Disadvantages of a vegan diet:
- A radical change: Going vegan is a huge change and can sometimes be even more complicated if you are not allowed to eat certain ingredients such as soy. "Complete plant proteins are found in soy products, so if you're trying to moderate your intake of soy, you have to learn how to put together complementary foods to form complete vegetarian proteins," says Keller.
- Potential interference with existing medical conditions: If you have a condition such as osteoporosis or diabetes, it is critical to consult with your physician and a registered dietitian when starting and implementing a vegan eating plan, as a vegan diet may interfere with your condition.
- Difficulty when dining out: Not many restaurants offer true vegan choices and this can make dining out difficult. Mehta advises carrying vegan foods and snacks to make eating out easier when traveling long distances.
- Loss of essential vitamins and minerals: There is evidence to show vegan diets do not contain vitamin B12, an essential nutrient. "Vegans can get vitamin B12 from fortified foods (some brands of soy milk, fake meats, breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast) and from supplements. Vegan diets may be low in calcium and vitamin D although there are vegan sources of these nutrients," says Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, nutrition advisor for The Vegetarian Resource Group (vrg.org).
- Unrealistic expectations: "A person might believe that by being vegan they are making themselves healthier. There are no good data of which I am aware proving that simply being vegan as an isolated behavior improves health," says Applebaum. There has to be a balance of diet, exercise and a proper fitness regime.
If you are going to go vegan, all of our experts advise that you consult with your doctor first. Once you get the green light from your doctor, these guidelines may help you get started:
- It will take time for you to learn to cook as a vegan, so try out different recipes that are appealing to your palate and easy to prepare.
- Read labels carefully: animal products are in many packaged products, often in hard-to-identify ways.
- Transition gradually to vegan eating so your body can adapt to it. Realize that vegan eating is more restrictive than vegetarian eating. Mehta says, "You might consider doing several transitions, such as from non-vegetarian to partial vegetarian, then to lacto-ovo vegetarian, and then decide how much more is comfortable for you."
- Include adequate plant protein in your diet.
- Combine plant sources of iron with ingredients high in vitamin C (such as red bell peppers, oranges and strawberries) so that your body can absorb the iron well.
- Include a reliable source of B12 in your diet.