PeopA plant based/vegan diet has gained an enormous amount of popularity in the past few decades, especially with the abundance of free and fast information we get through media. With this abundance of free and fast information comes free, fast, and false information based on opinions and old or biased research. In health and nutrition, veganism seems to be the subject of misinformation about its inadequacy. I’ve compiled a few common myths about veganism with information that will hopefully set them straight in your mind.
Vegan Myth #1: A plant-based diet is not safe for a growing child.
According to a position paper written by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2016, “an appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diet as are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.
Simply put, a well-planned plant-centric diet can offer nutrients that are necessary for all ages. Children, if given a well-balanced diet, can most definitely grow into healthy adults with just plants. Adding fortified foods or supplements may be helpful as well, just as with an omnivorous diet.
Myth #2: It is difficult to eat enough protein on a plant-based diet.
Contrary to popular belief, it is actually tremendously easy to consume enough protein on a plant-based diet. This is as long as a person eats a variety of foods throughout the day. Good sources of plant protein include legumes (black beans, lentils, chickpeas), soy beans (tofu, edamame, tempeh), seitan, meat alternatives (such as Beyond or Gardein), plant based milks (soy milk and flax milk), nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
You can meet protein requirements with a variety of plant foods. We can eat all the essential amino acids throughout the day. There is no need to “combine proteins” at each meal. Given the average requirement of protein is 42 grams per day, it’s no surprise that 97% of Americans consume an excess of protein.
Yet people still commonly ask “where am I going to get my protein from?” On the flip side, less than 3% of Americans get even the recommended adequate intake of fiber. While excess protein consumption is related to a myriad of health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, renal disease, cancer, constipation, and more, there is no upper limit to fiber intake and increased fiber intake from plants can improve the very conditions previously mentioned and more. Maybe we should shift the conversation from protein concerns to fiber concerns!
Myth #3: Fake meat is the only way we can get enough protein.
Today we have so many different plant-based alternatives available that taste and feel just like the real thing! When transitioning to a plant-based diet, you can most definitely swap out the meats you normally eat for plant-based alternatives. However, you don’t need fake meats to get all the nutrients you need.
Meat alternatives such as from Beyond Burger and Impossible Foods are becoming increasingly popular and can fit into a healthy diet, but there are many whole, plant-based food options that are sure to please even the pickiest palate. Remember that the meat analogs are made from plant ingredients first and you can get the protein from a pea in peas themselves, as well as in a veggie patty.
It’s important to note that not all meat alternatives are created equal. Be sure to read the ingredients and nutrition fact labels to ensure they are made from quality ingredients and not too high in salt, added refined sugars, or saturated fat.
Need some plant-based recipe inspiration? Check out these recipes!
Myth #4: Going vegan/vegetarian means you have to give up most foods.
Plant-based eaters have a huge amount of nutrient dense food options to choose from. Reducing or eliminating animal products allows people to explore new food and see what they can make that they haven’t had before. Many people report eating more of a variety after eating plant based vs. eating a standard American diet.
Most meals actually only contain a small amount of animal products and the rest are made from plants. Your favorite spaghetti and meatballs? Spaghetti is made from wheat, tomato sauce from tomatoes, and you can easily whip up some veggie meat-balls to replace the meat! There are also incredible tasting cheese alternatives that will round out the dish perfectly. Serve with a side salad and some garlic bread and you have a fully plant-based meal! It’s all about being adventurous and creative.
A plant-based diet is typically rich in whole grains (brown rice, millet, barley, oats, whole wheat bread), a variety of fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes (such as chickpeas, lentils, navy beans), soy foods, seitan, etc. You can ask a registered dietitian who specializes in plant based nutrition to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
Myth #5: Vegetarians/Vegans cannot eat enough iron
Research shows that vegans have average iron intakes that are similar to or higher than those of non vegetarians. There are several reasons that it is easy to get enough iron from plants alone:
- Many commonly eaten foods are high in iron. Dark leafy greens (kale, collard greens), beans, tofu, tempeh, black strap molasses, quinoa, fortified breakfast cereals.
- Plant based diets are good sources of vitamin C, which greatly increase absorption of iron. Adding a vitamin C-rich food (tomatoes, bell peppers, or citrus fruit) to a meal increases iron absorption in the gut.
- Foods such as beans and tomato sauce or stir-fried tofu and broccoli are high in both vitamin C and iron. Broccoli and bok choy are foods that contain both vitamin C and iron.
Plant-based sources of iron differ greatly from animal-based iron. People often praise heme iron, from animal products, for being more “biologically available” to our bodies. This means our bodies absorb it more easily and rapidly. Our body has no mechanism to regulate heme-iron intake, and anything in excess can cause a host of problems.
High levels of heme iron intake- the kind found in red meat and chicken- have been linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colorectal and other cancers. Professionals often deem non-heme iron as inferior to heme iron because our bodies don’t easily absorb it. Our body can regulate this form more however.
When we have a low amount of iron in our bodies, the intestines will actually absorb more iron from our food. When we have excess iron, the intestines will close off absorbing iron, as it does not need any more than it has now. To avoid iron overload, consume the non-heme form of iron in plants over the heme form in animal products.
Myth #6: Vegetarians/Vegans cannot get enough calcium without milk or dairy products.
Just like with protein and iron, calcium needs can easily be met with zero animal products. There are a variety of calcium-rich plants that may provide additional benefits for bone health. Other factors that contribute to good bone health include exercise and vitamin D intake.
Many foods today are fortified with calcium, which is not just a concern for those who choose to forego dairy. In fact, the average calcium intakes of non-vegetarians in America were also well below recommended intakes for every age and gender group, especially for females and adults older than 50.
Lifestyle factors that contribute to poor bone health include high sodium intake, extreme weight loss, alcohol, and smoking.
Naturally calcium-rich foods include: leafy green vegetables, bok choy, calcium-set tofu, and almonds. Plant-based calcium-fortified foods include certain types of juices, breakfast cereals, and many non-dairy milk beverages.
Vegan Myth: Final takeaway
As stated in the first vegan myth debunking, a well-planned plant-based diet provides all the nutrients needed for all stages of life. They may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases as well. Remember that all animals get their nutrients from plants. We can get everything we get from animals from plants just as well! To learn more about plant based diets and nutrition, check out these resources: