As vegan and plant-based diets become more popular, there is a lot more information out there on this lifestyle than ever before. And while some of it is true, a lot of it is not based on current science. In this post, we will debunk 7 myths about vegan diets that you may have heard – and have a better understanding of why they are not true!
7 Vegan Diet Myths – Debunked!
Vegan diet myth 1: It’s really hard to get enough protein on a vegan diet AND vegan proteins are not “complete”
If you eat a variety of protein-rich vegan foods each day, it’s easy to get more than enough protein on a vegan diet. Protein-rich vegan foods include legumes (beans, lentils), soy foods (tofu, tempeh), meat substitutes (veggie burgers, crumbles, seitan), nuts and seeds, and whole grains (brown rice, quinoa).
And there is no need to combine vegan proteins in order to create a “complete” protein. For example, if you are vegan (or vegetarian), you may have heard that you should eat beans AND rice together, in order to make a complete protein. This is because there is a myth that plant foods don’t contain all the essential amino acids that humans need to be healthy. Because of this, we must either eat animal protein or combine certain plant foods with other plant proteins to ensure we consume the necessary complete proteins. But this is not true – our bodies are Your body takes all the necessary amino acids it needs from all the foods you need – even if you don’t eat the foods together.
“If a diet has at least a modest amount of variability (which is the case in economically developed countries) there are no issues regarding sufficient intakes of any individual indispensable amino acids from vegetarian diets” – Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian Diets—A Review
Vegan diet myth 2: Vegans eat soy, and soy isn’t safe
This myth is based on outdated science….and it’s one that never seems to go away. Soy IS healthy for everyone and is an excellent source of nutrients (the only people that should avoid soy are those with allergies to soy – just as some people have allergies to corn, wheat, etc, and should avoid these foods).
In fact, studies show that children and teens eating just one serving of soy a day decreases their risk of breast cancer later in life. Soy can also reduce the risk of heart disease, relieve hot flashes, prevent prostate cancer, and protect bone health in post-menopausal women.
Much of the “anti-soy” information to be found is promoted by the pro dairy industry – and there are no legitimate studies to back up their claims. And with all the health benefits that come from eating soy, it’s unfortunate that so many myths about soy continues.
To learn more about soy, check out this post: Is Soy Healthy? Facts you should know.
Vegan diet myth 3: You can’t be an athlete (or bodybuilder) if you are vegan
Another vegan diet myth is that you can’t be strong – or an athlete or bodybuilder – if you are vegan. There are many world-class AND world champion vegan athletes – and the number keeps growing. A simple Google search brings up long lists of vegan and plant-based bodybuilders, runners, tennis players, cyclists, boxers, fighters, and national sports league players.
Since some of the benefits of a plant-based, vegan diet include improved cardiovascular health, lower body fat, lower oxidative stress, reduced inflammation, and increased post-workout recovery time, it’s no surprise that more and more athletes are going vegan.
Recent research has shown that plant-based diets can help athletes improve their performance by decreasing weight, creating leaner bodies, and improving stamina. A study from the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Québec has shown that not only does a vegan diet enhance athletic performance, but vegans also outperform omnivores in strength AND endurance events.
Check out this short clip from the film The Game Changers (if you haven’t seen this film in its entirety, I highly recommend it!!). Check it out on Netflix or on the official website here.
“I spent over 1,000 hours looking at peer reviewed medical science and realized that a plant-based diet is superior and optimal for health and athletic performance.” – James Lightning Wilkes, Professional Mixed Martial Artist/Retired UFC Fighter, Winner of The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom
Vegan diet myth 4: Beans (and their lectins!) are bad for you
Beans are one of the healthiest foods to eat! Have you heard of the Blue Zones? The Blue Zones are regions in the world that are studied because the people who live in these “Blue Zones” are the longest-lived people on the planet. And the one thing ALL the Blue Zones have in common is beans. People in all the Blue Zones eat at least four times as many beans – around a cup a day – than the average person does.
“Whoever eats the most beans, lives the longest.” – Dr Joel Fuhrman
And not only are beans an excellent source of protein and fiber, iron, and antioxidants, but they are also important for gut health. The fiber in beans allows healthy prebiotics in your gut to flourish.
Lectins are a type of protein found in some high-fiber foods, such as raw kidney beans and grains. While they can cause gas or intestinal discomfort in some people, the lectin in beans is largely destroyed by cooking, soaking, sprouting, or fermenting beans. And much of the problem with lectins occurs when people eat undercooked kidney beans.
But there are health benefits to lectins. Lectins can act as an antioxidant, which protects cells from damage caused by free radicals. They also slow down digestion and the absorption of carbohydrates, which may prevent sharp rises in blood sugar and high insulin levels. So the health benefits of consuming these foods – including beans! – far outweigh the potential harm of lectins in these foods.
