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9 Mistakes Even Seasoned Plant-Based Individuals Make

Dennis Gillett, Health & Fitness Writer

Written by Dennis Gillett, Health & Fitness Writer. Updated on November 27, 2023.

No matter what motivates you to be a plant-based individual, you probably agree that a whole food plant-based diet is one the healthiest ones.

The health benefits of a balanced, WFPB diet are numerous and well-researched.

These benefits include improved heart health, type 2 diabetes prevention, lower risk of cancer, reduced chance of stroke, healthy weight loss, and many others.

Not to mention that you’re not part of animals’ suffering, and environmental, sustainability aspects, and so on…

However, some plant-based diet mistakes are common, both among newbies and seasoned ones.

1. Not Eating Enough

Most whole plants are usually high in volume and low in calories. What’s more, many people who want to lose weight adopt a whole-food plant-based diet because of this.

However, it’s easy to consume too few calories when you ditch processed and junk food.

For example, one cup of broccoli has only 35 calories.

Even people who want to lose weight should aim for a reasonable caloric deficit to avoid the side effects of not eating enough.

Signs that you’re not eating enough include rapid weight loss, low energy levels, irritability and mood changes, feeling cold, and even hair loss.

Prolonged undereating can lead to serious health issues.

2. Believing That Vegan Foods Are Necessarily Healthy

Here’s a bitter truth.

Most processed, prepacked vegan products are junk food, and very unhealthy for you.

Seeing a “Vegan” label on the package doesn’t automatically mean it’s a good choice.

Products that contain trans fats or high amounts of saturated fats, sodium, added sugar or refined carbs, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors or sweeteners, MSG, and similar ingredients are very bad for your health, especially in the long term.

It’s okay to have them sometimes, but always be sure to treat them as a treat, not a staple.

Instead, focus on whole, unprocessed foods, in a form that is closest to its natural form.

For example, avoid store-bought potato chips that are full of salt, oil, and artificial additives, and prepare oven-baked potatoes instead.

3. Obsessing About Macros

Trying to overoptimize every meal and day of eating can be frustrating, lead to orthorexia, or make you give up on a plant-based diet.

There are many popular plant-based diets, such as high-carb low-fat diet (HCLF), also known as The Starch Solution, promoted by Dr John McDougall, plant-based keto diet, low-protein longevity diet, high-protein protein plant-based diet and others.

However, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends a balanced macronutrient distribution.

Here are their acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges:

  • 45 to 65% calories from carbs
  • 20 to 35% calories from fats
  • 10 to 35% calories from proteins

These ranges are broad enough so everyone can find what works best for them.

So, it’s important to stick a healthy, whole foods, and not obsess with macros.

4. Not Thinking About Macros And Calories At All

You definitely shouldn’t obsess about macros and calories all the time, it is a good idea to have an idea of what your macros and energy intake look like.

Apps like Cronometer or MyFitnessPal are easy to use and free, so you can enter your full day of eating to see what your macros are.

As a bonus, you’ll also be able to see a micronutrient breakdown and be sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals from your diet to avoid any deficiencies.

It’s easy to overeat with nuts and seeds, since they are a condensed energy source, having 9 calories per gram, contrary to the 4 calories per gram that carbs and proteins offer.

For example, one handful (about 1 oz or 30 grams) of dry roasted peanuts contain 167 calories.

This doesn’t mean you should avoid nuts and seeds, they are very healthy and a source of good fats, minerals, vitamins, and fiber, but you have to be thoughtful about the portion size.

5. Eating Too Much Fiber

Whole foods are naturally high in fiber, which is a good thing.

Fiber can offer many health benefits, including:

  • Improved bowel movements and bower health
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Improved blood sugar levels
  • Reduced risk of certain cancers
  • Aid in healthy weight loss

However, if you increase your fiber too fast, you may experience digestive problems, such as gas, bloating, cramping, or even constipation.

Increasing the fiber intake gradually will let your digestive system and gut bacteria adapt and avoid these issues.

Also, be sure to drink enough water on a high-fiber diet to prevent constipation.

6. Not Supplementing B-12

Vitamin B-12 plays an important role in our body and is needed to form red blood cells and prevent anemia. It’s also very important for brain, bone, and muscle health, and can improve mood and energy levels.

It’s found almost exclusively in animal products, so people on a plant-based diet need to supplement it.

There are two ways to get enough vitamin B-12:

  1. Eating fortified foods: Fortified nutritional yeast, plant-based milks, cereals and other products.
  2. Using a supplement: Preferably in form of cyanocobalamin rather than methylcobalamin

Dr Michael Greger recommends taking a 2,000 mcg supplement each week or 50 mcg every day.

If you choose to stick to fortified foods instead of supplements, be sure to check the amount of vitamin B-12 in it and its serving size to avoid deficiency.

7. Completely Avoiding Sodium

Added salt and sodium have a really bad reputation, for a good reason. Too much sodium can lead to numerous health conditions, such as:

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Some types of cancers, such as stomach cancer
  • Osteoporosis

Most Americans eat more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, which is simply too much.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams, while they see an ideal amount not exceeding 1,500 mg per day.

However, you shouldn’t completely ditch sodium. It plays an important role in human health, and it’s estimated that we need about 500 mg of sodium daily for vital functions.

That being said, we can conclude that an amount between 500 mg and 1,500 mg is a sweet spot when it comes to sodium intake.

However, since we are losing sodium through sweating, sometimes that sodium needs are increased, especially during hot and humid days, or after physical activities.

8. Combining Certain Food

Eating some foods together can prevent nutrient absorption or increase the risk of kidney stones for example.

Here are some of the combinations you should avoid:

  • Spinach and tofu: Oxalic acid in spinach and calcium in tofu could bind together and form calcium oxalate, which poses a risk to forming kidney stones.
  • Legumes and red wine, coffee, or chocolate: Tannins in wine, coffee, or chocolate can worsen the absorption of some nutrients from legumes, such as iron or zinc.
  • Nuts and soy products: Phytates found in nuts, seeds, and whole grains can block the absorption of iron. Soaking and cooking them can significantly reduce the phytates content.

Of course, these foods together occasionally aren’t a deal breaker, but you should avoid combining them on a daily basis.

9. Avoiding Fruits Because of Fructose

Last but not least, fruits are not bad for you. What’s more, not eating enough fruits poses a risk to many chronic diseases and conditions, such as cancer, heart diseases, metabolic disorders, and others.

Fructose is naturally occurring in fruits and isn’t a reason for panic.

Current recommendations state that optimal daily fruit intake is five servings of one cup (about 80 grams), and one review found that having more than five servings a day don’t provide added benefit.

Unlike fruits, added fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, and agave syrup, don’t contain water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and should be avoided.

Fructose on its own can lead to obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

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