I was vegetarian for four years of my life, during high school and a couple of years of college. And I was also the unhealthiest I’ve ever been. I was overweight, fatigued, and suffered from constant brain fog and hormonal imbalance. I lived on cereals, bagels, waffles, pizza, pastries, lots of bread, and tons of desserts. I had no concept of nutrition at that time. I would exercise but was still gaining weight, and my mentality was “If I exercise, I can eat whatever I want.” It wasn’t until my dad convinced me to start eating meat again that things finally changed. I lost weight, my energy was better, my brain fog and memory improved, and I felt better. Retrospectively, I know why.
Vegetarians or vegans are not necessarily healthier. And here why: A lot of the time my vegan and vegetarian patients are deficient in essential vitamins as well as fat. Vegans are at risk for B12, iron, vitamin D, zinc, and iodine deficiency. They also tend to have lower body weight, which can hinder pregnancy, and their cholesterol levels are also low, which affects hormonal imbalance, menstrual cycles, and brain fog.
I’m not here to sway you to eat meat or not. You have to listen to your body, your beliefs, and understand the full picture of the nutritional choices you’re making. But if you’re on a plant-based diet and still not feeling your best, here are five reasons why and what you can do to fix it:
- Limited protein.
Vegetarians are often not getting enough protein in their diet. Healthy alternative vegetarian protein options include quinoa, hummus, lentils and legumes, buckwheat, nuts and nut butters, hempseed, and even chia. You have to learn to get creative and incorporate these into your diet throughout the day so you will be able to achieve your protein goals. I encourage patients to get about 60 grams of protein each day as a reference. I’m a big fan of protein shakes to start off the day, there are great vegetarian protein options other than soy like sunflower protein, pea, and rice protein powders on the market. I encourage adding avocados and healthy fats into your diet and smoothies as well like MCT or coconut oil for additional health benefits.