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Common mistakes of vegetarian diets

Every time we find more cases in consultation of people who want to start a vegetarian or vegan diet , or parents who come because their children want to follow these diets. Many times these patients do not know where to start or do not know if the diet they are eating is healthy. We have found that there are a number of common mistakes when starting a vegetarian diet . Which are? Now we will explain them in detail:

1 . I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT SOURCES OF PROTEIN TO GO TO

Well, protein can be found in many plant sources such as legumes, nuts and processed foods such as  tofu, seitan, tempeh or textured soybeans .

In addition, in the case of vegetarians, there are also foods of animal origin that can provide us with protein such as eggs and dairy products.

Is all the protein of equal quality? 

Protein of animal origin is always complete. This means that it provides us with all the essential amino acids that our body cannot synthesize. The vegetable protein can also be complete, as in the case of soya, chickpeas, some types of beans, pistachios, quinoa, amaranth and hemp seed, but it is not always. 

Proteins that are not complete is because they lack an amino acid. If we combine proteins deficient in a certain amino acid with others that are not, we will get a good quality protein.  

How to combine protein foods to make them complete

These are some of the possible combinations you can do. It is not necessary to do it at the same meal, that is, if you eat lentils with rice or eat lentils and have rice for dinner, we will obtain the same benefit.

-Legumes + Cereals
For example: hummus spread with bread, lentils with rice, etc.

-Legumes + nuts
For example: lentil salad with walnuts.

-Cereals + nuts
For example: rice with cashews, oat flakes with hazelnuts, etc.

2. I DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH PROTEIN I NEED

Surely many of you wonder how much protein you need to consume. Well, a guide that we can use to follow a balanced diet may be the idea of ​​the dish. Half of the plate would be filled with vegetables (which can be in the form of salads, purees, sauteed), a quarter would be carbohydrates (whole grains, bread, potatoes) and the remaining quarter would be the proteins that we have for you. named above.

This is the visual and easy way to ensure a sufficient protein intake (making the protein source occupy approximately a quarter of the surface of your plate) but if you want to know how much you need of each protein source , take note of the grams per serving:

Ration in grams Grams of protein per serving 
Tofu (120g) 18g
Seitan (120g)28g 
Tempeh (120g)21g 
Textured soy (40g dry)20g 
Lentils (80g raw)20g
Chickpeas (80g raw)15g
Eggs (2 units)15g
Fresh cheese (100g)12.4g
Soft cheese (100g)22g
Plain yogurt6.6g
Soy yogurt4.6g

3. USE CHEESE AS THE ONLY SNACK OPTION

What can I make the sandwich of if it is not turkey, ham or tuna? Well, many people choose cheese and it is also a very popular option to snack between meals. 

This is bad? No, because as we have seen before, cheese can be a source of protein but it is also a source of fat, especially if the cheese is aged. For this reason, we should moderate the consumption of this type of cheese a bit. 

When preparing toast or a sandwich, so that it does not become repetitive, you have several different options to cheese such as:

  • Using nut cream with fruit 
  • Spread hummus and top with grilled zucchini or aubergine 
  • Spread avocado and chop tomato or kiwi on top 

Four . DO NOT EAT ENOUGH VEGETABLES, VEGETABLES and FRUIT

Being a vegetarian is not synonymous with eating vegetables all the time. As with many other people, a vegetarian can:

  • Breakfast some toast with margarine and jam + coffee with oatmeal drink 
  •  Mid-morning have some vegan cookies + another coffee
  • Lunch: pesto spaghetti + chocolate soy yogurt
  • Snack: nuts
  • Dinner: vegan sausages with potatoes
    And at the end of the day, it turns out that there has not been an adequate and sufficient intake of vegetables. 

I know that you did not expect it? Well, we remind you that it is advisable to eat 400-600 g of vegetables a day: about 3 servings of fruit and 2 of vegetables.

5. TAKE TOO MANY PROCESSED VEGETARIANS / VEGANS 

Another common mistake when starting a vegetarian diet is to start consuming too many processed vegetarian such as hamburgers or vegetable sausages, to incorporate protein into the diet. Being of plant origin, there are people who think that they are already healthy options. In addition, in the market, there is an increasing supply of these types of products but they are not always the best option.

