There’s Vegetarian. And there’s Vegan. Related, yet different. Both diets eliminate meat, fish, and poultry. Vegans don’t eat any dairy, eggs, or other products derived from animals, including honey. Sub-types of vegetarianism, however, make exceptions for certain animal products:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat both dairy products and eggs
  • Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but avoid eggs
  • Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy products

Whatever your reason for choosing this dietary path – your health, concerns for the environment, or for spiritual reasons (or a combination of these reasons) – be aware of common mistakes that can adversely affect your health. Understanding these pitfalls can help you maintain a nutritionally sound vegan or vegetarian diet:

  • CONSUMING TOO MUCH FRUIT SUGAR. Fruit is an important part of any healthy diet, but consuming too much fruit sugar on a daily basis can have a detrimental effect on blood sugar. Also, fruits alone fail to provide the diversity of nutrients a body needs to thrive. Balance fruit intake with veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. For example, starting your day with a bowl of fruit or a banana may not be what’s best for your blood sugar levels if you want to avoid spikes and crashes. It is important to know your body and how you metabolize food to choose the best diet for you.
  • LACKING DIETARY VARIETY. Being a creature of habit, or being afraid to try new foods or recipes, can leave your diet deficient in nutrients, and your taste buds in a sorry state. You’ll have food cravings, hunger pains, and might just give up on vegetarianism. Follow those famous Dr. Seuss characters’ advice: Try New Things; You Might Like Them! A lot of people who choose to go vegetarian after being meat eaters may struggle in the beginning because it is a huge learning curve, but it is also the best thing because you will learn so much about food and how delicious it is when you get outside of the box. Ditch the processed sweets and learn how to make delicious vegan treats instead, you will be pleasantly surprised how delicious food can be when in the right combinations.
  • TIPPING THE CARB SCALE IN THE WRONG DIRECTION. With so many convenience foods for vegetarians, it’s easy to get tricked into thinking you’re making a healthy choice by selecting “fortified with (fill in the blank)” products over fresh foods. Many of those products are loaded with hidden sugars and sodium. Get complex carbs and grains from whole, organic food sources such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, flax. Buy dried berries and nuts without added sugar, salt or nitrites. Stay away from soy, it’s a common vegetarian mistake especially with the fake and imitation meats that are loaded in processed ingredients and gluten. Going vegetarian doesn’t mean increasing your carb intake, be very careful. Carbs get broken down to sugar and too much sugar may eventually cause diabetes. Eating too much sugar will increase cravings, cause premature aging, decrease energy, increase weight gain, and weakens the immune system.
  • MISMANAGING YOUR PROTEIN. Folks new to vegetarianism don’t properly combine foods to provide sufficient amounts of complete protein for their age and activity level. Many people wind up relying on protein shakes, which is not the ideal way to obtain protein. Most of your protein should come from whole, real, fresh foods. Plant protein sources include mung beans, natto, spirulina, hemp, pea, rice, etc. A holistic health practitioner can help you establish good, flavorful meal planning strategies.

Both vegetarians and vegans need to pay attention to the intake of nutrients lost by omitting meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. As noted above, “fortified with” foods aren’t the best because the nutrients aren’t in the most bioavailable state for the body to utilize. The nutrients most commonly lacking in vegan/vegetarian diets are:

  • B vitamins, particularly B12 and B6
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Selenium

To track your nutritional intake, try this awesome program: It has both free and paid account options. To understand your nutrient needs and assess risk for deficiency, see a holistic health physician for a nutrient assessment test (details below). This simple blood test indicates if deficiencies are present and need to be corrected, as well as how to best support already good health with the right dose and type of supplements for you.

Before you go vegetarian, or if you’ve been vegetarian or vegan for some years now, why not look into testing your vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for any deficiencies. Check out this Micronutrient test.