Deciding to eat a more—or completely—plant-based diet is a health choice many people are advocating and taking part in today. The last decade, we’ve learned more about the harmful and unnecessary effects of factory farming than ever before. As a result, people everywhere are starting to wake up and make changes, starting with how they eat. No longer is the massive amount of animal foods necessary for us to eat well, be happy and thrive, or survive. We’re now looking to mostly (or all) plants to do that for us, even though we still have a long way to go.
Helping Our Body Feel Its Best During the Change
When it comes to health, however, not everyone opts for a plant-based diet to become healthier. Many people just do it for the animals or environment, which are both great reasons to do so. However, what most people don’t realize or think about initially, is that at some point, health issues may arise because the body is going through so many changes internally by eating new foods. Animal foods contain certain hormones (natural or added) and other properties that interact with our cells and change how they function. Some of these are straightforward vitamins and minerals they contribute, while others are simply the way the proteins or fats metabolize differently than plants, and their effects on our digestion. Though plants provide vital nutrients that support the body, the transition away from animal products can still be tough for some, even though it’s easy for many others.
Because most of us come from a past of eating animal products, our bodies adapted and stored some of their hormones in our cells, and also adapted to digest and assimilate these foods into nutrients. Whether you’ve had health problems by eating animal foods or not, it’s still smart to realize that the body may need some time to adjust and to be aware of some issues in case they ever come up.
Possible Troubleshooting Issues and How to Deal With Them
Not everyone experiences health troubles during the transition, but in case you ever do or have, here are some common issues you may encounter and some ways to be aware of them so you can work through them to serve your body best.
1. Blood Sugar Imbalances
It’s important to realize that an imbalance of blood sugar can initially be temporary as the body shifts away from animal foods that take a very long time to digest because they have denser sources of protein and fats. Protein and fats can have a beneficial effects on blood sugar because they initially lower insulin levels and halt hunger, though that doesn’t mean animal sources are the healthiest for our blood sugar (or our bodies) on a long-term basis. Sometimes in the beginning, the body may feel more hungry because blood sugar levels are changing and adapting to a new diet, so it’s very important to eat plenty of whole foods during this time, not just processed substitute foods. This will ensure that your body gets the crucial minerals it needs from plants to help keep your blood sugar balanced. These nutrients include: magnesium, fiber, and plant-based proteins and fats. The best options are leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy fats like coconut and avocado or olives, beans, legumes, and whole grains and fruit. If you still have problems, you can try lowering the amount of grains and fruits you eat to 1-3 servings a day, as some people find their excess carbohydrates may cause some blood sugar spikes in comparison to lower carbohydrate plant-based foods.
Foods like chia, greens, nuts, hemp, legumes, and vegetables are excellent for your blood sugar levels because they contain fiber, magnesium, protein, iron, and large amounts of easy-to-digest vitamins and minerals.
Hunger is a sign you’re not eating enough, aren’t eating enough fiber-rich whole foods, aren’t eating enough protein or healthy fats, or aren’t eating often enough. Many people who come from a background of eating animal foods are used to eating less food because those foods are harder on the body to digest. Some can stay in the digestive tract 9-12 hours depending on the meal, which makes you less hungry during the day. Plants are largely vitamins, minerals, easy-to-dissolve fats, fiber, natural sugars, and easy-to-digest proteins. This means they digest much faster, which might leave you hungrier more often. Do not be afraid to eat! Your body needs food and you can’t expect to feel your best if you don’t listen to that calling. Remember, stick to whole foods to give your body the best nutrition, and keep a variety of healthy plant-based milks, nut butter, hummus, and other filling foods on hand that can be added to meals and snacks.