Are vegetarian processed foods healthy?

If you want to consume this type of product, it must be done occasionally and choosing the one that we see is of the best quality by looking at the nutritional labeling.
If you are going to buy a tofu burger, it is important that the tofu is in the first place in the ingredient list and if it may be that it has more than 50% tofu. The rest of ingredients such as starches, flours or oils, what they do is reduce the protein content of the food. 

Here is an example of the composition of a tofu and spinach burger :

Although the first ingredient is tofu, it only represents 28% of the total burger. Therefore, if we compare the nutritional composition of this burger with that of tofu, we see that, for every 100g, the tofu has about 12-15g of protein, about 7g of fat and approximately 1% carbohydrates. On the other hand, the hamburger is much richer in fat because they add oil, in fact it usually has more than 10% fat. Carbohydrates also tend to represent an important part (10-17%) while protein does not usually exceed 10%. 

So what is the recommendation on hamburgers and other processed vegetables ? The recommendation would be to choose the one with the highest percentage of “tofu”, “lentils” or the main food from which they are made, see if they have added starches, flours or oils (taking into account that the ingredients in the list are ordered according to the amount we find in the product) and try to make its consumption unusual. 

6. THINKING THAT IRON OF PLANT ORIGIN IS ABSORBED THE SAME AS IRON OF ANIMAL ORIGIN  

The iron – deficiency anemia is one of the diseases most common nutritional deficiency. Many people mistakenly think that iron levels can only be improved by regularly consuming red meat and organ meats. 

It has been observed in studies that the incidence of anemia in vegetarians and omnivores is very similar, but it is important to know that heme iron or iron of animal origin (15-35%) has a better absorption than non-heme iron or of vegetable origin (1 -twenty%).

Iron levels are highly dependent on intestinal regulation and therefore the amount of non-heme iron that is absorbed is related to individual needs at each moment.

Regarding the absorption of non-heme iron, there are components in certain foods such as phytates (whole grains, legumes and nuts) and tannins (coffee, tea, chocolate) that reduce absorption. 

The incorporation of foods rich in Vit C not only counteracts the effect of phytates and tannins , but also improves the absorption of non-heme iron. 

Therefore, if we combine foods rich in iron such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, dried fruit or whole grains with foods rich in Vit C , we will improve the absorption of this iron at the intestinal level. Some foods rich in Vit C are citrus fruits or vegetables such as red pepper, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage or tomato.

7. DO NOT TAKE DRIED FRUITS OR SEEDS 

The omega – 3s are a type of essential fatty acids, ie, that our body can not manufacture and therefore we have to eat in our diet. When you do not follow a vegetarian diet, omega 3s are obtained mainly through fish, but in the case of foods of plant origin, what we can find is in dried fruits such as walnuts and chia or flax seeds. 

For this reason, it is very important that you consume 1 handful of walnuts every day or that you add flax or chia seeds for example at breakfast or in a salad. It is very important that when you put seeds, you crush them or put them to soak in order to absorb the nutrients. 

What are Omega 3 fatty acids?

Omega 3s are a type of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, that is, it is essential that we ingest them because our body is not capable of manufacturing them.

There are different types of omega 3s , but we will focus on ALA, DHA, and EPA . The latter two are found in fish oils, breast milk, and grass-fed meats. ALA is found in plant foods such as nuts and seeds and can be metabolized to its biactive derivatives, mainly DHA.

How to meet the needs of Omega 3?

To cover well the contribution of active Omega 3 in a vegetarian it is recommended:

1- Reduce the consumption of oils rich in omega 6 , as they compete for the metabolization pathway with omega 3: seed oils (sunflower), corn or soy, margarines and other industrial fats.
2- Ensure the intake of ALA (1-1.5g / day):
-10-15g of walnuts
– 5-8g of crushed or broken flax or chia seeds.

8. THINKING THAT IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO TAKE VITAMIN B12 

The vitamin B12 or cobalamin is essential for proper brain function and protein synthesis. To ensure adequate intake, it is necessary to consume foods of animal origin in adequate proportions or, otherwise, take adequate supplementation.

