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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Marsh

Embracing a Personal Journey to Optimal Health

The Vegan Paradox: Navigating Potential Health Challenges and Embracing a Personal Journey to Optimal Health

optimal health


As someone who has embraced a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, I understand the ethical, environmental, and health motivations behind these dietary choices. However, it's crucial to acknowledge the potential health challenges that can arise from abstaining from animal products. In this blog post, I will share my personal journey, explore the content from "The Vegan Paradox" and "Navigating Vegan and Vegetarian Alternatives: Differentiating Health and Hype," and discuss my recent wake-up call from bloodwork results. Together, let's navigate the world of plant-based nutrition and prioritize our health.

Addressing Potential Health Challenges:
  1. Nutrient Deficiencies: As a vegan or vegetarian, one of the main concerns is the potential for nutrient deficiencies. Personally, I've learned that paying close attention to my B12 intake is crucial, as this vitamin is primarily found in animal-derived foods. To bridge nutritional gaps, I incorporate fortified foods and supplements into my diet. The Vegan Society and Mayo Clinic provide valuable information on nutrient requirements and food sources to ensure a well-balanced diet.

  2. Protein Quality: Protein plays a vital role in our body's growth, repair, and maintenance. Like many vegans and vegetarians, I've faced the challenge of obtaining a complete amino acid profile since plant-based protein sources may lack certain essential amino acids. To overcome this, I combine different plant protein sources throughout the day and include vegan protein supplements like pea protein powder. Healthline offers a beginner's guide to the plant-based diet and a detailed overview of the flexitarian approach, which can provide helpful insights.

  3. Calorie Density and Satiety: Plant-based diets, especially those high in fruits and vegetables, tend to be lower in calorie density compared to meat-inclusive diets. This can pose a challenge for individuals who struggle to consume enough calories to meet energy needs. To ensure sufficient calories, I prioritize energy-dense plant foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Additionally, including healthy fats in the form of plant oils or nut butter aids in satiety and overall caloric intake. "The Plant-Based Solution" by Joel K. Kahn and Healthline provide valuable guidance on maximizing nutrient intake while maintaining calorie balance.

  4. Meal Planning and Knowledge: Transitioning to a vegan or vegetarian diet requires careful meal planning and nutritional knowledge. Without proper planning, individuals may inadvertently exclude essential nutrients from their diet, leading to potential health risks. Personally, I've found it crucial to educate myself about nutrient requirements, food sources, and cooking techniques. Consulting a registered dietitian experienced in plant-based nutrition can provide valuable guidance and support. Resources like the Mayo Clinic and recommended books like "Becoming Vegan" by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina offer comprehensive information on meal planning and nutritional needs.

Navigating Vegan and Vegetarian Alternatives:
  1. Processed and Ultra-Processed Foods: It's important to recognize that not all vegan or vegetarian products are inherently healthier. Many vegan and vegetarian alternatives available today are highly processed or ultra-processed foods. These products may be rich in additives, preservatives, and unhealthy fats, while lacking essential nutrients. It is crucial for individuals to read ingredient labels carefully and choose minimally processed options whenever possible. Opting for whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains remains the foundation of a healthy plant-based diet.

  2. Added Sugars and Sodium: While eliminating animal products from the diet can offer health benefits, it's vital to be mindful of added sugars and sodium in vegan and vegetarian alternatives. These products often rely on sweeteners and sodium to enhance taste and palatability. Excessive consumption of added sugars and sodium can contribute to health issues such as weight gain, cardiovascular problems, and diabetes. Reading nutrition labels and selecting products with minimal added sugars and sodium is key to maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet.

  3. Nutritional Content and Fortification: Some vegan and vegetarian alternatives lack the nutritional profile found in their animal-based counterparts. For instance, plant-based milk alternatives might not naturally contain the same levels of calcium, vitamin D, or protein as cow's milk. However, many brands fortify their products to address these deficiencies. When opting for alternative products, individuals should look for fortified options that provide essential nutrients. It is important to consider the overall nutritional composition of these products and ensure they align with individual dietary needs.

  4. Portion Control and Moderation: Another factor to consider is portion control and moderation when consuming vegan and vegetarian alternatives. These products, although labeled as plant-based or vegan, are still part of a larger dietary picture. Overindulging in processed vegan foods, such as vegan burgers, sausages, and desserts, can lead to excessive calorie intake, unhealthy weight gain, and potential nutrient imbalances. Moderation and mindful portion control are vital for maintaining a well-rounded and balanced diet.

blood test

Embracing a Personal Journey to Optimal Health:

In addition to the challenges and considerations surrounding vegan and vegetarian diets, I recently had a wake-up call during a doctor's visit after a significant gap of over three years. Despite not falling ill for more than two and a half years, I decided to seek medical advice for tinnitus and inflammation in my elbow. As part of the examination, blood work was conducted, revealing some concerning results. Although most of the readings fell within the normal range, there were a few areas that needed attention, such as elevated cholesterol levels, hemoglobin, calcium, and albumin levels. These findings prompted me to reevaluate my lifestyle choices and make necessary adjustments.


Embarking on a vegan or vegetarian journey can be a rewarding experience, aligning with personal values and environmental concerns. However, it's essential to be aware of the potential health challenges and address them proactively. By incorporating fortified foods and supplements, prioritizing protein quality, selecting energy-dense plant foods, and engaging in mindful meal planning, we can overcome these challenges and enjoy a healthy and sustainable plant-based lifestyle.

Moreover, my recent wake-up call from bloodwork results emphasized the importance of continually reassessing our dietary choices and monitoring our health. It serves as a reminder that even within the realm of veganism or vegetarianism, individual variations exist, and personalized adjustments may be necessary. By listening to our bodies, seeking professional advice, and making informed decisions, we can navigate the potential health challenges and embark on a personal journey to optimal health.

Remember, while this blog post provides valuable insights, it's essential to continue researching and seeking personalized advice from healthcare professionals or registered dietitians. Together, let's embrace the power of a plant-based diet, nourish our bodies, and promote our overall well-being.

Site sources:
  1. "Vegan Nutrition: What You Need to Know" - The Vegan Society (

  2. "Vegetarian Diets: What You Need to Know" - Mayo Clinic (

  3. "The Plant-Based Diet: A Beginner's Guide to Eating a Meatless Diet" - Healthline (

  4. "Vegan Alternatives: Healthier Options or Hype?" - (

  5. "The Flexitarian Diet: A Detailed Beginner's Guide" - Healthline (

Recommended reading:
  1. "Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet" by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina

  2. "The Vegetarian Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity with Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds, and More, Based on the Wisdom of Leading American Chefs" by Karen Page

  3. "The Plant-Based Solution: America's Healthy Heart Doc's Plan to Power Your Health" by Joel K. Kahn

  4. "The Flexitarian Cookbook: Adaptable Recipes for Part-Time Vegetarians and Vegans" by Ryland Peters & Small

  5. "How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease" by Michael Greger, M.D.

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