10 Common Pitfalls for New Vegans and How to Avoid Them

I failed at my first attempt at going vegan. Most people do. But with a few precautionary adjustments to your diet, you can avoid the same fate and enjoy all the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle.


#1) Eating Too Much Oil

When you first give up meat and dairy, you’re going to crave fat. Don’t fall into the oil trap. Oil is the most calorie dense type of food you can eat, and it’s lurking in everything– from store bought hummus to salad dressings. Plant oils are sneaky weight-gainers, and they are the #1 culprit of excessive omega-6 fatty acids in our diet. Don’t let decades of positive marketing from the olive and coconut oil industries fool you. Keep these lipids to a minimum.


#2) Depending on Mock-Meats

Not all veggie burgers are created equal. If you’re eating Boca and Morningstar Farms products on the regular, you might want to cut it out. Some of these mock-meats still use genetically modified soy and wheat, which are littered with Monsanto’s glyphosate. If you don’t want a “Round-Up Ready” veggie burger, pay close attention to the packaging and look for the non-GMO label.

(For a mind-blowing interview about glyphosate, check out Dr. Zach Bush on the Rich Roll Podcast)


#3) Buying Vegan Junk Food

Oreos and most potato chips are vegan. Enough Said.


#4) Ignoring Vitamin B-12

Modern societies chlorinate their water and wash the dirt off of their produce. For that reason, vegan sources of Vitamin B-12 are slim to none nowadays. Meat contains B-12, so omnivores don’t have to worry about this. But for plant based eaters, vitamin B-12 supplementation is necessary. Opt for methylcobalamin over cyanocobalamin, as it is more bioavailable. Cyanocobalamin also contains a little bit of cyanide.

If you’re prone to acne, take caution in not overdoing the B-12 supplements. Too much B-12 is associated with acne. You don’t have to take B-12 supplements every day.


#5) Forgetting Fiber

Fiber is the secret to not feeling hungry or deprived as a vegan. If you eat a typical western diet, and simply replace the meat with mock-meat, you will feel unsatisfied. Because plants digest more quickly than animal flesh and secretions, fibrous fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes will help mitigate hunger. It also helps build and maintain a population of healthy gut bacteria. Eating high-fiber food should not be limited to only vegans. The typical western diet is incredibly fiber deficient. One of the main reasons people see extraordinary results with plant-based diets is the increase in dietary fiber intake.

(Fiber Tip: Instead of juicing, try blending with a Vitamix or other high-powered blender.  Juicing removes the pulp (the fiber), but blending keeps it all intact and basically liquifies it. It may very well be easier for you to drink your kale!)


#6) Eating Too Many Nuts

Nuts and seeds are a great source of Omega-3’s, but there’s a catch. They are also a great source of Omega-6’s, and most people–vegans and omnivores alike–have too many Omega-6’s and too few Omega-3’s in their diets. With nuts and seeds, a little goes a long way. With modern de-shelling processing methods, it is now too easy to overdo it. Just think about it, in their natural form, these nuts are protected with a shell that prevents the animal (human or non) from overeating them.

Flaxseeds are the holy grail of vegan omega-3’s. Just make sure you buy pre-ground flax, or you grind it yourself before eating it. The human body cannot properly break down and digest a non-ground flaxseed. Walnuts and Chia seeds are also notable mentions, but nothing compares to flax. The rest of the nuts and seeds are great, just be careful not to overeat them.


#7) Getting Drunk

You may have seen a “study” circulating around social media, claiming that 1/3 of vegetarians eat meat when they get drunk. Although the source of the study is dubious (thank you, Snopes!), it is common knowledge that drinking lowers inhibitions. Anyone who’s ever been drunk knows that it usually doesn’t end in healthy food choices. Stay mindful and in control of your decisions. When you’re uninhibited, you’ll fall back on old habits.


