12 Mistakes to Avoid on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

Adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet can be a beneficial step towards a healthier lifestyle, but it’s important to make sure you’re meeting your nutritional needs and avoiding common mistakes.

Many new vegetarians and vegans face a steep learning curve as they try to navigate the world of plant-based foods. It’s easy to fall prey to myths and misinformation, or to simply not know how to properly structure a healthy, balanced diet.

The good news is that by educating yourself and being mindful of your food choices, you can avoid these common mistakes and thrive on a plant-based diet.

Whether you’re a seasoned vegan or just starting out, keep reading for 12 mistakes to avoid on a vegetarian or vegan diet.

“Vegetarianism is a way of living consciously on the planet. With the rise of climate change, there’s no better time to explore plant-based eating.”

Not Enough Protein

The Importance of Protein in a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

Protein is an essential nutrient for building and repairing tissues, and it’s especially important for vegetarians and vegans who may not be consuming as much protein as those on a meat-based diet. A lack of protein can lead to muscle weakness, fatigue, and impaired immune function.

Sources of Protein for Vegetarians and Vegans

There are plenty of plant-based sources of protein, including beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds. It’s important to consume a variety of these protein sources to ensure you’re getting all the essential amino acids your body needs. Quinoa and soy products are considered complete protein sources, meaning they contain all essential amino acids.

  • Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Nuts: almonds, cashews, peanuts
  • Seeds: chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, oats

How Much Protein Should You Consume?

The recommended daily intake of protein varies depending on your age, gender, weight, and activity level, but a general guideline for vegetarians and vegans is to aim for 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, if you weigh 68 kilograms, you should aim to consume around 55 grams of protein per day.

It’s important to keep in mind that consuming too much protein can also be harmful to your health, so it’s best to consult with a registered dietitian to determine your individual protein needs.

Consuming Processed Foods

The problem with processed foods

Processed foods are a common staple in many people’s diets. However, these foods tend to be high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. This could lead to a higher risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Alternative options

It’s important to make conscious decisions about what we put into our bodies, and choosing whole foods as much as possible is beneficial. Whole foods refer to foods that are minimally processed and don’t come in a package. Some examples include fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds.

  • Try preparing your meals at home using fresh ingredients
  • Snack on fresh fruit or vegetables instead of processed snacks
  • Read ingredient labels and choose minimally processed foods


In short, consuming processed foods should be limited as much as possible. Aim to eat a diet consisting mostly of whole, unprocessed foods to ensure you’re getting the necessary nutrients and to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Neglecting Whole Foods

The Importance of Whole Foods

Whole foods are important for a healthy and balanced vegetarian or vegan diet. Whole foods are unprocessed or minimally processed foods that contain all parts of the plant, including the fiber, vitamins, and minerals. By eating whole foods, you can ensure that you are getting all the necessary nutrients for your body.

The Risks of Neglecting Whole Foods

Neglecting whole foods can lead to a lack of essential nutrients. Processed vegetarian or vegan foods may not provide the necessary vitamins and minerals that your body needs for optimal health. Additionally, relying on processed foods can result in an unbalanced diet, leading to deficiencies in certain nutrients and an excess in others.

Incorporating Whole Foods into Your Diet

To ensure that you are incorporating whole foods into your diet, focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those that are in season. Choose whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat bread. Incorporate legumes, such as beans and lentils, into your meals. These foods are not only nutrient-dense but also provide needed fiber for digestive health. Additionally, using herbs and spices to flavor your meals can add nutrition and delicious flavor without adding excess salt or sugar.

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Neglecting whole foods can lead to an imbalanced diet with a lack of essential nutrients. Incorporating whole foods into your vegetarian or vegan diet is essential for optimal health. By focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and herbs and spices, you can ensure that your diet is nutritious and satisfying.

Overeating Carbs

What are Carbs?

Carbohydrates, commonly referred to as carbs, are an essential macronutrient that provides our bodies with energy. They can be found in foods such as bread, pasta, fruits, and vegetables. However, not all carbs are created equal.

