The vegetarian diet has important benefits, as long as it is done in a planned way. What are the most recurring mistakes?

Anna Vilarrasa

Written and verified by the nutritionist Anna Vilarrasa the September 12, 2021.

Last update: September 12, 2021

Often times, people who eat a vegetarian diet tend to make mistakes. Although it is an eating model that has gained popularity for its benefits, its poor implementation carries several health risks.

In this regard, the position of many experts aligns with that of the American Dietitians Association. It stated in 2009 that “Properly planned vegetarian diets are healthy, nutritionally adequate, and can provide health benefits and disease prevention.”

Therefore, in order to get the most out of this way of feeding, it is convenient to know what to avoid and how it can be improved so that it does not have a negative impact. Keep reading!

Characteristics of the vegetarian diet

More and more people decide to reduce their consumption of meat, or who opt for a completely vegan diet. Between these two options, several types of vegetarians are distinguished according to the foods of animal origin that are excluded. Among the most common are the following:

  • Ovolactovegetarian: includes all foods of plant origin plus the intake of eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese or yogurt).
  • Lactovegetarian: eliminates meat, fish and eggs, but keeps milk (cow, goat or sheep) and its derivatives.
  • Ovovegetarian: as in the previous one, meat and fish are excluded, but also dairy products.
  • Vegan diet– It is uniquely based on plant-based foods.
  • Flexitarian: halfway between a vegan and an omnivore, as it tries to be a mostly vegetarian diet with the sporadic intake of meat, fish and eggs.
The vegetarian diet is characterized by an abundant content of plant foods. Therefore, it is considered one of the healthiest options.

Most frequent mistakes in the vegetarian diet

Beyond animal welfare and caring for the planet, plant-based diets provide health benefits. However, in order to obtain such effects, it is necessary to look at a few key points.

1. Not getting enough protein at every meal

Protein intake is necessary because plays an important role in many bodily functions. Apart from the total recommended amount (which depends on the weight and activity of each one), it is important to look at the periodicity.

Thus, it is preferable that this is present in the 3 main meals of the day. It is estimated that the consumption of 2 to 3 meals a day with 25 or 30 grams of protein each is optimal for the stimulation of muscle synthesis in healthy adults and young people.

Some of the main sources of protein in vegetarian diets are of the same quality as animal. This means that they provide all the amino acids that the body needs to build proteins. In other cases, there are amino acids that are deficient.

According the authors of an article published in The Medical Journal of Australia:

“Vegetarian diets can meet the protein requirements of the human diet […]. There is no need to combine different plant proteins at each meal, as long as a variety of foods are eaten every day, because the human body maintains a reserve of amino acids that can be used to supplement dietary proteins ».

2. Abusing meat substitutes

Plant-based protein sources can be quite varied. The most prominent are legumes, soybeans (in the form of tempeh, tofu or textured soybeans), mycoprotein and some whole grains such as quinoa or oats. If the diet is also vegetarian, eggs and dairy are included.

Apart from these, some “substitutes” for meat have increased in the market in the form of hamburgers, sausages, Nuggets, cheeses, sausages, etc. However, keep in mind that most of these are processed foods and therefore are not healthier than their animal-based counterparts.

So that, They are products that can be used at specific times. For the day to day it is better to use direct sources, and resort to homemade recipes to make hamburgers, meatballs or patés at home.

3. Few fruits and vegetables

As we have already been able to deduce, vegetarian diets are not always healthy or better than an omnivorous diet. They can also be low in nutrients, with many processed, or insufficient in quantity.

Although there are actually many vegan manufactured products, the best option for a healthy vegetarian diet is introduce lots of fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, or whole grains. Also eggs and cheese if they are taken.

In this sense, reducing your meat intake, or adopting a vegan diet, is a perfect opportunity to introduce fresh and nutrient-dense foods as the basis of your diet. Also to use water as the main drink to hydrate and avoid juices, soft drinks or alcoholic beverages.