#8) Relying on Restaurants

If you’re a new vegan who doesn’t cook, then you’re in for a difficult time. Your dining options will be limited, unless you live in a big city and are willing to shell out the big bucks for overpriced salads and extra guac at Chipotle. Don’t rely on restaurants for the bulk of your calories. You will probably be left broke, disappointed and hungry.


#9) Becoming Misanthropic

Every vegan goes through an angry stage. Some never get out of it. Yes, humans are responsible for unspeakable horrors. Our violence as a species causes tremendous suffering– from factory farming to commercial fishing, from slavery to war. But real vegans keep humans within their circle of compassion–and simply not eating people isn’t enough. Love thy neighbor–and not just the cute, furry ones.


#10) Expecting Vegan Purity

Toss any notions of maintaining vegan purity out the window right now. If you eat at restaurants, you will unknowingly consume trace amounts of dairy regularly. There will be ingredient ignorant waiters, cooks who don’t care, and food handlers who don’t change gloves after handling meat and dairy. Honey, eggs and dairy are hiding in processed foods that you might not expect. Some vitamin fortified foods, like Cheerios, use an animal derived vitamin-D. And God forbid, you might step on a bug or instinctively swat a mosquito to death.

No food is completely cruelty free, and nobody gets off of this planet alive without killing something. This isn’t a call for nihilistic ethical abandonment, though. In fact, true ethical veganism is a rejection of nihilism, and it should be practiced as an act of (imperfect) love. Just do your best. Don’t worry, you can still call yourself a vegan even if you mess up! And the best part is you don’t have to tell anybody.


15 Things You Need to Know About Spirulina

Spirulina may be a trendy ingredient in the health and wellness community, but it is by no means new. It’s been harvested as a food source by humans for centuries. The Aztecs harvested it in Lake Texcoco, Mexico and it is still harvested from Lake Chad in Africa today. Most of the high-end commercial varieties of this expensive algae are grown in Hawaii, with companies like Nutrex Hawaii representing the lion’s share of the US market. Taiwan is a big player in the Spirulina market as well.

Proponents claim spirulina to be one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, ounce per ounce. From heavy metal detoxification to being a micronutrient panacea, there’s no shortage of health claims about this particular cyanobacteria.


Spirulina vs. Chlorella

Spirulina is a spiral-shaped microalgae rich in nutrients and protein, iron, calcium and B vitamins. It has a purportedly mild taste (that’s debatable), and it is rich in chlorophyll. Spirulina is not technically a plant, but rather bacterium. It has a lot in common with plants though, particularly it’s richness in plant pigments and ability to photosynthesize. Unlike it’s cousin, chlorella (which actually is a plant), spirulina is readily bioavailable to the human body. Chlorella’s cell wall needs to be “cracked” in order for humans to obtain nutrition from it. For this reason, spirulina is typically cheaper and more common. Only purchase “cracked cell-wall chlorella.”

Buyer Beware: As spirulina gains mainstream popularity, cheaper, underregulated and potentially hazardous off-brands from China and Mongolia are permeating the market (looking at you, Amazon). Look for Spirulina manufactured in Hawaii, Taiwan, or Australia. If chlorella is what your’e after, then Yaeyama Chlorella from Japan has a solid reputation.


15 Facts about Spirulina

#1) B Vitamins: Spirulina is NOT your vitamin B12 solution, Vegans. The type of B12 found in spirulina is a psuedovitamin, which is not absorbable by humans. Vegans and vegetarians should NOT replace their B12 supplementation with spirulina.

Spirulina is, however, a good source of Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B9.


#2) Iron: Spirulina is high in iron, making it a very helpful food for vegans and anemics.  Because spirulina is a non-heme source of iron (meaning it is not derived from animal sources), it is less bioavailable than the iron you get from meat. If you’re a plant-based eater, then don’t stop at 100% DV when it comes to this micromineral.


