Veganism is the strictest form of vegetarianism, in which individuals avoid all animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs, and even honey. Other forms of vegetarianism include semi-vegetarian (avoiding red meat), pescatarian (only eat seafood and fish), and lacto-ovo vegetarian (no animal meats, but will eat dairy and eggs).  Does becoming a vegan intrigue you? Have you heard that following a vegan diet could improve your hair, skin and nails? Famous folks like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Mike Tyson, Ellen Degeneres, Usher, and Alanis Morissette are vegans, but would you feel socially isolated and unable to eat at parties or order food at restaurants? What about nutrient deficiencies and getting enough protein? Maybe it could help you lose weight…Read on to learn which common beliefs about vegan diets are fact, and which are just pure fiction.

Grocery shopping for vegan foods is expensive

Fiction

shopping cart full of vegan foodVegan food staples, such as produce, pasta, tofu, lentils and other beans, are actually quite affordable. Dried beans are typically cheaper than canned, with bulk sizes being most economical. However, avoid loading up with “super foods” such as acai powder, goji berries, and other unnecessary specialty vegan foods and condiments that will surely cause you to faint at the checkout.   Planning meals saves you both money and time.  Mapping a weekly menu, making a grocery list, and sticking to it saves you money and time! With practice you will be able to quickly identify products and grab your go-to foods, whether you opt to be vegan or not.

The good news is that eating a balanced, healthy diet does not require fancy, expensive health foods. Avoid pricey products and stick to basic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Buying produce when it is in season is not only cheapest, but also more nutritious!  Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables without added seasonings and sauces can be great, affordable choices.  For cheap vegan meal ideas, try looking at Vegan chef Robin Asbell’s recipes.

Protein needs are difficult to meet on a vegan diet

Fiction

Are you concerned about your daily protein intakes? Most Americans mistakenly think they need more protein in their diet. According to the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, protein is key for building and maintaining lean muscle mass and other important body structures.   Protein also has a role in weight management by staving off hunger between meals! However, too much protein can actually strain the kidneys and may be harmful to bones.  Vegan or not it’s best to stick to the daily recommended intake of ~46 grams per day for women and ~56 grams per day for men.

Animal protein is naturally complete, meaning it contains all the proteins needed to build tissues.  Plant proteins are not always complete but pairing common foods together, can make them complete.  The table below shows such combinations. While we used to think that these complementary foods needed to be consumed at the same meal, dietitians now agree that eating them at any time throughout the day is fine to meet complete protein needs.

Pairing Foods to Create a Complete Protein Examples
Grains + Nuts/Seeds Whole grain bread (wheat tortilla, English Muffin, toast) + Nut butter (peanut, almond, etc.)
Grains + Legumes Veggie/bean burgers + wheat bun
Bean soup + wheat crackers
Hummus + Pita
Corn + Legumes Corn tortilla + refried beans
Hard taco shell + beans and veggies
Nuts/Seeds + Legumes Salad topped with walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds + Chickpeas, black beans, peas

Some plant foods, such as quinoa, buckwheat, hempseed, chia, soy, and seitan, can provide good sources of complete protein without the need for pairing.

Going vegan will help you lose a ton of weight.

Fiction

A huge draw to a vegan diet is reports of people shedding 10 – 20 or more pounds just by eliminating animal products from their diet. A quick weight loss fix sounds great but the truth is there’s no such thing. Some people will lose weight changing to a vegan diet because they are eating more fruits and vegetables, which are nutrient dense and low in calories. The vegan diet is also rich in fiber. This leads to staying full longer, less snacking, and smaller meals. Some vegans may gain weight when they eat too much or just too many processed vegan products such as meat and cheese substitutes, candies, ice cream, and other junk foods. Weight loss on any diet is the result of eating fewer calories.

Eating vegan is healthier than other well-planned diets.

Fiction

Produce section of grocery storeAccording to an article in Nutrition Reviews, vegan and vegetarian diets can offer significant health benefits. Clinical trials have demonstrated that individuals on vegan or vegetarian diets are 50% less likely to develop diabetes, and more likely to improve blood sugar stability, have lower saturated fat intake and increased fiber from vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Vegan and vegetarian diets may also prevent and reverse atherosclerosis and decrease cholesterol. If you enjoy animal products, fear not, health benefits appear to be evident even with moderate reductions of animal products.

The not-so-good news, vegan and vegetarian diets are often low in some key nutrients; the table below shows some of these.

Nutrient Vegetarian Source Vegan Source
B12 Eggs, milk, yogurt Fortified cereal, fortified orange juice, fortified non-dairy milk (soy, almond, hemp, etc.),
Iron Eggs Spinach, tempeh, beans, tofu, peanut butter
Calcium Milk, yogurt, cheese Non-dairy milk (soy, almond, hemp, etc.), fortified orange juice, beans, sesame seeds, leafy green

Although vegan and vegetarian diets can be quite healthy when well planned they are certainly not the only healthy diet. Other well planned diets, including those that contain meat, can be equally nourishing, as well as easier to stick to over the long term. For a healthy lifestyle, aim for 5-9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables and maintain regular physical activity. Explore www.choosemyplate.gov for more information about planning a balanced diet.

Being vegan can be challenging.

Fact

Being vegan may sound nice and easy until you feel like you have to draw up a page of specifications to place your restaurant order. It also may limit your ability to eat as a guest at someone’s home.   While vegetarians can typically tell if a food contains animal meat, vegans have to search for any trace of animal products, a much more difficult task! Animal products can hide in places one wouldn’t expect like pizza crusts and salad dressings.

You will need to learn what foods you can and can’t eat.  Pairing plant protein foods together to get complete proteins is also another thing to think about.  Using a diet tracker app can help you assess whether or not your diet is adequate in protein. Finding new recipes and learning to substitute ingredients such as flax and chia seeds for eggs are necessary steps for being a successful vegan.

References

  • Barnard, N. D., Katcher, H. I., Jenkins, D. A., Cohen, J., & Turner-McGrievy, G. (2009). Vegetarian and Vegan Diets in Type 2 Diabetes Management. Nutrition Reviews, 67 (5), 255-263. PMID:19386029
  • Is a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet for you? Before you Discard All Animal-Based Foods, Learn How to Approach This Style of Eating in A Healthy Way. (2014). Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 21(9), 1.
  • Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. (2009). Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1266-1277. PMID: 19562864
  • Potier, M., Darcel, N., Tome, D. Proteins, Amino Acids and the Control of Food Intake. (2009). 12 (1) 54-58. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32831b9e01

One thought on “Fact? Or Fiction? Exploring Common Beliefs About Veganism

  1. This is pretty fantastic, but I do take issue with one thing. In the healthy section, you make an argument that the risk of nutrient deficiencies equates to the diet being less healthy. If you want to talk about risk, talk about risk of developing disease. With what you have presented, vegan diets would in fact be more healthy. You could then move on to risk of developing nutrient deficiencies with comparative epidemiological studies just like the first paragraph in this section. The question would be, “On average are vegans more deficient in vitamins and minerals than omnivores?”

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