Following a vegan diet may improve your overall health and long-term quality of life, which is a huge draw to this new form of eating. Yet before you jump into eating a plant-based diet, there are a few things to consider.
Here are 7 things you can expect when switching to a vegan diet.
1. Stop focusing on food quantity and focus on food quality.
A vegan diet is naturally lower in calories. When you start eating a vegan diet, you have to shift your mentality and realize that larger portions and more carbs are okay, and yes, you will still lose weight.
A vegan diet is high in fiber, allowing your body to metabolize the healthy nutrients you need while maintaining low blood sugar levels. Similarly, a vegan diet is also low in fat as you eliminate animal fats from your diet. This forces your body into a state of mobilizing the fat stores for energy and allowing your body to burn fat faster. Your body will learn to use glycogen for energy consumption first instead of animal fats, explaining why you can eat more carbs on a vegan diet yet still lose weight.
Although a vegan diet is high in nutrients, if you are not eating enough to sustain your body’s needs throughout the day, you may begin to feel fatigued and become nutrient deficient. Knowing how much you are eating to meet the necessary vitamin, macro, and micronutrient levels is essential.
2. You may feel hungry more often.
As mentioned above, a vegan diet is lower in calories, and if you previously had a poor relationship with food, you may still look at your portions as too large. But you have to remember that you can and must eat larger quantities of food and eat more often on a vegan diet. My tip is to focus on intuitive eating, or eating until you are full and only eating when hungry, versus scheduling your meals.
3. You may become vitamin deficient.
Although a plant-based vegan diet is highly nutritious, there are still some micronutrients you lack with the absence of certain animal products from your diet. These include vitamins B12, iron, and calcium.
B12 vitamins are found solely in animal products, including seafood, poultry, eggs, etc. On the vegan diet, when you cannot have animal products, you can become susceptible to a B12 deficiency, which can become very dangerous. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that 92% of vegans had a vitamin B12 deficiency, while only 5% of meat-eaters were B12 deficient.
You may also become iron deficient, as most of our iron comes from consuming red meat. With a vegan diet, of course, you are not eating beef. So to get more iron in your diet, you will need to eat more leafy greens such as kale and spinach, and other iron-rich to include tofu, tempeh, soybeans, lentils, and nuts.
The last significant area of concern for vegans is their calcium levels. Much of the calcium we eat in a standard animal-based diet comes from dairy such as cheeses, milk, and yogurts. And on a vegan diet, you are avoiding those types of foods. So instead, you will need to look to more creative sources, which can be leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli. Some nuts, especially almonds, do have a lot of calcium in them as well.
4. Planning ahead is key.
One of the most challenging reasons to stick to a vegan diet, whether day-to-day or long-term, is the lack of planning. Whether you are out running errands or out to eat with friends, you will find yourself in a difficult situation if you do not plan accordingly.
5. Vegan isn’t always healthy.
Oreos are vegan, and they are not healthy. One of the main reasons people do not experience weight loss and the other health benefits of eating a vegan diet is because they are not eating whole, plant-based foods. Try to avoid the overly processed foods that claim to be vegan but are filled with GMOs and other artificial ingredients.
6. Change in bowel movements.
Due to the increase in fiber, you will notice a change in your bowel movements whether you use the bathroom more frequently or experience constipation. Just know that this is normal, and your body should adjust accordingly within a few weeks. Once your body settles in to eating these high-fiber foods, you will notice much better digestion, even better than before.
7. Higher energy levels and better sleep.
Forget the afternoon slump. When you eat a healthier, more balanced diet full of whole foods will experience higher and more sustained energy levels.
The absence of refined sugars, saturated fats, processed foods, and simple carbohydrates provides your body with cleaner and more sustained energy levels.
Similarly, a vegan diet has been proven to improve sleep quality in individuals. A plant-based diet increases tryptophan (an essential amino acid) levels, which raises the body’s level of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin and melatonin directly improve an individual’s sleep quality and sleep duration. Melatonin helps you fall asleep at night, while serotonin helps you feel more awake the next day.
So on a vegan diet, you will feel more energized from the time you wake up and experience more sustained energy levels until your head hits the pillow at night.
As listed above, there are many health and wellness benefits to following a vegan diet. But like anything, you want to be sure you are following this path of eating for reasons other than weight loss or more energy. When you have a long-term motivation to eat vegan, whether for the environment, ethical concerns, or sustained health, it will be much easier to stick to this method of eating for months and years to come. When you make the switch, your body will take time to adjust to this new way of eating, but the long-term benefits of eating a plant-based diet are worth it.
This article was originally published on the Bariatric Centers of America website.