#3) Protein: Spirulina is very high in protein, ounce per ounce, but if you’re taking a few servings a day, it’s not enough. It is a complete protein, and has net protein utilization rate of 50%-61%. You can satisfy about 4% of your daily value of protein from just a teaspoon of Hawaiian spirulina. Spirulina makes a great addition to other plant-based proteins, such as pea, rice and hemp. It should not be your primary source of protein, however. If you consider spirulina to be a calorically significant staple to your diet, you’re either eating way too much spirulina or not getting enough. Diversify your plant-based macronutrients!


#4) Vitamin K: A lack of Vitamin K2 is a criticism of a plant-based diet. K2 is found primarily in animal foods or natto, a fermented soybean product. Nutrex- Hawaii’s Spirulina claims to contain vitamin K2, but this may be as dubious as their vitamin B12 claim. Bioavailability is a key factor to consider.Vegans and vegetarians should not replace their vitamin K2 supplementation with spirulina.


#5) Vitamin A: Spirulina is extremely high in Vitamin A, with 10x the beta carotene concentration as carrots. Spirulina shows excellent promise in supporting eye health.


#6) Heavy Metal Detox

Spirulina binds to heavy metals in the body, and it is particularly helpful in detoxifying arsenic from the body. Trace amounts of arsenic hide in our foods (such as rice) and tap water. Combining 500 mg of spirulina with zinc may reduce arsenic toxicity by half.


#7) Radiation Detox

New evidence suggests that spirulina also binds with radioactive isotopes, so it may be useful after exposure to radioactivity or radiation therapy. So, you should probably keep and unopened bottle of spirulina handy in your family’s post-apocalyptic nuclear doomsday kit. You DO have one of those, don’t you…?


#9) High in Chlorophyll

Spirulina’s high chlorophyll content gives it a nutritional profile similar to leafy greens! Try sneaking some spirulina into your juice or on top of a salad. Looking for an even bigger chlorophyll boost? Chlorella crushes spirulina in that category.


#10) Balances Blood Sugar:

One study (performed on rats) showed that spirulina balanced blood sugar after excessive fructose administration. Spirulina may hold promise for diabetics and pre-diabetics. (Note: Spirulina should in no way be considered a replacement for diabetes medication.)


#11) Omega-3s and Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA):

Without fish and red meat, an Omega-3 deficiency is a potential pitfall of a vegan diet. Thus, any plant food with a higher Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio is beneficial. Most people, not just vegans, consume far too many Omega-6s fatty acids and not nearly enough Omega-3s. Algae based Omega-3 supplements and flax seeds are some vegan Omega-3 cheats.


#12) Reduces Allergic Rhinitis:

A study on natural remedies for allergic rhinitis showed that spirulina showed promise in reducing allergy symptoms. This may be due to its anti-inflammatory nature.


#13) Full of Antioxidants:

A Taiwanese study showed that spirulina has an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score of 24,000. Thats 4x higher than blueberries. The ORAC score is used to measure antioxidant concentration in foods. The antioxidant that makes spirulina unique is C-Phycocyanin.


#14) It’s Sustainable

Spirulina production shows great promise in preventing malnutrition in impoverished areas. It’s sustainable, easy to produce, and its production is mostly free from animal cruelty.


#15) People with PKU should NOT take Spirulina

Spirulina contains the amino acid phenylalanine, therefore it is not safe for people suffering with the condition PKU.


Bottom-Line: Spirulina is a mostly safe, healthful addition to any plant-based/vegan diet. It is rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals like magnesium and manganese. However, spirulina should not be relied upon for vitamins K2 and B12. Although it is high in iron, protein, and omega-3’s, it should not serve as your primary source for these nutrients. You would have to consume nearly 10 servings of powdered spirulina just to get up to an ounce, which would be a hefty chunk of your daily value of protein, but at that point you’d probably be getting too much iron. Moderation is key.

Spirulina in powdered form is more easily digested, and some spirulina capsules/tablets contain fillers and binders. Source your spirulina wisely! Always shop with due diligence and a healthy dose of skepticism.