Transitioning to a plant-based diet is gaining popularity. Just over 5% of the US adult population is vegan, and a further 16% of the population limits the amount of meat and animal products they eat as part of their diet.
But, as any long-term vegan will tell you, switching to a plant-based diet isn’t without its perils. You almost have to become an amateur nutritionist to ensure that you lead a healthy, happy life. You also need to pay greater attention to the signs your body gives you to prevent nutritional deficiencies or intolerances from impacting your wellbeing.
So, here are a few tips to help you support your body when transitioning to plant-based foods.
Track Macro and Micronutrients
Getting the nutrients you need on a plant-based diet isn’t as hard as people make it out to be. But that doesn’t mean you won’t become deficient in macro or micronutrients if you aren’t careful. Tracking your nutritional intake can also help you avoid dietary half-truths and trumped-up claims like “broccoli is high in protein” (a typical serving contains 2.6 g of protein; a similar serving of lentils contains 8.8g of protein).
There are plenty of free nutritional trackers out there to help you stay on track with your diet, but you’ll generally want to opt for apps that give you access to micronutrients, too. Micronutrients are like the tiny building blocks of your diet that ensure you avoid diseases, repair properly after exercise, and generally lead a happy, healthy life. Everyone should track their micronutrients from time to time, but it’s particularly important if you are new to a plant-based diet.
When tracking micronutrients, you’ll probably notice that you are low in three areas: B12, vitamin D3, and creatine. That’s because you can’t get these nutrients and organic compounds from plant-based sources. Fortunately, many products like soy milk and cereal are fortified with B12, and supplementing vitamin D3 is quite straightforward. Your body naturally produces creatine in the liver, so you only have to worry about supplementing it if you are exercising hard or want to build muscle.
Drink More Water
Although your water intake doesn’t have anything to do with going plant-based, it’s still important to stay on top of your daily hydration. That’s because many folks mistakenly believe they are feeling “weak” from going plant-based when, in reality, they are suffering from dehydration. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as 17 – 28% of the US adult population are chronically dehydrated.
Being chronically dehydrated is a serious issue in itself, and may hide problems that have flared up since transitioning to a plant-based diet. Dehydration also makes it hard to regulate your body temperature and weakens your body’s ability to transport nutrients around the body. In general, you need to drink between 11.5 cups and 15.5 cups of water per day through solid or fluid sources.
Getting hydrated might sound difficult at first, but consider trying out the following hydration hacks to help you out:
- Set a goal
- Get a fun bottle you like
- Add flavor to your water
- Have a glass with every meal
- Try sparkling water
Remember that fruits and vegetables have plenty of water in them, too. Adding fruits like strawberries and blueberries is a great way to top up your hydration levels and will help you take in mood-boosting nutrients.
Listen to Your Body
Listening to your body is an underrated skill in today’s age. Even if you have a perfect micronutrient balance, you may still suffer from health issues that are caused by your diet. That’s because everyone’s gut microbiome is different, meaning the way you break down and absorb nutrients is different from anyone else.
Mood swings are often the first sign of dietary disruption. This might happen if you are accidentally underfeeding yourself when transitioning to a plant-based diet, as plants are typically less calorically dense than foods from animals. You may also want to increase the number of healthy fats you eat to improve your mood through sources like chia seed, black walnuts, and soybean oils.
Many folks who transition to a plant-based diet suffer from increased gas and odd bowel movements. This is likely due to the increased fiber in your diet and may even be a good sign. If you are worried about too much gas, take a more gradual approach to eating plant-based foods so your gut microbiome has time to catch up.
Actively listening to your body when transitioning to plant-based foods can help you spot intolerances and dietary mishaps before they become a major issue. However, if you are suffering from prolonged mood swings or disruption, then you may need to see a medical professional who can test your blood and take a deeper look at your diet.
Going plant-based is a great way to improve your health and get interested in nutrition. However, maintaining your health while transitioning to plant-based foods does take a bit of planning. You can make the process easier by tracking your macro and micronutrients, drinking enough water, and listening to your body when your stomach starts to grumble and growl.
Image by Sean Hayes from Pixabay.