Why Overeating Carbs Can Be a Problem

Overeating carbs, especially refined carbohydrates like white bread, sugar, and processed foods, can lead to a range of health problems. These foods can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to insulin resistance and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Overconsumption of carbs can also lead to weight gain, as excess carbs are stored as fat in the body.

How to Avoid Overeating Carbs on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

One way to avoid overeating carbs is to focus on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. These foods are nutrient-dense and contain fiber, which helps keep you feeling full and satisfied. Another strategy is to be mindful of portion sizes and to balance your meals with a variety of macronutrients, including protein and healthy fats.

Finally, it’s important to read food labels and be aware of the carb content in packaged foods. Look for products that are low in added sugars and refined carbohydrates and aim to limit your intake of processed foods.

In conclusion, while carbohydrates are an important nutrient, it’s important to be mindful of the types and amounts of carbs you consume. By focusing on whole, plant-based foods and being mindful of portion sizes, you can avoid overeating carbs and promote a healthy, balanced diet.

Relying Too Heavily on Soy Products

Relying Too Heavily on Soy Products

The Benefits of Soy Products

Soy products are popular among vegetarians and vegans because they are good sources of protein and other essential nutrients. Soybeans are one of the few plant sources that contain all of the essential amino acids. Soy products are also rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, and vitamin B12. Additionally, studies suggest that soy products may reduce cholesterol levels, improve heart health, and alleviate symptoms of menopause.

The Risks of Consuming Too Much Soy

While soy products offer numerous health benefits, consuming too much soy can have adverse effects on one’s health. Soy contains compounds called phytoestrogens, which have been shown to mimic the hormone estrogen in the body. This can lead to hormonal imbalances, especially in individuals who already have high estrogen levels. Excess consumption of soy may also lead to gastrointestinal distress, including bloating and gas.

How to Incorporate Soy Products Into Your Diet Safely

If you choose to include soy products in your diet, it is important to do so in moderation. Experts recommend consuming no more than 2-3 servings of soy per day. It’s also crucial to choose whole soy foods, such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame, rather than heavily processed soy products, like vegan meat substitutes. Additionally, be sure to read food labels carefully, as soy is often added to various processed foods. If you have concerns about incorporating soy into your diet, consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider.

Not Getting Enough Iron

Why Iron Is Important

Iron is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in your body’s functioning. It helps your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body, which is necessary for energy production and overall health. Iron also helps your muscles store and use oxygen, supports your immune system, and aids in cognitive function.

The Risks of Iron Deficiency

Vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk for iron deficiency because plant-based sources of iron are not as easily absorbed by the body as animal-based sources. If you are not getting enough iron, you may experience fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, pale skin, headaches, and poor concentration. Severe iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which can cause long-term health problems.

How to Ensure Adequate Iron Intake

  • Eat iron-rich foods such as lentils, beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and fortified cereals and breads.
  • Pair iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, and tomatoes, to improve absorption.
  • Avoid drinking tea or coffee with meals, as they can decrease iron absorption.
  • Consider taking an iron supplement if you are not getting enough from your diet. Consult your healthcare provider first to avoid taking too much iron.

Monitoring your iron intake is a crucial aspect of maintaining a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet. By making sure you consume adequate amounts of iron, you can avoid the negative health consequences of deficiency and ensure optimal functioning of your body.

Ignoring Vitamin B-12

Why Vitamin B-12 is important for vegetarians and vegans?

Vitamin B-12 is a key nutrient for a healthy nervous system and red blood cell production. It also helps in DNA synthesis and energy production. Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include meat, fish, and dairy products. However, since vegetarians and vegans avoid animal products, they are at risk of deficiency.

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What are the consequences of not getting enough Vitamin B-12?

If you don’t get enough vitamin B-12, you may develop fatigue, weakness, constipation, and loss of appetite. You may also experience numbness and tingling in your hands and feet. Long-term vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause irreversible nerve damage, which can lead to paralysis and dementia.

How can vegetarians and vegans get enough Vitamin B-12?

Vegetarians and vegans can get vitamin B-12 by consuming fortified cereals, plant-based milks, and nutritional yeast. They can also take vitamin B-12 supplements. The recommended daily intake of vitamin B-12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you need more.

