Going Vegan? Avoid These Unhealthy Mistakes

If you want to be a healthy vegan, you've gotta do more than just give up dairy and meat.


OK so, there is this Nigerian woman who goes by the name EfikZara. She's got an Afro that is absolutely mind-blowing—like for real, for real. She's gorgeous and kind-of puts me in the mindset of the actor DeWanda Wise with a vibe that is sorta like another YouTuber, nappyheadedjojoba (who I featured last year in the article "Single Minded: So, What If You Like Dating But DON'T Desire Marriage?"). Anyway, as I was checking out EfikZara's video "Why The Natural Hair CULT (Community) is TRASH...? WILL I QUIT?", I noticed a comment that was made by a viewer who goes by Daytime Vegan:

"I feel this way about the vegan community. It has become a cult that spews hate to anyone who isn't a purist vegan eating salads and smoothie bowls every day. Don't dare eat a vegan frozen pizza or cook with oil or even THINK about leaving veganism. Many vegans will come for your blood. It really is exhausting."

(I know, right? She's also got some pretty counter-cultural thoughts on hair grease, too. You can check those out here.)

I'm not a vegan or vegetarian, but with headlines like "Hundreds of thousands ditching meat as part of January vegan resolutions that will continue through the year, campaigners say," I think that it's super-important to not only acknowledge the ever-growing vegan community, but to provide it the support it needs. Part of what comes with that is offering knowledge. So today, let's dive into some common mistakes that many vegans make.

The first one would be what Daytime Vegan said. If you want to be a vegan, cool. But just like I'm sure you don't want anyone cramming their philosophies or way of life down your throat (see "How To Respect Someone's Path When It's Nothing Like Your Own"), it's important to extend that same courtesy to others---even when it comes to diet.

That said, as far as your health goes, it's not enough to just think that if you totally abstain from animal products, you're all good. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as being an "unhealthy vegan", and here are some of the main ways that people end up becoming one, sometimes without having a clue.

1. Not Getting All The B12 You Need


I'm someone who is borderline anemic. Something that totally turned that around for me is taking a B12 supplement. Not only is B12 something that helps to prevent megaloblastic anemia, it also maintains your nerve and blood cells, supports bone health, and can help to keep depression-related symptoms at bay.

The reason why this tops the list of vegan-related mistakes is because there are more and more articles coming out like "A doctor is warning vegans not to believe internet rumors that vitamin B12 is unnecessary" due to the fact that many vegans are not intentional about getting enough of this vitamin into their system. You can avoid being one of them by taking a daily supplement. Or, you can eat more foods rich in B12. It's true that it's easiest to find B12 in fish and dairy, but fortified cereals and some plant-based milk alternatives including hemp, cashew and coconut milk are good vegan sources too.

2. Not Getting Enough Calcium, Either

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A lot of us grew up hearing that dairy was the best way to get the calcium that we need. Personally, I never got why humans seem to be the only mammals who not only drink another mammal's milk but continue to do it well into adulthood. As if that ain't enough of a reason to reconsider consuming it, dairy also gets major side-eye because it can cause body inflammation, raise insulin levels, increase mucus production, and it comes with a certain amount of cancer risks. I mean, it's not like you can't get all of the calcium that you need without milking a cow.

Almonds, kale, broccoli, oranges, chia and sesame seeds, amaranth grain and spinach are just some of the non-dairy options that are calcium-rich.

And, of course, this is a mineral that also comes in supplement form if you'd rather go the "pill a day keeps the doctor away" route.

3. “Overdosing” on Protein


One of the biggest concerns that a lot of newbie vegans have when they are transitioning over to a vegan lifestyle is if they'll be getting enough protein. While protein is certainly essential in order to build and repair body tissue, grow hair and nails, and make pretty much all of the body chemicals within our system, you don't need as much as you probably think that you do. If a man gets around 56 grams on a daily basis and a woman takes in 46 grams (which is around 10-15 percent of your daily caloric intake), everything should be all good.

And just how can you know if you are low-key overdosing on protein? Headaches, digestive issues, nausea, dehydration and fatigue are some of the signs. So, if you've been eating a ton of oats, corn, potatoes, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, sundried tomatoes and/or artichokes and you've been experiencing any of these symptoms lately, scale back a bit. If you start to feel better, chances are, you did take it a little too far on the vegan protein tip.

4. Eating Way Too Much “Vegan” Junk Food

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I remember watching an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 back in the day where Brenda declared that she was a vegetarian and shamed her family for eating beef, only for her brother Brandon to call her out for wearing a leather jacket. That's what I think of whenever a vegan friend of mine is piling up on junk food. Not eating meat doesn't mean you can't still overdo it when it comes to sugar, sodium and Lord knows what else.

If you're not sure if you are someone who falls into the "junkie vegan" category, you might want to read "Are You a Junk Food Vegan?" in its entirety. A simple way to know is based on something that was referenced in the article: "A junk food vegan is a vegan who regularly consumes highly processed foods which are primarily made in science labs." Yep, that's about it in a nutshell. Another article that breaks down some vegan junk food that needs to be replaced with some healthier alternatives is "10 Vegan Foods That AREN'T Healthy—And What to Eat Instead".

