In this essay, we will examine some common myths that are associated with vegetarianism. If you are a vegetarian, then you will probably be able to relate to many, if not all of the following.
If you are not a vegetarian, then these might be some common misconceptions you hold about vegetarianism, which prevent you from seeing vegetarianism in the correct light.
The first step to understanding anything in life, is to be properly informed about it, hence education is key for dispelling myths, alleviating fears and opening up ourselves to new ideas.
So sit back, relax and let us examine each of the following myths.
MYTH #1: All vegetarians are healthier than animal product consumers.
FALSE: There is actually nothing further from the truth as some people who choose to go vegetarian really misunderstand the idea of vegetarianism and adapt a very unhealthy lifestyle.
Some people who go vegetarian eat very unbalanced meals. This is due to one major error and that is seeing vegetarianism as eating only fruits and vegetables. So it is not uncommon to see the odd vegetarian living off of lettuce salads. Now it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what is wrong with that.
These types of vegetarians are usually teens and younger people who do not quite fully understand the idea of vegetarianism and become deficient in various nutrients, usually go through dramatic weight loss and are accompanied by weakness, fatigue and possibly in serious cases become hospitalized.
Another group of unhealthy vegetarians are those who live off of processed vegetarian foods like veggie burgers, turkey tofu and the list goes on. In my opinion if you really need a meat alternate that bad then perhaps you should keep eating meat as this defeats the whole purpose of becoming healthier. Processed vegetarian foods are not only high in sodium, but also can contain artificial colors, preservatives and the like.
MYTH #2: All vegetarians are the same.
FALSE: Again , this point is highly misleading as today there are so many types of vegetarians out there. For starters you have to understand that the term “vegetarian” is just a regular label that shields out some animal products, but in no way correctly represents all vegetarians.
The following list is just some of the most popular types of vegetarians out there today:
Vegan: Eats no animal products whatsoever, even indirect ones like honey.
Lacto Vegetarian: Eats no animal products, except for dairy products.
Ovo Vegetarian: Eats no animal products, except for eggs.
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: Eats no animal products, except for eggs and dairy.
Pesco-Vegetarian: Eats no animal products, except for fish (can include eggs, dairy and in some cases chicken).
Flexitarian: Eats small amounts of animal products occasionally.
But again, even each of the above can have its own personal rules and variations.
Hence if you are thinking of becoming vegetarian, you have to realize that you can start wherever you want and with whatever that you are comfortable, because in the end labels don’t matter and the goal is simply to become healthier. Unless people are very motivated and educated about vegetarianism, they will usually start by cutting down on animal products and gradually embracing a more plant based rich lifestyle.
MYTH #3: It is really hard for a vegetarian to get the right type and amount of protein.
FALSE: This is probably the most common myth about vegetarians and is always followed by the age old question asked of vegetarians “so where do you get your protein from?”
The truth is that plant products and some especially, are packed with protein. The second major aspect of this that most people are unaware of is just how much protein does one exactly need?
Did you know that the average North American eats way too much protein? That is right – our society has become protein obsessed over the last few decades. If your regular meals consist of a couple of servings each day of meat and dairy than you are actually getting too much protein.
Now what are the health consequences of that? Well for starters, protein has to go through a deamination process in your liver. Hence too much protein in one’s diet can actually put stress on one’s liver and then kidneys that have to remove the high amounts of urea that protein by-products are changed into. Also, there is stress put on the digestive system to get rid of all that extra protein by trying to burn it as fuel for the body and may leave one regularly in states of fatigue and low energy. Finally, high protein diets also leach valuable minerals out of our tissues and leave us vulnerable to other conditions and diseases, like osteoporosis.
Even natural and vegetarian health experts like Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Joel Fuhrman, attest to just how little protein the average person needs for optimal health.
The truth is that your body makes roughly 12 out of the 20 amino acids that it needs on its own. Although we need to get the other 8 from our diet, studies today show that the body can even synthesize those from parts of the other amino acids and other sources, especially through a varied diet.
