Veganism and following a vegan diet has become trendy, whether for health reasons, environmental concerns, or ethical motivations. Whatever the reason, it is entirely safe and healthy to follow a vegan diet after bariatric surgery. You may have to be a little more creative and careful with the foods that you pick. On a vegan diet, you are not eating anything animal-based, so there are no eggs, dairy, meats, seafood, honey, and gelatins (if you are very aware of those animal-based products).
Protein Intake on a Vegan Diet after Bariatric Surgery
With all of those foods out of your menu availability, you are obviously lacking a lot in protein. And protein after weight loss surgery is one of the most essential components for your success and health. So with following a vegan diet after bariatric surgery, you need to look at more plant-based options that can provide you with higher protein levels.
Some plant-based proteins include:
- Some grains such as quinoa and brown rice
- Soy-based products like tofu and tempeh, and seitan
Micronutrients on a Vegan Diet
Aside from just being aware of your protein levels on a vegan diet after weight loss surgery, you will also want to ensure you get the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12, iron, and calcium.
B12 vitamins are found solely in animal products, including seafood, poultry, eggs, etc. On the vegan diet, when you cannot have animal products, you can become susceptible to a B12 deficiency, which can become very dangerous. B12 deficiency can cause a reduction in healthy red blood cells and may impact the nervous system. Symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, poor balance, and memory issues.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reported that 92% of vegans had a vitamin B12 deficiency, while only 5% of meat eaters were B12 deficient. Therefore, we highly recommend you supplement with a B12 vitamin. Yet as a bonus, if you are taking vitamins after weight loss surgery, your bariatric supplements will already have a really high dose of B12, so you will not need to take another B12 supplement.
Most of your iron comes from consuming red meat in your diet. With a vegan diet, of course, you are not eating beef. So in an effort to get more iron in your diet, you will need to eat more leafy greens such as kale and spinach, and other iron-rich to include tofu, tempeh, soybeans, lentils, and nuts.
Another tip to getting extra iron in your diet is adding vitamin C when eating those iron-rich foods. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that increases iron absorption in the digestive tract. It also enables the mobilization of iron from storage. So we recommend adding a little bit of lemon juice in a vinaigrette on top of your salad or having some fruit when you have vegetables or nuts.
Iron deficiencies can result in your body not producing enough hemoglobin in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen, resulting in fatigue and shortness of breath. This can become dangerous if left untreated.
The last significant area of concern for vegans is their calcium levels. Much of the calcium we eat in a standard animal-based diet comes from dairy such as cheeses, milk, and yogurts. And on a vegan diet, you are avoiding those types of foods. So instead, you will need to look to more creative sources, which can be leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli. Some nuts, especially almonds, do have a lot of calcium in them as well.
A long-term and untreated calcium deficiency can lead to dental problems, cataracts, alterations in the brain, and osteoporosis (aka brittle bones).
Other Factors to Consider when Following a Vegan Diet
1. Talk to your healthcare provider.
When you follow a vegan diet after bariatric surgery, it is essential to make sure that your healthcare team is aware of your dietary changes so when they are checking your labs, they can double-check those micronutrients that are of concern—B12, iron, and calcium.
2. Vegan doesn't always mean healthy.
On a vegan diet, you can eat Oreos, potato chips, and french fries. So you want to make sure going vegan is for your own reasons and not just because you think it is automatically a healthier way of eating. You still need to make sure your nutrients are balanced.
3. Your carb count will increase.
Because your protein choices have become more limited, you will notice that you turn to carbs to fill your plate more often. In many cases, you will increase your consumption of potatoes, rice, and pastas. This is not necessarily bad because those foods can be a good protein source for vegans, such as quinoa, brown rice, etc. However, you just want to make sure you keep within acceptable ranges.
So your carb count may differ a little bit from what you were previously used to eating, but again it is important to make sure you are not going way above your carb budget because you are vegan and have fewer options on the table. You still need to make sure that you focus on plant-based proteins, vegetables, and fruits.
4. Start slow.
If you choose to start a vegan diet after bariatric surgery, I highly encourage you to start slow. In whatever you decide to do, it is never a good idea to go from 0 to 100. If you are following an animal, protein-based diet, and you want to go completely vegan, take it one day at a time. Maybe start with meatless Mondays and once you are comfortable with that, include two or three more days a week.
By starting slow, you will be able to incorporate more balanced, vegan meals with all the essential nutrients you need. This will also allow you to get used to this new way of eating and build up your menu.