Remember, just because you might not eat steak or chicken wings, that doesn't mean those veggie chips and dairy-free cookies can't raise your blood pressure too.

5. Or Eating Way Too Many Meat Substitutes


I guess if you're a vegan, strictly for environmental reasons, I get why you would constantly be on the lookout for foods that have a taste and texture similar to meat. But other than that, I would like to hear in the comment section why someone would give up meat and then want something that's as close to it as possible. I mean, it's not like a lot of these meat substitutes out here ain't loaded with sodium, processed chemicals, and a high price tag. It's also not like there aren't plenty of articles out in cyberspace suggesting that you avoid "fake meat" as much as possible (see "The trouble with fake meat", "The Foods You Should & Shouldn't Be Eating On A Plant-Based Diet" and "Are Meat Substitutes Bad For You Or What?"). Does this mean that you can never have an Impossible Whopper for lunch? I don't think that's the conclusion. Just make sure that you do all things in moderation. Fresh fruits and veggies are always gonna be better for you than a burger—no matter what form it comes in.

6. Not Taking in Enough Calories

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Something that a lot of people overlook is, when you decide to go without meat and dairy, that means you are also going without fat in your diet. This means less calories which means you actually need to eat more. When you take into account that veggies and fruits consist of a lot of water and fiber, you're probably not getting nearly as many calories as meat-eaters do; especially if you're eating the way you always have.

Here's the deal. If you want to maintain your current weight, as a woman, you need somewhere around 2,000 calories a day (1,500 if you wish to lose about a pound a week). Men need about 2,500. Apples, carrots, cucumbers, garlic, grapefruit and peppers are extremely low in calories. So, until you get used to what foods can give you the daily caloric intake that your body requires, you might want to refer to a calorie chart (like this one), just so you can get used to your new calorie intake normal.

7. Becoming Iron Deficient


Something else that meat does is provide a good source of iron. You can actually eat a 4 oz steak and get about 20 percent of the iron that your body needs for the day. So, as a vegan, just make sure that you've got some 100 percent grape juice, dark leafy greens, lentils, asparagus, sweet potatoes, raisins or dried apricots around. Otherwise, you could end up with brittle nails, shortness of breath or even a damaged immune system.

8. Forgetting All About Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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One of the most important reasons to make sure that you've got some omega-3 fatty acids in your system is so that you can protect your heart. It's proven that these acids help to slow down the development of plaque around your arteries, reduce the chances of you having a heart attack or stroke, and can even lower your blood pressure. I personally take them in supplement form because they're really good at keeping my skin and hair moisturized; studies also say that they can protect us from UV damage too.

I must admit that omega-3 capsules are a little on the large side. So, if you'd prefer to get this nutrient via your diet, since salmon isn't your thing, try the following—walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, spinach, brussel sprouts and purslane (which is basically a weed that can be treated just like lettuce).

9. Not Doing Enough Research on Different (Health-Conscious) Recipes


The folks that I know who flip-flop back and forth when it comes to whether they are a practicing vegan or not, they typically struggle due to sheer boredom. That's why this point also makes the health-related vegan mistakes list. Think about it—if you are vegan in order to detox your system or because you think it would be better for you overall, it's important that you find healthy recipes that will keep you committed to your health plan.

If you're currently seeking some inspiration, our article "15 Vegan Soul Food Dishes That'll Make You Rethink Meat" can help you out. I also recommend that you check out sites like Blacks Going Vegan, Veggie Soul Food and downloading the Black Vegan Tube app; it's an app that is totally free and offers support and info to people within the Black vegan community (their IG handle is @blackvegantube). Some vegan chefs that you might want to start following include Rachel Ama (@rachelama_), Jenné Claiborne (@sweetpotatosoul), Bryant Terry (@bryantterry), Stacy Dougan (@simplypurely) and Shauna (@Blaq.Vegan). The more you learn, the more exciting veganism can become for you.

10. Not Having a Grocery Budget

Yep. I sure did put this on the health list. If you're spending so much money on food that you can't pay your rent, I think that could lead to an anxiety attack, at the very least. Shoot, the last time I went to Whole Foods (which was just a couple of weeks ago), I spent almost $50 on three cartons from the hot bar (one was vegan collards, by the way), so y'all can't convince me that veganism is a cheaper route to go. Still, I will agree with the stance that it can be more affordable than a lot of us think if there is a budget in place, less "brand names" are purchased, and there's a commitment to cook from scratch. For instance, instead of always buying a Beyond Meat Beast Burger, take out a weekend to learn how to make your own black bean burger instead. And, rather than always being up in Whole Foods, take a stroll through your local farmers market.

Hmph. Come to think of it, if budgeting is something that you keep fumbling on, maybe going vegan can change all of that. There is no way that you can be a "good vegan" without preparing a grocery list beforehand and, if you want to come home with more than one shopping bag, you need to set some money aside. Anything that can make you responsible with money has got to be at least worth trying. Yeah…I'll think about it (wink).

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

How I Transitioned My Meat-Loving Family To A Vegan Diet

10 Foods You Should Eliminate From Your Diet If You're Trying to Lose Weight

How To Stan For Your Newly Vegan Homegirl Like She's Beyonce

What To Know Before You Go Vegetarian

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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