4. Not paying attention to key nutrients in the diet

Experts agree in which a well planned and balanced vegetarian diet does not have to lead to nutritional deficiencies, except for the case of vitamin B12 that is discussed later. Nevertheless, There are some key nutrients that need a little extra attention. These include the following:

  • Vitamin D.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Zinc.
  • Iodine.
  • Calcium.
  • Iron.

All of them can be provided by sources of plant origin or fortified foods. Despite this, it is necessary to know what they are and how they should be treated to avoid absorption and availability problems.

5. Do not take B12 supplements

Vitamin B12 or cobalamin is found in foods of animal origin such as red meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. For this reason, it is one of the nutrients that must be taken into account in diets that do not contain this type of product, as is the case with vegans.

its lack is related with the appearance of megaloblastic anemia, with symptoms such as tiredness and weakness. In addition, other signs may appear such as pale skin, palpitations, weight loss, numbness in the hands, depression, confusion, among others.

When following a vegetarian diet, it is necessary to take fortified foods and consider the possibility of resorting to supplements in case of not meeting the needs with the diet. These are safe and easy to ingest.

6. Drink vegetable drinks as substitutes for milk

Vegetable drinks have been used to replace cow’s milk. Until a few years ago, most were made with soybeans, but today there are numerous alternatives such as almonds, hazelnuts, coconut, oats, rice, birdseed, and so on.

And although they are valid to replace milk in some recipes or to take as a drink, at the nutritional level they do not present the same equivalence. Therefore, calcium, phosphorus or proteins will have to be provided with other foods.

One of the mistakes of the vegetarian diet is to think that plant drinks replace milk. Keep in mind that these do not provide the same nutrients.

7. Think that all foods suitable for vegans are healthy

Right now, it is easy to find a wide catalog of foods suitable for vegan diets in specialized stores and supermarkets. However, the fact that they only contain ingredients of plant origin does not mean that they are healthy products.

Actually, many are ultra-processed products with significant amounts of poor quality fats, added sugar, salt and refined flours. Foods that should not be introduced in the daily diet, since their consumption is related to multiple health problems.

8. Prepare the same dishes

Not changing the recipes is one of the main mistakes of the vegetarian diet. In fact, this is the reason why many end up leaving this way of eating aside. But it is possible to vary the meals so that it does not get boring. With vegetable ingredients, a large number of simple, tasty and original dishes can be prepared.

General tips to avoid the most common mistakes in a vegetarian diet

If you are considering going on a vegetarian diet, you don’t know where to start or you don’t think you’re doing it the right way, the best advice is to go to a professional for help. A specialized dietitian is the most appropriate to develop an adequate regimen with the specific amounts and nutrients.

However, in general, some basic steps can be taken to make a plant-based diet healthy and safe.

  • Prioritize the consumption of fresh, whole grain, nutrient-dense and quality products.
  • Introduce legumes, soy derivatives, nuts, seeds and whole grains to ensure the supply of all essential amino acids.
  • Include fruits, vegetable desserts, oatmeal flakes, bread or nut creams in breakfasts and snacks.
  • Eat a sufficient amount of a variety of vegetables that provide fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and multiple phytochemicals. They can be included in the form of onsalty, vegetable creams, roasted in the oven as a garnish, and so on.
  • Pay special attention to sources of calcium, especially if dairy is avoided. Seeds, nuts, legumes, and green leafy vegetables provide this and other key minerals.
  • Extra virgin olive oil is still the best for cooking and dressing. In addition, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts are precursors of the fatty acids EPA and DHA.
  • Avoid as much as possible processed foods with added sugar, hydrogenated fats and refined flours.
  • Pay attention to foods fortified with vitamin B12 or opt for a supplement.

In addition to all this, it is important to bear in mind that changes in habits take time for adaptation. Going slow, seeking advice, and enjoying each step will go a long way toward switching to a healthy vegetarian diet.

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