If you decide to adopt a vegetarian diet for health reasons, it is important to make smart choices and avoid the following 10 vegetarian mistakes.
1. Relying on cheese for protein
Yes, cheese has protein and calcium but the content varies greatly depending on the specific cheese. Cheeses that are higher in fat are very energy dense, which can be a problem for some people. In addition, eating cheese in large quantities can cause gastrointestinal distress in many people, sometimes due to the lactose content, sometimes due to the fat content.
2. Being content with ordering “the vegetarian option”
Many restaurants offer very poorly constructed vegetarian options, e.g. garden salad, pasta with tomato sauce, toast with spreads, vegetable soup, etc. There is nothing inherently wrong with those items but often times they have very little protein and/or vegetables. Of course, not every meal has to be perfect but if you eat out often, make sure you are choosing something that has protein and vegetables. Keep in mind many restaurants and cafes will happily add or remove something to/from your meal if you ask nicely.
3. Eating too many ultra-processed foods
Such as vegetarian sausages/patties, chips, ice cream, frozen pizza, etc. Just because they are vegetarian and you can eat them, it doesn’t mean you should. Base the bulk of your diet on whole, minimally processed foods and treat the ultra-processed stuff as exceptions.
4. Shooting for the lower end of protein requirements
Protein quality and quantity matter. Most plant-based proteins are less bioavailable than those of animal origin due to their amino acid content and/or factors that affect absorption. Therefore, vegetarians should aim to consume a total amount of protein greater than their calculated requirements (I tend to recommend 20% more).
5. Forgetting about other important nutrients
If you avoid meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy you might not meet your requirements for some micronutrients such as iron, B12 and calcium. Logging your food intake for a few days can help you estimate your intake and if you are at risk of deficiencies.
6. Believing everything you see in the internet
I’m always amazed at the things I see posted on social media including claims of vegetables having more protein than beef and foods that are guaranteed to melt body fat. Be critical and double-check claims before you believe them.
7. Assuming everyone knows what it means to be a vegetarian
If you are asked about dietary requirements, especially for casual gatherings (i.e. with friends and/or family), don’t assume they know what you mean when you say “vegetarian”. It’s better to specify, for example “no meat, chicken or seafood but eggs and cheese are fine”. Fun fact: many people in Latin America think vegetarians eat chicken and fish.
8. Neglecting other lifestyle aspects because you are eating healthy
Even if you are eating a wholesome vegetarian diet, eating healthy is just one piece of the puzzle. You also need to address physical activity, stress and sleep in order to optimise your overall health.
9. Not disclosing your exceptions
If you eat mostly a vegetarian diet but make exceptions with some foods, let your host know. People who are catering and/or cooking for you make a lot of effort making sure they can offer you the food you will eat. It is very disheartening to make that effort and see you eating from the non-vegetarian offerings.
10. Not mixing it up
This is a mistake anyone can make, but it is especially concerning for people who avoid certain foods, such as vegetarians. My advice is to make sure you don’t stick to the same handful of foods all the time. Adding variety to your diet will increase your exposure to nutrients.
If you need nutrition advice, click here to check out our range of available services.