Another myth was that one needed a complete protein with every meal and today we know that is not true either as the body can hold onto proteins from one meal to mix with proteins of another.
So while balanced meals are the key, vegetarians no longer have to stress that they are not getting enough or the right proteins in every single one of their meals.
MYTH #4: All vegetarians eat tofu and use it as their primary protein source.
FALSE: Having read myth #3 this one is already somewhat self-explanatory.
First of all not all vegetarians eat tofu and they definitely do not use it as their primary protein (animal product) replacement.
I personally did not eat tofu for at least the first 6 months of giving up most animal products. I used to get asked about tofu all the time, so finally I tried it. And? And personally I am not a huge fan of it. I have tried it done very well by authentic Oriental chefs but I have no motivation of making it a regular part of my own diet. One also has to be a little careful with soybean products, especially processed ones as they contain estrogen-mimicking substances which have been linked to increased breast cancer rates among other things. Some products contain more of these than others, so when it comes to soybean products, extreme moderation should be the key and of course proper education.
Secondly, the truth is that aside from fruits and veggies having some protein, there are numerous other plant foods that are excellent sources of protein (both complete and incomplete). Here is a list of the best plant protein sources:
- Legumes (beans, lentils, etc. have very high amounts of protein)
- Seeds & nuts (also contain significant sources of protein)
- Grains (most whole grains are good sources of protein)
- Soybeans & products like tofu, tempeh and miso
- Salba seed
And of course this is only if you are a vegan, if you are any other type of vegetarian then you generally speaking don’t have to think twice about which foods will provide you with enough protein.
MYTH #5: It is hard for vegetarians to eat out or at non-vegetarian households.
FALSE: This myth I have to tell you I never understood myself, from the aspect of why people who are non-vegetarian make such a big deal if they invite you over for dinner and find out you are a vegetarian. I guess in some way it is about fear of the unknown.
They usually say things like “Oh my gosh, then what I am going to serve you/feed you?” Well my thoughts are always along the lines of: you are going to have vegetables at least on the table, no? I mean I do not know about you, but I have never gone to a restaurant or someone’s house where all they had was meat. But in all fairness to them, I also understand that our culture has become so meat obsessed that if you are not eating meat, then to some people, it is like you are not eating at all.
So, if you do have a vegetarian coming over for dinner, do not stress over it. There is always something there for them to eat. If you make meat, potatoes and veggies – then great, they will have the potatoes and veggies!
Now same thing goes if you are thinking of becoming a vegetarian. You do not have to worry that you are going to be locked into finding vegetarian restaurants only. While I agree most of them have a better choice and quality of food, there is always at least one veggie dish (and I am being very modest with this one) at any restaurant you go to.
Personally I shy away from all restaurants, not because I am vegetarian, but because nothing beats quality home cooking and no restaurant, unless perhaps a very elite one will prepare a meal for you that is made with high quality and truly healthy ingredients.
And if you do get stuck at that odd restaurant where nothing seems to your liking, simply tell your server that you are a vegetarian and ask what the chef can prepare for you. At higher end restaurants, they actually enjoy this as the chef gets to express a unique side of themselves by preparing something different for a change. Naturally, the local T.G.I.F restaurant, may not be as ecstatic.
There you have it – the 5 most common vegetarian myths exposed.
Bottom line being vegetarian is not a chore – it is a decision.
If you decide to be healthy then your mind is already open to new possibilities and will be receptive to a lot of good information that is out there today. In fact you will find that when one looks within, we are all programmed to know deep down, what actually is healthy for us and what isn’t – you really do not need anyone else to tell you that.
If you are closed minded and do not deal well with change then nothing anyone says will make a difference to you. For no matter what anyone says, you will find ways of being defensive and rebuking any of their words or advice.
In the end, it really does come down to a personal decision, of what am I going to choose for my body today to put it in a state of optimal health. Most importantly whatever you decide, be sure to have all the right information beforehand so that you can make the best decision possible for you and/or understand someone else’s decision.