).
Also, meat contains heme iron, a type of iron your body can absorb easily.
Plant sources of iron contain non-heme iron, which your body can't absorb as easily. Non-heme iron is present in many types of fruits, vegetables, cereals and beans (23).
Because of this, vegetarians have a greater risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia, a condition in which there are not enough red blood cells in the body. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness (24).
However, a well-planned vegetarian diet filled with iron-rich plant foods can meet your daily needs.
If you're a vegetarian or vegan, make sure to consume plenty of good sources of iron, including lentils, beans, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds, oats and leafy greens.
Additionally, pairing iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron (25).
Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables, so including a vegetable side dish, salad or piece of fruit with your meals can help increase iron absorption.
Summary: Plant foods contain non-heme iron, which the body can't absorb as well as the heme iron found in meat. Vegetarians should include iron-rich foods in the diet and pair them with vitamin C to increase absorption.
Not Eating Enough Whole Foods
Just because a food product is vegetarian or vegan doesn't mean it's good for you.
There are plenty of processed foods available at the grocery store that are free of meat or animal products. However, they often contribute little to your diet.
Instead of eating these, use your vegetarian diet as an opportunity to reduce your consumption of processed foods and increase your intake of nutrient-dense, whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Increasing your intake of these foods will help you get the valuable vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you need to help prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Eating whole foods rather than processed foods may give you other benefits too, such as an increased metabolism.
One study measured the metabolism of 17 participants after they ate a meal made with either processed foods or whole foods.
Both groups felt equally full after the meal, but the group that ate the whole foods burned nearly double the calories after their meal than the group that ate the processed foods (26).
To start including more whole foods in your diet, swap out refined grains for whole grains, and limit the amount of processed and convenience foods you eat.
Additionally, try adding more vegetables and fruits to your meals and snacks throughout the day.
Summary: Vegetarian diets should be rich in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They'll help you maximize nutrient intake and promote a balanced diet.
Consuming a Diet Low in Calcium
Calcium is an important mineral your body needs to keep your bones and teeth strong, help your muscles work efficiently and support the function of your nervous system (27).
A calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that causes weak, porous bones and increases the risk of bone fractures (28).
Though calcium is found in a variety of foods, the most well-known source of calcium is dairy products.
Those who don't consume dairy should monitor their calcium intake and include other high-calcium foods in their diet.
Calcium-rich plant foods include kale, collard greens, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, figs and oranges. Fortified foods can also be a good source of calcium.
You can get all the calcium you need by incorporating a few servings of these foods into your meals and snacks throughout the day.
Summary: Those who don't consume milk or dairy products should consume other calcium-rich foods to meet their calcium needs.
Underestimating the Importance of Meal Planning
Whether you're cooking at home or dining out, eating vegetarian or vegan requires some extra planning.
Meal plans are especially useful if you're currently changing your diet to be vegetarian or vegan.
They can help ease your transition and make it easier to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet.
When you're eating out or traveling, advanced meal planning becomes especially important.
Some restaurants offer limited choices for vegetarians, so looking at the menu in advance can help you make informed decisions and select the most nutritious choices available.
Additionally, make it a habit to find a few vegetarian recipes each week and cook them on your own.
Summary: Planning meals ahead of time and knowing what your options are when dining out can ensure you maintain a diverse and balanced diet.
Not Eating Enough Protein-Rich Foods
Protein is an essential part of the diet. Your body uses it to help build tissue, create enzymes and produce hormones.
Current recommendations suggest adults should eat at least 0.8 grams of protein per day for every 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of body weight (32).
For example, an individual who is 154 lbs (70 kg) would need approximately 56 grams of protein per day.
If you're eating animal-based foods, you'll probably find it easy to fulfill this requirement.
On the other hand, if you're following a vegetarian diet, you may need to make a more conscious effort to eat high-protein foods that will help you meet your protein requirements.
There are plenty of plant foods that contain an amount of protein comparable to the amount you'd find in meat. For example, 1 cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein (34).
Beans, lentils, nuts, nut butters, tofu and tempeh can all up your daily protein intake.
Try to incorporate at least one or two of these foods into each meal to make sure you're getting enough protein.
Summary: Vegetarians should be mindful of protein intake and include one or two servings of high-protein plant foods with each meal.
Not Getting Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of the diet.
Fatty fish and fish oil are the most common sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
They contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the two forms of omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to be the most beneficial.
On the other hand, plant foods contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that your body must convert to DHA and EPA to use (38).
Unfortunately, your body is only able to convert about 5 percent of ALA to EPA and less than 0.5 percent to DHA (39).
To meet your omega-3 needs while following a vegetarian diet, eat a good amount of ALA-rich foods or consider taking a plant-based omega-3 supplement like algal oil.
Foods highest in ALA omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seed, flaxseeds, Brussels sprouts and perilla oil.
Including a few servings of these foods in your diet each day can easily help you meet your omega-3 fatty acid needs.
Summary: Plant foods contain ALA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that your body can only use in small amounts. Vegetarians should consume a good amount of ALA-rich foods, or use a plant-based supplement.
Eating Too Many Refined Carbs
Many vegetarians fall into the trap of replacing meat with refined carbs.
Unfortunately, pasta, bread, bagels, cakes and crackers often end up as main ingredients in a poorly planned vegetarian diet.
During processing, refined grains are stripped of the beneficial fiber that is found in whole grains.
To maximize the nutrients in your diet, switch out refined grains like white bread, pasta and white rice for whole grains such as quinoa, oats, brown rice and buckwheat.
Additionally, make sure you're pairing those whole grains with plenty of whole fruits, vegetables and legumes to keep your diet balanced and nutritious.
Summary: Instead of replacing meat with a lot of refined carbs, vegetarians should consume whole grains as part of a healthy diet.
The Bottom Line
A balanced vegan or vegetarian diet can be very healthy and nutritious.
However, these diets can also lead to nutrient deficiencies and potential health problems if they aren't well-planned.
If you're just getting started eating this way, check out this article.
To achieve a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet, simply eat plenty of whole foods and make sure you're regularly consuming a few key nutrients.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
A pygmy rabbit rescued from a breeding site in Beezley Hills, Washington, eats owl clover in its new enclosure. Kourtney Stonehouse, WDFW
- 7 Devastating Photos of Wildfires in California, Oregon and ... ›
- California Wildfires Destroy Condor Sanctuary, at Least 4 Birds Still ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
- Climate Activists Prepare for November Election - EcoWatch ›
- The Next Election Is About the Next 10,000 Years - EcoWatch ›
- Latino Voters Worried About Climate Change Could Swing 2020 ... ›
- Climate Crisis Could Change Permafrost Soil Microbes, With ... ›
- Zombie Fires Could Be Awakening in the Arctic - EcoWatch ›
- The Arctic Is on Fire and Warming Twice as Fast as the Rest of the ... ›
By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
Scientists are on the brink of scaling up an enzyme that devours plastic. In the latest breakthrough, the enzyme degraded plastic bottles six times faster than previous research achieved, as The Guardian reported.
- Mutant Enzyme Recycles Plastic in Hours, Could Revolutionize ... ›
- Scientists Find Bacteria That Eats Plastic - EcoWatch ›
- Plastics: The History of an Ecological Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Accidentally Develop 'Mutant' Enzyme That Eats Plastic ... ›