Digestion Upset or Changes
This is an issue many people deal with and no one seems to want to talk about it, but it’s very important. Digestion isn’t something any of us should be embarrassed about, nor is it an uncommon issue. It’s essentially how our bodies turn food into fuel and how efficiently they do so. Poor digestion also doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong if you’re experiencing it. In fact, digestion problems are one of the top health problems in our society today with IBS being the number one gastrointestinal complaint. A good bit of people deal with digestive struggles while transitioning to a plant-based diet, though most of the time these issues get better within a few weeks or months. Some people also transition perfectly and don’t struggle at all; everyone’s bodies are different. Gas and bloating may be due to eating too much fiber, while frequent bathroom trips are likely just the body adapting to eating more fiber-rich, cleansing, natural foods versus animal foods. If you have bloating all the time, you may need to consider laying off the beans, legumes, and the fruits at first or simply minimize them. You may also consider eating more pseudograins (quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat or millet) versus typical grains. Though these foods are healthy, they can cause some bloating or fermentation in the digestive tract for many people, so see how they work for you.
Be willing to make changes when necessary and give your body the support it needs. And remember that as the body is cleaning house, it will take a little time to adjust. So allow yourself to find what foods work best for you and implement whatever you need. Emphasize easier-to-digest foods like cooked vegetables and greens, smoothies, porridge, rice, coconut and avocado, root veggies, soups, and be sure you give your body enough healthy and natural fats, vitamins, and minerals.
It’s also important to make sure you’re taking a multivitamin, as well as a vitamin B12 supplement. Both of these can actually regulate digestion because the gastrointestinal tract needs certain vitamins and minerals to even function properly. You can also look into eating probiotic-rich, fermented foods or taking a probiotic to supply the gut with extra support, which is actually great advice for everyone. If you need further help, you can also look into taking a digestive enzyme supplement and eating smaller meals more frequently versus heavier meals twice or three times a day.
As the body detoxes from animal foods, it also lets go of some of their hormones that have been stored in the cells for years. Our fat cells (which we do need some of to function well, believe it or not) actually store all hormones we produce and what we take in. In fact, this is why cholesterol is produced by the body: because it’s crucial to producing hormones we need to be healthy and to feel our best. Without our body producing enough cholesterol on its own, we can suffer serious hormonal changes that can impair our health. But we don’t need the eggs or other animal foods to get enough cholesterol because they contain added dietary cholesterol that plants don’t have. Instead, emphasize beneficial fats like avocado, coconut, olives, almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia, hemp, flax, cocoa and cacao, and pumpkin seeds which will support the body’s ability to produce cholesterol on its own. The body is adequately capable of making what it needs if we give it enough real food-based, healthy fats.
Hormone changes can also occur due to the cleansing of added hormones in animal products that contain toxic estrogens, so give your body a little time to make the adjustment and be sure to eat plenty of green vegetables, root vegetables, and leafy greens that especially support the detoxification of estrogenic compounds. You also need to make sure you’re taking a vitamin D3 supplement. Vitamin D acts directly like a hormone in the body, contributes to healthy colon and heart function, and also helps supply the brain and neurotransmitters with what they need to feel well. Vitamin D2 (derived from yeast) found in most vegan fortified foods is not as easily metabolized as vitamin D3. Look for vegan vitamin D3 supplements when choosing one which you can find in both liquid and gel caps.
Overall, your hormones should start to feel much better and balanced on a plant-based diet; just be willing to help your body transition properly by eating a healthy diet and make sure you’re getting enough nutrition. See our plant-based nutrition guide here if you need some help!
Keeping the Bigger Picture in Mind
Remember that it’s important to be patient with your body and listen to it. You can help it transition more successfully by doing so and can also stay focused on why you’re choosing to eat a diet higher in plant-based foods. Many people find all of these health struggles above actually improve during the transition, but don’t feel bad if you’re not one of them. If you’re eating a healthy diet, getting enough rest, and making sure to live a healthy lifestyle otherwise, these troubleshooting tips can be worked through to give your body what it needs. And remember, it’s not about perfection, nor is it a race to eat the “perfect” plant-based diet, (which is different in the eyes of everyone).
We’re all in this together, so if you have a health question or concern, don’t be afraid to reach out. We’d love to hear from you and see if we can help!
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