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Making the switch from consuming animal products to a vegan diet is no easy feat and it can have a profound, beautiful, and sometimes challenging effect on your life.
There are some aspects of going vegan that not many people discuss openly and honestly.
In this article, we’re going to try and prepare you (if you’re planning to make the switch yourself), with a few handy tips on what you can expect.
When starting vegan diet side effects range from health complications to societal integration and lifestyle change.
When I made the switch to a vegan diet, I felt lighter and more full of energy within the first week.
My sleep improved in quality and quantity, I had fewer issues drifting off, and no problems getting up. Basically, I thought I had stumbled upon superpowers, my body was loving it.
This isn’t always true though and in fact, a lot of people find the complete opposite.
Whilst I was still making progress down the gym and had a carefully planned nutrition-rich diet plan in place, other people do not go in quite so prepared and it can catch them off guard.
A vegan diet is typically less calorie-dense than its animal-derived alternative which is great for controlled weight loss but this means you have to consume a larger volume of food to be getting the same amount of energy.
It’s a great idea to track your food consumption for a couple of days in the initial few weeks to make sure you’re getting enough calories.
Following on from the previous point it’s very easy to see substantial weight loss when adopting a vegan diet yet in some other cases considerable weight gain. This is primarily due to simply not knowing what you should be eating and making poor or unhealthy adjustments.
For those who experience weight loss when making the switch, often they simply haven’t upped the volume of food they’re consuming and are likely also suffering from a caloric deficit and low energy levels.
If you’re aiming for that beach body or to lose weight then this is fine for a couple of weeks but you really should be building a good routine, diet, and habits by adapting to the diet properly and eating healthy foods.
Those who notice a sudden weight gain have often made the mistake of relying too heavily on the vegan junk food that is now flooding into the market. It’s easy to assume that just because it’s meatless, these processed foods and snacks are derived from plants and therefore healthy.
Wrong. Just as their meat-based alternatives are they are often jam-packed with salt and other nonsense. They should be for convenience or treat only, not your everyday.
Which brings us very smoothly onto one of the best almost accidental benefits of becoming vegan; it makes you a better cook.
I have fallen in love with food and cooking in a big way since I made the switch.
As I mentioned before I needed to have a diet plan in place to make sure the transition was healthy and successful and it didn’t impact on my gains at the gym or my work with clients and colleagues.
I came into the diet and lifestyle with hundreds of exciting meal plans and recipes to try out and moved the structure of my diet away from the boring “meat and two veg” mentality that cripples most western cuisine.
Whether I’m bulk cooking up protein-rich lunches on a Sunday or introducing my friends to some of the wicked new vegan recipes I’ve fallen in love with, I genuinely enjoy my time in the kitchen now.
If you really are a won’t cook/can’t cook type. Introduce yourself slowly. Cooking one new recipe a week and keeping it more simple for other meals. Following a vegan diet you’ll find yourself learning tips, tricks, and techniques, check out some of these great vegan recipe books as a starting point.
Making the switch to plant-based foods is hard. It really is, but you don’t have to do it all at once. You are bound to be plagued with cravings for the junk food you know and love. This is just one of the vegan detox symptoms.
It takes time for the rubbish from a life of processed foods to filter out of your body and the plant-based diet, as whole food rich as it is, will not quite seem to fill that hole (pun intended).
Some people try to pace themselves eliminating one craving at a time, maybe going vegetarian first and then vegan later. Maybe lessening meat-based meals to once or twice a week before eliminating it completely. You don’t have to do it all at once, do what works for you.
One of my clients wanted to make the switch but knew cheese was going to be a big issue, so they decided if they really couldn’t resist the craving rather than derail the diet completely and feel like a failure, they would allow themselves halloumi cheese.
This got them through their danger zone and the cravings so when they decided to cut out halloumi there was basically no fuss at all. Remember there is no vegan card that will be stripped from you, everyone is different, set yourself up to succeed, even if that means taking it a stage at a time.
Adapting to your new diet can mean some pretty big changes in where you get your nutrition from.
Whilst the smart vegan will be consuming mostly whole foods and carefully choosing a varied diet that ticks most of their boxes in terms of vitamins and other nutritional needs, it’s easy to lose track..
It can have a negative impact on your health, nutritional deficiencies are common no matter what your diet is. B12 (read more about this vitamin) and Iron are the most common problems (more on that later) and you should bear these in mind especially when making a diet plan. (1)
Multivitamins can help and are a great benefit at the beginning, however your diet alone should be varied and rich enough to handle all your nutritional needs eventually.
Expect some fun trips to the toilet if you’ve spent your life happily munching on meat and are now cutting it out from your diet.
Most people don’t want to or won't talk about this but it’s going to be a radical change for your digestive tract and gut bacteria to get used to the new diet after having been optimized for many years to break down meat and dairy and function with far less fiber.
Fiber is the key player here and you’re going to be getting a lot more of it now you’re gobbling down delicious beans and fresh veg by the bucketful.
The dreaded vegan diarrhea, bloating, and far more frequent and impressive gifts to the gods of the toilet basin are one of the more common transition to vegan diet side effects. However, it’s not forever, don’t be scared. Things will settle back down after the initial adjustment phase.
There’s no way to escape it, it’s a meat-eaters world, and unless you’re going to cut carnivores out from your life completely too, you will be required to lead by example; it’s one of the of the lesser-known plant based diet side effects.
This means settling for salad at restaurants with a poor menu, constantly fielding questions about your diet and where you get your protein from, and many more minor irritations.
