Chances are, at some point in your life you were convinced that a vegan diet was the true fountain of youth. Abundant energy, glowing skin, shiny hair, effortless weight loss—all made possible by endless fruits and vegetables! Nobody ever got sick from plants, right? Well…sort of.
Although necessary, and although plants should be an abundant part of our diets and should cover most of our dinner plates, we can’t rely solely on plants. Our digestive systems are already likely compromised due to our poor quality food, the stressful lifestyles we lead, and the steady stream of medications that damage our intestinal health. Nutrients from plant sources are much less bioavailable than nutrients from animal sources, meaning our bodies cannot as easily absorb and utilize the nutrients found in plants. Most Americans’ diets contain at least some processed foods. Processing strips away nutrients, and even when we consume unprocessed foods (such as fruits and vegetables), the soil our food is grown on is so depleted that we aren’t getting the full range of vitamins and minerals we should be getting from those foods.
Despite your best efforts, a vegan diet is not meant to be a long-term way of eating. You may feel refreshed and rejuvenated during the initial stages of changing your diet, but your health will inevitably begin to deteriorate as time goes on.
Angela Mavridis, CEO and founder of TRIBALÍ Foods, experienced just this. She explains, “I was very young at the time I made the decision to abstain from all meat. Making the switch at that time was all about health and nutrition for me. At first I was concerned for my well-being and bought into the fat-free and ‘meat is bad for you’ craze. Over time, my why changed into compassion for animals as well as the impact eating meat had on the environment.”
Here are five reasons your vegan diet is making you fat, sick, and tired instead of vibrant and full of energy:
1. A vegan diet makes it difficult to control blood sugar.
It’s difficult to consume enough protein on a vegan diet without over consuming carbohydrates. Adequate dietary protein from complete sources is crucial because protein is broken down into amino acids. Meat is a complete protein and has all the necessary amino acids. Although you can get these amino acids from plant sources, it is more difficult to consume the correct balance and ratios of each amino acid. This is important because amino acids are key components of many hormones. Sex hormones, for example, are a combination of amino acids and fatty acids. When you don’t have a proper macronutrient balance (a proper balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat) your blood sugar levels spike. Chronically elevated blood sugar levels can lead to insulin resistance, which is one of the major underlying causes of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), type II diabetes, and difficult weight management.
2. Vitamins A, D, and K deficiency are your hormones’ worst nightmare.
Your body needs vitamin A for immune function, hormone health, thyroid health, mood stability, tooth enamel, and good vision. This is an issue with a vegan diet because the only true form of vitamin A, retinol, comes from animal products. Plants do not contain retinol. Rather, plants only contain carotenoids, which are vitamin A precursors. And because digestion is likely already so poor and soil quality is so bad, you are already at a disadvantage, whether you eat animal products or not. So in order to give yourself the best shot at absorbing nutrients, getting the true form from animal foods is important.
Vitamin D deficiency shows up in many ways, two of which being depressed moods and fatigue. Vitamin D2 comes from plant sources, but unfortunately vitamin D2 is not as bioavailable as vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is the only D vitamin we can really use and is only found in animal products.
Vitamin K2 is critical for good health, as it helps stabilize blood sugar (which is a key foundation for hormone health and weight management), helps stabilize sex hormones, and it improves energy utilization during exercise. Vitamin K2 is found in animal products, but it can also be found in natto, or fermented soybeans. However, natto is hard to stomach for most, and like most other plant foods, the nutrients it contains are not as bioavailable as the nutrients in animal foods.
3. Your sex hormones love cholesterol.
A vegan diet contains zero cholesterol. Cholesterol is the precursor to pregnenolone, which is the precursor to progesterone. This means that without cholesterol, your body will lack progesterone. Progesterone and estrogen are two hormones that balance each other out, so without enough progesterone, there will be an unfavorably higher ratio of estrogen to progesterone. This is known as estrogen dominance and is problematic because estrogen dominance can cause mood swings, anxiety, fatigue, and weight gain.
