Going vegetarian (or vegan) one, two or all meals per week is no longer just for your most on-the-fringe friends.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z have dabbled in vegan eating, and Arizona Cardinal David Carter switched to a plant-based diet after experiencing health issues. Plant-based meals have become more mainstream thanks to celebrity chefs, journalists, and a slew of documentaries shedding light on both the benefits of eating more plants and the reasons to cut back on meat. It’s well established that there are both health and environmental benefits from eating more plant foods and fewer animal products, but could your honorable efforts to cut back on animal products actually be sabotaging your diet? Whether you go plant-based one meal or day per week or for your entire diet, watch out for these common mistakes.
- Relying on faux meat. Meat alternatives (also referred to as meat analogues) are often highly processed and filled with a long list of unpronounceable artificial ingredients Pair that with a sizeable dose of sodium (some products with upwards of 800 mg per serving, or one-third your daily allotment), and you’ll want to think twice about those frozen vegetable burgers and “chickenless” nuggets. Not all products are created equally though, so read those labels, or better yet, fill your plate with whole plant proteins such as beans, legumes, whole soy products like tofu and tempeh, nuts, and seeds. Mushrooms, eggplant, and lentils can also satisfy that umami craving and act as a whole food meat replacement for a burger or in a sauce. And, don’t forget that many whole grains like farro and bulgur add to your daily protein needs as well.
- Forgetting about protein. With a little planning, it’s easy for most people (yes, even athletes!), to consume enough protein with only plant foods. However, plant-based meals are in danger of ending up a little too heavy on the carbs. Fill your plate with non-starchy vegetables; add a slightly smaller portion of either a nutrient-dense starchy vegetable such as butternut squash or sweet potato or whole grain; and make sure to add beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, or seeds to keep you satisfied. Vegan protein powders made from hemp or pea protein can be part of a healthful diet, but don’t rely solely on them, and read those labels to watch out for added sugars or other additives that should be limited.
- Overdosing on “healthy” fats. While plant-based fats like nuts, seeds, avocado and olives (and their oils) are full of the healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats (not to mention a punch of phytonutrients, or plant nutrients that offer health benefits) they still contain calories that add up quickly. But, don’t skimp either as fat can help boost satiety and plays an important role in many bodily functions. Learn to recognize portion sizes here.
- Assuming vegan equals healthy. Many vegan snack foods can be filled with unwanted ingredients, from artificial flavors or colors to added sugar and sodium. Stick to whole foods whether or not animal products are part of your diet.
- Sippin’ on too many smoothies and juices. Sometimes promoted as a ticket to health, cold pressed juices and smoothies have taken center stage among health enthusiasts, including those promoting plant-based eating. While both can be part of a healthy diet, more often than not, juices and smoothies are calorie and sugar bombs (yes, even some of the green ones) and fill you up less than the same number of calories eaten of food that you chew. Consider ingredients, watch portion sizes, and think about how they fit into your overall diet.