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.

Wellness

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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