Vegans might argue that the body is able to create cholesterol on its own, but this is sort of a double-whammy. Not only is your liver responsible for detoxing excess estrogen, but is also responsible for creating cholesterol when you don’t consume enough through your diet. Your liver also must process all the chemicals in your environment, endocrine disruptors in your beauty products, BPA in plastic, heavy metals in amalgam dental fillings, any medications you might be taking, and carcinogens in your deodorant. Needless to say, your liver carries a heavy load, and forcing it to do extra work is doing your body no favors.
4. Your endocrine system relies on certain minerals that can become depleted on a vegan diet.
Mineral deficiencies are inevitable on a vegan diet due to the lack of fat-soluble catalysts in plant-based foods.
Every endocrine organ and gland in your body relies on specific minerals. The thyroid needs iodine, the pituitary needs manganese, the pancreas needs chromium, the gonads need selenium, the adrenals need copper, and the prostate needs zinc. Zinc is especially important to consider on a vegan diet because many plant foods containing zinc also contain phytates, which inhibit zinc absorption. Zinc is important for healing wounds, supporting the immune system, and protecting against free radicals. Zinc also helps control appetite and is needed for production of enzymes that support weight loss.
When you don’t consume bio-available sources of these minerals, especially without the fat-soluble catalysts found in animal foods, it is easy to become deficient, slowing the functioning of these organs and glands.
5. Eating solely plant foods is like playing a game of Tetris.
If you take a step back and look at foods as a whole, you can see that animal foods naturally contain nutrients in certain combinations, just the way our bodies need them. Egg yolks contain vitamins A, D, E, K, which are fat-soluble, and yolks are a fatty food. Yolks also contain vitamins B12, B6, folate, selenium, iron, and calcium. Everything needed to absorb those nutrients is neatly packaged in that single food. But with vegan foods, you must constantly be cognizant of combining certain foods to make sure you’re getting as many nutrients as possible. It doesn’t just naturally happen. A vegan diet can also exacerbate poor health because it often relies on grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, which can be damaging to the gut lining. As mentioned, most people already suffer from poor digestion, and when the bulk of one’s diet is made up of foods that further damage the gut, this can lead to leaky gut syndrome, which eventually can lead to hormone imbalances, food sensitivities, fatigue, thyroid issues, and adrenal issues.
This is exactly what happened to Mavridis. She shares, “I didn’t really know what I was doing or how to supplement for any deficiencies. After thirty-five years of eating this way, the deficiencies caught up to me and I suffered some major health issues: Low B12, low ferritin, low iron, anemia, severe IBS, bloating, cramps, hormonal imbalances, and hair loss. I think the biggest impact this way of eating had on me was entering menopause at the early age of forty-eight. All sorts of hormonal and chemical imbalances happened, which affected my physical, emotional, and physiological state.”
Like many others who have experimented with a plant-based diet, Mavridis noticed that her body started demanding nutrient-dense animal foods. Her body and health were rapidly deteriorating, and after becoming a Holistic Nutritionist she decided to venture into the meat-eating world. Immediately she felt satiated and satisfied. After a short three to four months, her IBS and bloating subsided and her hormones were back in balance. Once again, with the addition of animal foods, she was mentally and physically thriving.
Let this serve as a reminder that no matter how many months or years a diet made of only plants served you well, it is never too late to adjust your sails and restore your health by guiding your body back to a primal way of eating.
 D., Zhong, G., Beatty, K., Han, H. A., Jessup, D., T., . . . Stuart. (2017, January 17). The Ultimate Vitamin K2 Resource. Retrieved August 12, 2018, from https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/2016/12/09/the-ultimate-vitamin-k2-resource/
 Nutritional Therapy Association. (2016). Module 1: Basics of Nutrition [PDF file].
 Gustin, A. (2017, March 07). Egg Yolk Nutrition: Top 7 Reasons To Eat The Yolks. Retrieved August 12, 2018, from http://www.dranthonygustin.com/egg-yolk-nutrition/