  • Include vitamin B-12 fortified foods in your diet such as soy milk or cereal
  • Take vitamin B-12 supplements as recommended by your healthcare professional
  • Consider getting your vitamin B-12 levels checked regularly

It’s important for vegetarians and vegans to be mindful of their vitamin B-12 intake to maintain their overall health and well-being.

Not Eating Enough Fat

The Importance of Fat in a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

Fat is an essential part of any healthy diet and it is particularly important for vegetarians and vegans. Fats play a role in hormone production, healthy skin and hair, and the absorption of certain vitamins. Additionally, fat helps to keep you feeling full and satisfied after meals.

How to Incorporate Healthy Fats

It is important to choose healthy sources of fat when following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Some good sources of fat for vegetarians and vegans include nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut oil, and olive oil. Incorporating healthy fats into your meals can be easy, such as adding nuts or seeds to your oatmeal or salad, or using avocado or hummus as a sandwich spread. Be sure to consume a variety of sources of fat for optimal health benefits.

Potential Risks of Not Eating Enough Fat

Not consuming enough fat can lead to a variety of health issues. Fat helps to keep you feeling satisfied after meals, so not getting enough can lead to overeating or binge-eating. Additionally, not consuming enough fat can lead to deficiencies in certain vitamins and nutrients that are only absorbed in the presence of fat. In extreme cases, not consuming enough healthy fats can even lead to long term health issues, such as hair loss, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline. Be sure to incorporate healthy sources of fat into your vegetarian or vegan diet for optimal health.

Skipping Meals

The Issue:

Skipping meals is a common mistake that vegetarians and vegans make in an attempt to lose weight or save time. However, this can lead to a lack of essential nutrients and even malnutrition if done frequently.

The Solution:

It’s important to prioritize meal planning and preparation, especially when following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Skipping meals can lead to cravings and overeating, which can be detrimental to overall health. If time is a concern, try creating meal prep plans on the weekends and freezing portions for the week. It’s also important to listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry.

The Benefits:

By prioritizing meal planning and preparation, vegetarians and vegans can ensure they’re getting the proper nutrients throughout the day. This can lead to better energy levels, improved mood, and overall wellness. Additionally, by staying on a consistent meal schedule, cravings and overeating can be avoided, leading to better weight management.

Overconsumption of Nuts and Seeds

The Nutrient Benefits of Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds represent a fantastic source of healthy fats, protein, and essential nutrients such as vitamin E, magnesium, and selenium. However, consuming them in excessive amounts may lead to health issues.

The Risks of Overconsumption of Nuts and Seeds

  • Weight Gain: Nuts and seeds are high in calories, so consuming too many can lead to weight gain. It is always important to monitor your intake of calorie-dense foods.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Some people are sensitive to the fiber content in nuts and seeds and may experience bloating, gas, or constipation when consuming them in large amounts.
  • Oxalate Accumulation: Some nuts, such as almonds and cashews, are high in oxalates, which can contribute to the formation of kidney stones over time if consumed in large amounts.
  • Allergies: Nuts and seeds are common allergens, so it is important to avoid them if you have a known allergy.

In conclusion, nuts and seeds are incredibly nutritious, but it’s important to keep our intake in check to prevent potential health issues. Make sure to consume them in moderation and always be aware of any food sensitivities or allergies you may have.

Not Drinking Enough Water

Importance of Hydration

Water is essential for every bodily function, and maintaining hydration is particularly important for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Fruits and vegetables, which are typically a staple of such a diet, have high water content but don’t always provide adequate hydration on their own.

Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. It can also affect digestion, leading to constipation and other gastrointestinal issues. To prevent dehydration, it’s important to drink enough water throughout the day.

How to Stay Hydrated

The general recommendation is to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, but some people may need more depending on their activity level and climate. One way to ensure adequate hydration is to carry a water bottle and sip on it throughout the day.

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It’s important to also incorporate other beverages and foods that can contribute to hydration, such as herbal tea, coconut water, and watery fruits like watermelon and cucumber. However, be mindful of sugary drinks and excessive caffeine as they can have the opposite effect and contribute to dehydration.

  • Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day
  • Carry a water bottle with you to sip on throughout the day
  • Incorporate other hydrating beverages and foods such as herbal tea and watery fruits

Staying hydrated is a simple but important aspect of maintaining a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet. By drinking enough water and incorporating other hydrating options, you can keep your body functioning at its best.

Not Varying Your Diet

Lack of Nutrients

One of the biggest mistakes that vegetarians and vegans make is not varying their diet enough. They often stick to the same limited range of foods that they feel comfortable with, which can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients.

It’s important to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in your diet to make sure you get all the necessary nutrients.

For example, iron is essential for the production of red blood cells, but it can be difficult to absorb from plant-based foods. Including sources of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, bell peppers or broccoli, in your meals can help to increase your absorption of iron from plant-based sources.

Boredom and Burnout

Another consequence of not varying your diet is boredom and burnout. Eating the same limited range of foods can become tedious and uninspiring, which can lead to a loss of interest in maintaining a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

By experimenting with different recipes and new ingredients, you can keep your diet interesting and satisfying. Trying out new ethnic cuisines or seasonal produce can add variety to your meals and help you discover new favorite foods.

Environmental Impact

Limiting yourself to a narrow range of plant-based foods can also have wider environmental consequences. Popularized plant-based foods can require significant resources, such as water, land and energy, to produce in large quantities.

By varying your diet and choosing local, seasonal produce, you can help to reduce the environmental impact of your diet and support sustainable agriculture practices.

  • Conclusion:
  • Varying your diet is essential to maintaining a nutritionally balanced and interesting vegetarian or vegan diet. By including a range of plant-based foods, experimenting with new ingredients and trying out different recipes, you can avoid nutrient deficiencies, boredom and burnout while also supporting sustainable agriculture practices.

Questions and Answers:

What are some common mistakes made by vegetarians and vegans?

The article lists twelve common mistakes that vegetarians and vegans make, including not getting enough protein, not getting enough iron, relying too heavily on processed foods, and not taking supplements.

How can vegetarians and vegans get enough protein?

Vegetarians and vegans can get enough protein by eating a variety of plant-based protein sources, such as beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, and seeds. They can also incorporate whole grains, like quinoa or brown rice, which are high in protein.

Do vegetarians and vegans need to take supplements?

It is recommended that vegetarians and vegans take supplements, specifically vitamin B12 and vitamin D, as these nutrients are primarily found in animal products. Vegetarians and vegans who don’t supplement may be at risk of deficiencies.


William Brown

As a man who recently transitioned to a vegetarian diet, this article was a must-read for me. I appreciate the insight into the common mistakes that can be made on this diet and I am determined to avoid them. One mistake that stood out to me was not getting enough protein. As someone who enjoys working out and weightlifting, it’s important for me to fuel my body with enough protein to build muscle and recover properly. I will definitely be incorporating more sources of plant-based protein into my meals. Another mistake I was guilty of was not eating enough vegetables. I was so used to relying on meat as the center of my meals that I overlooked the importance of filling my plate with a variety of veggies. Overall, this article was informative and helpful in guiding me towards a healthier and more sustainable diet.

Elizabeth Wilson

As a vegetarian, this article really resonates with me. It’s important to be mindful of what we’re putting into our bodies, and it’s easy to make mistakes without even realizing it. I think the point about not relying too heavily on processed vegetarian or vegan products is especially important – just because something is labeled as vegetarian doesn’t automatically make it healthy. It’s also important to make sure we’re getting enough protein, something that can be a challenge for some vegetarians. Overall, I appreciate the reminder to be mindful and intentional about what I’m eating.

Samantha Johnson

As a vegetarian myself, I found this article extremely helpful. I was surprised to learn some of the common mistakes I had been making, such as not getting enough protein or not properly supplementing with vitamins and minerals. It’s important to educate ourselves on the different nutrients our bodies need and where to find them in plant-based sources. I also appreciated the emphasis on listening to our bodies and making gradual changes, rather than going cold-turkey overnight. It’s a lifestyle change that takes time and effort, but this article serves as a guide for avoiding common mistakes and achieving a well-rounded vegetarian or vegan diet.