There are several benefits to giving up meat, such as a decrease in risk of disease and better weight management. For instance, you might notice lower cholesterol, improved heart health, and a sunnier, natural glow and feel in daily life.
Yet—that transition from being a steak-and-potatoes lover to a plant-protein fiend can result in a few uncomfortable short-term side effects that can affect your mood, disposition, energy levels, and workouts.
So, before embarking upon a meat-free lifestyle, prepare yourself for what lies ahead. But remember, the long-term benefits are well worth the effort. And, who knows, you might even find some delicious staple recipes to keep in your repertoire, all using plant-based, whole foods that are packed with nutrition.
Here, we discussed the sudden symptoms that occur during the transitional period with Dr. Partha Nandi, leading physician and author of “Ask Dr. Nandi,” as well as a few tips for making the process easier.
Short Term Symptoms
In the short-term, you might experience mild headaches, depression, and anxiety, says Nandi, as well as an increase in fatigue, weakness, and energy levels. What’s more, lightheadedness could also happen. Because your body was used to getting its protein and iron through animal foods, where it’s more readily absorbed over plant-foods, it needs to adjust to smaller quantities, he says.
So, it’s a good idea to combine plant foods here to fulfill amino acid, protein, requirements—for instance, you can pair brown rice or quinoa with black beans, to fulfill your requirement. And, you can also supplement in a few nutrients that can be on the lower side in a vegan and vegetarian diet, such as iron, vitamin B12, and zinc, as all three of these vitamins and minerals affect mood and energy levels.
A hint that you’re low in zinc? You might lose your sense of taste, says Dr. Nandi. In fact, “one study, out of the Institute of Health Bioscience at the University of Tokushima in Japan found that zinc deficiency is a leading factor regarding taste impairment,” he says.
And, while beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products all provide some zinc, the phytic acid in whole grains, seeds, beans, and legumes can interfere with zinc absorption, he adds. So, as a result, vegetarians might need as much as 50% more zinc than carnivores, he explains, and this is where diet and supplementation can come in handy.
Beyond difficulty with tasting just how delicious your truffle spaghetti squash is, you might also struggle through your workouts and wake up feeling tired. As protein is less absorbed (so you’ll need to monitor intake and get ample amounts of plant-based protein with each meal), muscles can weaken and feel sore, says Dr. Nandi.
What’s more, be sure to reach for a Greek yogurt with nuts or a vegan protein shake post-workout. “Protein is essential for building muscle, maintaining it, and repairing it post-workout. Animal or plant protein works, the latter just takes a little longer to get the job done,” says Dr. Nandi.
And, if you start farting during those workouts, it could be that increase in fiber from eating a more plant-based diet, says Dr. Nandi. You may become gassy and bloated because it takes some time for your intestinal tract to adapt to its new healthy gut flora and bacterial strains, he says. Yet, this should pass once the body adjusts.
Long Term Symptoms
Beyond lower risk for disease, you might also lose weight and keep it off by going meat-less, he says. By cutting out fatty meats, you’ll likely stay trimmer. And, your digestion will be better, too. Thanks to more plant-based foods, the population of healthy bacteria in the gut will increase, leading to a flatter belly and regularity, he says.
And, as long as you’re supplementing where needed, you’ll still fulfill your nutrient requirements. It’s also smart to ease into this transition, by making small changes and moderately decreasing meat intake day-by-day. And, plan meals ahead of time so you can stick with your goals. Tracking goals and symptoms in a journal can also help you stay updated on your progress.
Have you considered giving up meat? Share your experiences with us below!