For the most part people will generally be interested in your lifestyle choice and the reasons behind it and you will be answering questions a lot, it’s great and you can share your passion and the research behind it.
Time to explain the wonders of the vegan world.
Veganism isn’t just one and done, whilst you will have stumbled across something that flicked a switch in your brain, or been introduced by a respected friend, the lifestyle and journey is a continued one and
You will keep learning new reasons as to why others made the switch and the devastating effect a more meat-centric diet can have on health, environment, and society as a whole.
Expect to be on a scholars path, being offered new information by colleagues, friends, and fellow vegans all the time. You will constantly be nourished and that’s a good thing and something you should always be willing to share, but never preach.
Iron is the most frequent nutritional deficiency across the globe regardless of if you’re following an animal-derived or plant-based diet.
The recommended amount for males and females over 50 is 8mg a day.
For women under 50, it’s over double that at 18mg a day to account for the blood loss on their period, and pregnant women should be taking 27mg a day.
There is still debate on the differences between heme (animal-derived) and non-heme (plant-based) iron, but it is generally accepted that non-heme is a little less bioavailable, and so vegans should typically aim a little higher in their iron intake.
Iron deficiency can lead to anemia so it’s an important one to track.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are otherwise known as the main source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs as they’re more affectionately, and somewhat cutely known.
The recommended daily intake is 1.6g for males and 1.1g for females.
Most source these fatty acids from seafood and so vegans will have to turn to chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts, and soy products to keep up. There are also some great supplements out there if you struggle working that into your meal plans.
The effect of omega-3 deficiency will most often manifest in dry scaly skin and can lead to dermatitis. The studies on its relation to cognitive function have drawn mixed results and no conclusive results but better safe than sorry.
Here are some of the best vegan omega-3 supplements.
The risk of B12 deficiency is substantially higher for those on a vegan or vegetarian diet as the primary sources for it are mostly meat-based. The recommended daily dose is 2.4mcg and this is to account for a low absorption rate.
This is a vitamin that a lot of vegans tend to supplement as it is easier, but you can also find it in fortified breads, vegan milks, and my personal favorite, nutritional yeast; it might not have the most appetizing name but it tastes great and is a great addition to salads, pasta, or anything else you cook.
B12 is vitally important for a wide range of bodily functions including red blood cell production, your metabolism, nerve function, and DNA formation. (3)
Deficiency and its effects can take a while to present clear signs so it’s something you should pay close attention to. It any signs of B12 deficiency do happen you should seek doctors advise immediately.
Here are some of our favorite vegan B-12 supplements.
Zinc is another essential nutrient you should pay mind to, with the recommended dose being as little as 11mg for men and 8mg for women.
Whilst you don’t need much it plays an important role in keeping you healthy and so vegans should be sure to eat lots of beans, nuts, and peas which are the best natural sources. It is also a common proponent of almost all multivitamins.
Here are some of the best vegan multivitamins out on the market.
Is being vegan healthy?
Of course, being a vegan is healthy, as with any diet it takes attention and care to ensure you’re eating a varied and wide array of foods to cover all your nutritional needs. For anything you’re lacking in or can’t source easily from your regular meals there are supplements or fortified foods.
Do vegans have a lower chance of cancer?
With hundreds of studies backing up the claim that eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables lowers cancer rates, so yes, vegans and those following plant-based diets will likely be better off than those who aren’t. However, just because you’re vegan, doesn’t necessarily mean you are eating healthily, eat your fruit and veg folks.
Do vegans get diabetes?
Studies have shown that a vegan diet can reduce the risk of diabetes by upto 78%. This is largely due to most vegans being in far better control of their weight and obesity being the leading contributor to type-2 diabetes. Plant based diets tend to be less plagued by junk foods, sugar, and uncontrolled cravings/bad eating habits.
People who eat a plant-based diet have just a small fraction of the rates of diabetes seen in those who regularly eat meat. By switching to a healthy diet, you can start improving your health within a matter of hours.
Do vegans live longer?
There are studies that seem to imply vegans or vegetarians do indeed live longer, but it is a classic case of correlation not implying causation. Whilst one study conducted on a group of Seventh-Day Adventists found they typically lived 6 to 9 years longer which is huge, this is likely down to vegans being much more health-conscious across the board. More likely to exercise, and less likely to smoke and drink.
How much does going vegan reduce your carbon footprint?
Adopting a vegan diet massively reduces your carbon footprint. It’s less than half of that of someone who consumes meat daily. For a lot of people, this is one of the major contributing factors as to why they make the switch, to do your part to limit our impact on the world we live on. The ethical and health benefits are also equally rewarding.
The vegan diet can enrich your life in so many amazing ways, and for me, it has only helped and improved my progress in the gym since I started.
I feel healthier and happier and I recommend aspects, recipes, and products to my colleagues and clients that they learn to love too.
Quite truthfully, I don’t miss animal products at all and still make sure to give my body all its nutrient and vitamin needs.
However, you have to be vigilant and conscious, because it is a big change. Ensure you are staying healthy, making good choices, and consuming a rich and varied diet to get all the nutrients you need and avoid any of the negative side effects of going vegan.
You can also try slowly switching to a vegetarian diet first before going full vegan (read about levels of veganism here).
1. Patrick J. Skerrett, Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful, retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/vitamin-b12-deficiency-can-be-sneaky-harmful-201301105780
2. Katie Cavuto Boyle, M.S., R.D., Plant-Based Sources of Iron, retrieved from https://www.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/healthy-tips/2013/06/plant-based-sources-of-iron
3.Alan Carter, PharmD, Everything you need to know about vitamin B-12, retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/219822.php