Plant-based diets are all the rage, with everyone from medical experts to Beyoncé extolling the virtues of a meat-free or meat-light existence. But it only works if you’re doing it properly. Why miss steak if you’re making mistakes?
Here are five frequent missteps people make when starting a plant-based diet.
1. Assuming Any Meatless Meal is Healthier
While the health science behind sourcing most of your food from plants is sound, you still have to think about what you’re eating: After all, french fries and beer are vegan.
Almond milk may seem like a good alternative to cow’s milk, but it only has an average of 1.5 grams of protein per serving. And many commercial brands are loaded with sugar. Similarly, white bread, pasta, potatoes and other refined carbohydrates may take up as much room in your stomach as a pork chop, but they aren’t necessarily a wise choice.
2. Not Getting Enough Nutrients
While it’s possible to get all your vitamins and nutrients on a plant-based diet, you have to adjust your menu and lifestyle to make sure you cover all your bases. Vitamin B12, responsible for proper function of the nervous system, is found mainly found in animal products.
3. Relying Too Much on Mock Meats
There’s nothing wrong with throwing a veggie sausage on the grill or putting a tofurkey in the oven on Thanksgiving. Meat substitutes can certainly help with a transition to a plant-based diet, but over-reliance on processed fake meats can be counterproductive. “Many are just as high if not higher in fat, sodium and calories than the real thing,”
The same criticism goes for faux fromage: Many contain additives, preservatives and are highly processed, and some even contain casein, which is a protein derived from milk. “Cheese” developed from cashews or almonds are whole foods, and a sweet-potato sauce can deliver a tasty macaroni and cheese. You can also opt for other alternatives all together to replace cheese, like pesto or tahini sauce.
4. Panicking Over Protein
It’s a question every vegan encounters: “How do you get enough protein?” To all those armchair nutritionists we say: Calm down. While animal tissue does have all of the amino acid essential to human health, so does rice and beans.
On the protein vein, one important component is consuming all nine of the essential amino acids, which our bodies cannot create on their own. Lysine is the biggest a concern if you’re vegan, since it’s not too prevalent in plant-based sources. putting the average daily intake around 2,045 milligrams of lysine. Lentils and tofu are most abundant in lysine, but pistachios and almonds are good sources as well.
5. Underestimating the Importance of Meal Planning
Most major U.S. cities now boast a bevy of vegetarian options, even at Michelin-starred restaurants. But for the most part, opting for a plant-based diet means planning ahead. Taking part of your Sunday to prepare some plant-packed meals for the week is a good way to ensure you’ll have a balanced diet and not resort to breaking your diet.
It’s a good idea to seek out new vegetarian recipes a few times a week, so you get variation in your diet and don’t fall into the trap of eating pasta, potatoes or other easy, filling meals too frequently. For example, noodles made zucchini instead of refined grains offer a healthier alternative for pasta lovers.