There is no bioavailable vitamin B12 in any plant-based food . And it has been determined that even vegetarians doing a varied and balanced diet do not reach a sufficient supply of vit B12. Therefore, whether you are vegetarian or vegan , do not forget to do a good supplement in this vitamin. 

According to Efsa (European Food Safety Authority), the intake of 4 µg / day of vitamin B12 seems to represent a minimum for the maintenance of a normal hematological status associated with low deposits of B12 in the body (1-2mg).

For this reason, vitamin B12 supplementation is essential since, although there is a regular consumption of eggs or dairy products, the daily requirements are not met.

How much vit B12 do dairy or egg servings provide?

Examples of the amount of Vitamin B12 in food 

FoodQuantity / portionµg B12 / Ration
Egg60g0.6
Semi-naked milk1 glass (200ml)0.4- 0.8
Plain yogurt125g0.37
Fresh cheese100g0.6
Example of usual daily intake:
1 glass of milk1 glass0.5
1 egg60g0.6
1 or 2 yogurts250g0.4
Total intake:1.5

As you can see, the usual intake does not reach the daily requirements. We would have to eat more than 6 eggs a day or 4 and a half glasses of skim milk to reach the EFSA recommendations. Therefore, it is important to do good supplementation. 

Recommended Vitamin B12 Supplementation

A daily supplement of cyanocobalamin (bacterial origin) is recommended: 25-100 micrograms per day (chew to promote absorption) or a weekly supplement of 2000 micrograms per week divided into 1 or 2 doses.

The determination of B12 in the body and in the blood does not represent the real state of the body’s deposits. To make a correct assessment, the parameters to be determined are: homocysteine ​​and methylmalonic acid.

Children and the elderly should be supplemented in vitamin B12 even if they consume eggs and dairy.

9. NOT KNOWING HOW TO CHOOSE VEGETABLE DRINKS 

In consultation we find many vegetarians who decide not to drink milk and who choose to drink vegetable drinks several times a day. Not all vegetable drinks are of the same quality. The main thing that we have to take into account when choosing a vegetable drink is: 

  • First of all, that it does not contain added sugars. We must look at the list of ingredients. In this list appear syrups, syrups, fructose or, directly, sugar (even if it is whole).
  • The second is that it is enriched in calcium. As vegetable drinks are made up mainly of water, the only way to provide us with a good amount of calcium is to enrich it. At a minimum, you should have 120mg of calcium per 100ml of drink. No vegetable drink on the market reaches that amount if it is not enriched.

  • Beware of the presence of sugar in vegetable drinks

The first ingredient in vegetable drinks is always water. That is, these types of drinks are basically water. The second ingredient should already be soy, oats, rice or the food from which the drink was made. This is important, as some beverages have sugar as the second ingredient. Taking into account that in the list of ingredients, the ingredients are ordered in descending order according to the amount in the product, we would be talking about a drink based on water and sugar.

How much percent of rice, oats or soy is in your vegetable drink?

On the other hand, it is also important to look at the percentage of oats, rice, soy, coconut, almond , etc. who carries the drink. In this sense, the higher this percentage, the better, since the nutrients from the ingredient will be more concentrated. That is, the drink will be richer in nutrients such as proteins or carbohydrates. In the case of the soy, oat or rice drink we can find amounts of 14-15%.

It is necessary to take this point into account because it is easy to find light versions of vegetable drinks with less than 4% of the ingredient from which the drink is made. This will make them provide fewer calories, but they will also be poorer in nutrients, as they are more diluted in water.

In the case of almond or coconut drinks, both high-fat foods, the amounts usually range between 2 and 5.5%.

10- HAVE REGULARLY BEVERAGES OTHER THAN WATER 

It does not matter if they are juices, sodas, smoothies, sugary vegetable drinks, “sports drinks”, coffee or alcohol. Water should be our go-to drink.

Neither a green smoothie with detox promises, nor a multivitamin juice, nor light or zero sodas, nor a glass of wine a day is good for the heart, nor is beer a good drink to recover from sports. 

Water, water and more water in the form of infusions, teas, broths… everything counts !! Do not forget to drink approximately 1.5-2l of water daily. 

If you have questions about your vegetarian or vegan diet , you can contact us and one of our dietitians-nutritionists can help you follow a healthy diet that suits your needs and tastes.

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