But there is a LOT of marketing AND money when it comes to being “anti-lectin” (and anti-bean!). There are bestselling books and enzyme supplements. So always consider the source of what you reading…and do your own research! Look for actual unbiased studies before you make a decision on what you do or don’t put in your body.
And no…you are not required to eat beans when you are vegan. If you really just don’t like beans or prefer not to eat them, you can leave them out of most recipes without much trouble. If you are okay with eating lentils, they make an excellent substitute for beans in most recipes. Or you can substitute vegetables for beans in many recipes….for instance, instead of making bean enchiladas, you could make spinach or sweet potato enchiladas instead!
Vegan diet myth 5: Being vegan is too expensive
Vegan staples – like beans, lentils, tofu, and whole grains – are much less expensive than meat and fish. If you choose mostly whole foods at the grocery store, and packaged vegan foods less often, this can be the most economical way to eat! Stock up on canned and frozen vegan options when they are on sale. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season. And shop at lower-priced stores (such as Aldi, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, and Target). Buying in bulk also saves you money!!
For more tips on saving money as a vegan, check out this post!
Vegan diet myth 6: You don’t get all the nutrients you need when you’re vegan (proof you shouldn’t be vegan)
All the essential vitamins and minerals we need are found in plant-based foods….and these foods usually have them in abundance!! Making sure you eat enough calories each day, enjoy a variety of plant-based foods, and take a B12 supplement should help you meet (and exceed) your nutritional needs (see comment below on vitamin B12).
Taking a multivitamin (there are many specifically created for vegans!) can also be a good idea (for anyone with an inconsistent eating pattern – vegan or not!). My favorite vegan-friendly supplement is made by Ritual. Ritual is a women-owned copy, third-party tested, and all ingredients are vegan AND traceable (you know exactly where they are coming from). And with a variety of formulations, you only get what YOUR body needs – no more.
Nutrient deficiencies can happen on any diet. Some deficiencies are unrelated to food. Having low levels of vitamin D, for example, is often related to a lack of sun exposure (since we get Vitamin D from the sun) – so people who live in cold, overcast climates may need to take a vitamin D supplement, regardless of their diet. Similarly, women are often iron deficient in their child-bearing years due to blood loss from menstruation.
One comment on vitamin B12. You might have heard comments that a vegan diet can’t be healthy because it’s lacking in B12 – and B12 is only in meat. This is actually not true. While yes, B12 does not originate IN plants – it also not produced by animals. Vitamin B12 is made by micro-organisms in the dirt that plants grow in. The plants we (humans) eat have been cleaned of any dirt – and therefore any of the B12 found in the dirt is also washed away. Animals on the other hand typically eat plants that are not cleaned, so animals are eating dirt that have B12 in it. When someone eats meat, they might get some B12 through the animal FROM the dirty plants the animal ate – but it’s much healthier to simply take a B12 supplement.
Vegan diet myth 7: Being vegan is hard
One last vegan diet myth is that being vegan is “hard”. In fact, being vegan has NEVER been easier!! Veganism is growing in popularity every year – especially in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, and Europe. And as it becomes more mainstream, vegan foods become easier to find – in grocery stores and restaurants! And this lifestyle will continue to grow exponentially, as more people become aware of how a vegan diet is not only beneficial for our health but also for animal welfare and the environment.
And yes, like any lifestyle change, going vegan takes some time to adjust. But eventually, being vegan will feel like second nature – and you won’t want to turn back!. It just takes a little time and some research.
There are so many resources out there to support vegans! It can help to make a few vegan friends (if you don’t have some already). Attend vegan events or meet-ups in your community, volunteer at a local farm sanctuary, or search online for friendly virtual vegan communities!! Other vegans can encourage and motivate you, and help answer any questions you have!
One final comment… in terms of vegan diets – many of the myths that are being perpetuated were started by the powerful meat and dairy industry. The global meat industry is worth more than one trillion dollars. That is a LOT of money – all at the expense of our health, the health of our planet, and the billions of animals that are killed each year for food (more than 70 billion are slaughtered each year, worldwide).
The pharmaceutical and chemical industries also benefit from people consuming meat and dairy-based diets. While the World Health Organization and other major health groups have stated that both processed and red meats are carcinogenic (cancer-causing), powerful lobbying efforts in the U.S. are doing everything they can to keep Americans near the top of the world in meat consumption. These same industries also profit from the pesticides they sell which are used on GMO corn and soy. This chemical-laden corn and soy are then sold to farmers and fed to dairy cows and pigs and chickens. These same animals are also pumped with antibiotics and hormones. When people eat these animals….they are also eating these chemicals….how can that be “healthy” for anyone??
There is not as much money in whole foods – plants – that don’t contain animal products. And while a vegan, plant-based diet promotes health, the meat and dairy and pharmaceutical companies get rich from both the consumption of meat and dairy products and then the drugs sold to manage the diseases caused by consuming these animal products.
In other words….#govegan. 🙂
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