Thinking of jumping on the bandwagon?
You’re not alone.
As a sports dietitian, I can tell you the number of athletes coming to me asking for guidance to transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet has multiplied EXPONENTIALLY just in the past year.
If you are thinking about starting one, you should first consider if it is right for you or if your particular lifestyle will make it sustainable.
Because trust me -- it’s not a diet you can just pick up and go with. I mean...you can...but you’ll struggle to be successful if you don’t assess things well first.
If you decide to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet for whatever personal reasons you may have, that’s your choice! However, it’s my job as a nutrition professional to give you the information you need to keep yourself healthy.
So, let’s do a little self-assessment, shall we?
Below are 5 common qualities you may possess that could make transitioning to a vegan or vegetarian diet challenging. If any of these are you, you have a lot of considering to do before you make the switch:
1.) You get stressed at the idea of or have trouble finding time for meal planning
This is a biggie. Vegetarian and vegan diets can be a great way to improve health and get in a hefty portion of antioxidants, nutrients and fiber.
BUT, we cannot also forget about the protein and other key nutrients (more on that later) that are harder to get when you’re on a diet that’s not friendly to animal products. So, very careful meal structure, food combinations and planning must be in place (and daily) to keep your health, energy and avoid dangerous nutrient deficiencies.
If you don’t have time to meal plan, have trouble staying consistent with meal planning or just hate the idea, then a vegan or vegetarian diet is probably not going to improve your health the way you hoped.
2.) You operate on a tight food budget
As the names imply, vegan and vegetarian diets require lots of fruits and vegetables!
This can get expensive if it's pretty much all you plan to consume for the rest of your life.
Frozen, canned and dried fruits and veggies are just fine. You also don’t have to go organic when you go vegetarian, but it’s not a bad idea to have some fresh produce in the mix.
Another thing to think about is that plant protein sources like tofu, tempeh and soy milk can get up there in price in the long term. Unlike meats, plants, though very nutrient-dense, won’t keep you as satisfied for as long.
Therefore, you’ll need to eat more of them than normal which means you’ll probably be buying twice as much food to be sure you’re getting in enough calories. This means higher grocery costs which may not be the best fit if you’re on a tight budget.
3.) You have limited cooking skills
Veggie burgers, rice and beans can seem doable in the short-term, but if you’re just starting out on a vegetarian diet the same old thing can get old very quickly.
That’s why you’ll have to get creative with the meals you make yourself if you want to stick to this thing.
This means recipe research, maybe even some brand new kitchen equipment and above-average culinary skills to pull off recipes that don’t include meat, but also don’t taste like crap.
Also, if you’re a person who already doesn’t eat that many fruits and vegetables or you just don’t prepare them on your own very often, you’ll really have to brush up on your cooking to find ways to prepare your veggies in a way that is appealing enough for you to eat them as often as you will be on a plant-exclusive diet.
4.) You are struggling with or have struggled with deficiencies like anemia in the past
Probably the most important point on this list and the one I want to stress the heaviest.
Some nutrients like iron, Omega-3s and calcium are better absorbed from animal sources. Therefore, you may have to eat twice as much from plant sources to get the same amount and be aware of which foods are the best sources of certain nutrients.
Protein can be one of these concerns.
And if you’re already someone who is anemic, has bone health issues or struggles to get enough protein or calories in your diet, transitioning to a plant-based diet could put you at a significant health risk.
This is doubly true if you aren’t the best at meal planning/structuring your meals to make sure you’re still getting all of the nutrients you need. See point 1.
5.) You prefer meat substitutes over actual vegetables
Ahhhh the vegan chicken tenders and Impossible burgers.
Many people who transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet without speaking to a nutrition professional assume they can live on the diet eating meat substitutes alone.
I mean...why not? You miss meat, it tastes like meat and is plant-based so it’s better for you...right?
Many of today’s meat substitutes are actually full of a long list of hard-to-pronounce ingredients, fillers and are highly processed to get the end result. Think about it. You can’t make a soybean taste like a medium-well, juicy beef burger without a lot of processing.
Plant-based or no, eating highly processed foods too often is just bad for our health. Vegan junk food is still junk food at the end of the day.
So, if you see yourself eating more of these types of foods than actual vegetables while on your vegetarian diet, you may want to rethink the switch.
The bottom line?
For whichever reason you may decide to adopt a plant-exclusive diet, it's definitely not a commitment to dive into on a whim. If you want to really immerse yourself in that lifestyle, you have to commit to it and it's not always an easy transition. Consult with a nutrition professional if you are thinking of a diet change to see if it is a sustainable choice for you.