So you want to transition to a plant-based diet? Here’s what to expect

Someone somewhere is deciding to become fully plant-based come January 1, 2019. Is that you? If so, I bet you are excited and perhaps {slightly} nervous at the prospect of eating animal-free henceforth.

That is absolutely normal! Well, I had the same emotions way back in April 2016 when I began my plant-based journey.

You may have already cleaned out your kitchen and pantry, eaten your last non-vegan meal and followed lots of foodie Instagram accounts. You probably can’t wait to recreate some of the delicious-looking food you’ve seen or better yet, develop your own recipes.

Fabulous, I’m rooting for you!

There are a lot of amazing benefits to look forward to, but there are some not-so-great side effects too. Some or none of these things may apply to you, but just in case, here are five common concerns to watch out for.

1.| Bloating

If your diet has been unusually low in fibre, you may experience severe bloating. Moreso if you choose to go down the whole foods route aka crowding your plate with fruits, vegetables, beans, brown rice, etc. and not processed vegan junk food.

Don’t increase the quantity of vegetables and legumes you eat drastically in your first week and don’t switch from refined grains and flour to unrefined varities immediately. If you intend to eat more veggies immediately, keep refined grains in your diet. Once you get used to the higher amount of vegetables, add more legumes. Once you get accustomed to legumes, swap refined grains for unrefined varieties.

Bear in mind that we all have different tolerances to legumes. Your happy place may be far less or far more than another person’s, so listen to your gut and don’t be guided by another person’s compass.

You may find it easier to digest lentils and smaller beans like black-eyed beans and haricot beans than larger varieties like butter beans and kidney beans. Start with lentils and smaller beans before progressing to larger types.

2.| Fatigue

Animal-based products are way more calorie dense than plant-based foods. You need to eat larger quantities of plant foods to get the same amount of satisfaction as you would from a much smaller quantity of meat, poultry dairy etc.

New plant-based eaters commonly make the mistake of eating tiny portions of food and expecting to be satiated. It does not work like that. You have to eat substantial amounts or you’ll be constantly hungry and left feeling tired and lethargic all the time.

Don’t be shy or scared to fill your bowl with potatoes, rice, beans, veggies, fruits and salad. As long as you eat until you’re satiated and as frequently as you need to, you should have enough energy to get you through your day.

3.| Micronutrient deficiencies

Irrespective of whatever diet you’ve been eating, the truth is that many of us walk around with micronutrient deficiencies without realising it.

It is not routine to get blood tests done to check our vitamin and mineral levels, so many of us only know that something is wrong when we start showing symptoms of deficiencies.

Unfortunately, plant-based and vegan diets always get the blame. The diet is to blame in some cases, but not in others. If your diet is inadequately planned, you will develop nutrient deficiencies. In saying that, you may eat all the right foods and take supplements, but still develop deficiencies. In such cases, the problem may be a gut flora imbalance. In other cases, the diet is simply not right for that person.

It may be a good idea to check your micronutrient status before starting a plant-based diet to determine your baseline. With that information, you can plan your meals correctly to ensure you get what you need from food (and supplements if you choose to add them).

Most importantly, keep an eye on how you feel. If anything feels off at any time, seek help from your health professional and not from social media.

You can reduce the chances of developing deficiencies by basing your meals on whole foods. Experts say supplements (except vitamin B12) are unnecessary. However, if you already have a deficiency, it may be worth bringing your levels back up to standard with a supplement (with your physician’s guidance) and then optimising your diet to supply everything you need. Don’t forget that vitamin B12 supplements are crucial!

4.| Slipping up

It is bound to happen. There are a lot of commercial food products that you believe to be vegan that are not. If you don’t read the packaging, you will not know. People tend to slip up on things like whey (a by-product of milk processing), honey (depending on how purist you want to be), milk fat, sweets like Haribo, cereal (they contain non-vegan vitamin D), and veggie burgers (some include eggs).

Many manufacturers have begun indicating on the packaging whether the food is vegan or not. If the vegan status is not clearly stated, read the packaging.

If you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up, it is not the end of the world. Learn from the error and move on.

5.| Cravings

It is not unusual to crave foods that you’ve probably eating since childhood. You shouldn’t let anyone or anything make you feel inferior for wanting them.

Cravings are usually short-lived, so if you ignore them, they’ll eventually pass. If you get them persistently, mock meats may be an alternative. If mock meats don’t do the trick, it is completely up to you to decide how to proceed.

I cannot find it in my heart to tell you that you must eat a certain way. In fact, I refuse to do that. Whatever choice you make, own it and under no circumstance should you feel inadequate for it. Life is way too short to think that way.

That said, don’t half-ass it. Give it your best shot and enjoy the journey! 100% plant-based eating is not for everyone, but if it is for you, I promise you are going to have a blast. I almost envy you; a brand new journey is always super exciting.

Welcome on board!

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