There is no shortage of misconceptions and faulty perceptions in our society, and with the growing vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based movements in recent decades, this area is full of all kinds of them. In this article, we will examine some common myths that are associated with the terms vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end of these myths, consider how they may be impacting your thoughts, attitudes, and behavior.
MYTH #1: Vegans/Vegetarians are healthier than those who consume animal foods.
FALSE: Vegetarians, who include dairy and eggs, do not have diets that are in any way optimally healthy. Their diets may only be slightly better or even much worse than those who consume meat. As for vegans, the quality of a vegan diet can vary drastically from one based entirely on whole plant foods to one based entirely on processed plant foods. The former is the healthiest way to go, as proven by ample research today, whereas the latter is a poor and unhealthy diet.
Some people who go vegan or vegetarian, especially at the beginning, eat very unbalanced meals and diets. Some overemphasize one food or food group, while neglecting others. Some do not eat enough food for their needs period, which leads to all kinds of ill effects and deficiencies. Many young people who go vegan or vegetarian are the most likely to have the poorest diet, experience ill effects, and then incorrectly think that veganism or vegetarianism is to blame when it is nothing more than poor overall food choices and eating habits.
There are also many people in the clean eating movement for example, who only eat whole foods, yet who also have some animal products in their diet. Such diets will be much healthier than those of vegans or vegetarians who rely solely on processed plant foods.
In the end, it is not possible to conclude that someone is healthier or has a healthier diet just because they are a vegan or vegetarian. They may be and they may not be. The answer about who or what is healthy is not found in the label one goes by, but by their actual diet and the quality of the foods that they eat.
MYTH #2: All vegans / vegetarians are the same.
FALSE: Just like with the vegan and vegetarian diets talked about above, there is as much diversity in the people who choose these labels as the unique expressions of the diets themselves. There are kind and considerate vegans and vegetarians and there are rude and obnoxious ones. There are shy and quiet vegans and vegetarians, and there are outspoken and loud ones. There are are spiritual vegans and vegetarians, and there are atheist ones. Bottom line, there is no one pattern or mold that all vegans and vegetarians fit into.
Going back to diet alone, there are vegetarians who eat dairy (lacto vegetarians) but not eggs, or those who eat eggs (ovo vegetarians) but not dairy, and some who eat both (lacto-ovo vegetarians). Gosh, there are even people who call themselves vegetarians yet who eat fish (pescatarians) or even some meat at times. Likewise, there are vegans who eat honey and those who do not, and those who may eat animal food if it is offered to them or found (freegans). Finally, there are those who swing between any or all of these areas, and may have various animal products from time to time (flexitarians).
And even then, each of the above can have its own personal rules and variations. So if there is one thing for certain it is that all vegans and vegetarians can and will vary widely in both their personalities, behaviors, and diets. Keep in mind, therefore, that if you are thinking of going vegan or vegetarian, you can start wherever you want and with whatever that you are comfortable with. In the end, labels are not the goal, but to become healthier and contribute to a kinder and better world for all.
MYTH #3: It is hard for vegans / vegetarians to get the right type and amount of protein.
FALSE: This is probably the most common and serious myth that detracts people from either going ahead or sticking with this dietary lifestyle. There is so much misinformation out there, so much confusion, and so much fear mongering. To add, most of us have grown up conditioned to think that protein, and the right kind of protein, only comes from animal products. So it is understandable why the most common question every vegan and vegetarian receives at some point is: “where do you get your protein from?” Our society is heavily protein obsessed to the point that food companies know today that if they put the reference to protein on their food product, regardless of what it is, it is likely to sell much better. This is why today we have everything from cereals to pastas with references to being a source of protein or high in protein, and a whole protein industry worth billions of dollars.
Part of this ignorance stems from the fact that most people do not have any idea about how much protein they need. The other part comes from the animal-based brainwashing that goes on in our society, and which we are all exposed to and influenced by. As it goes, North Americans consume too much protein. And no, more is not better. High protein diets have their own list of health risks and problems, and have been found to negatively influence our health and longevity. This is especially true for animal protein, which has been more strongly correlated to increased disease risk. This is not surprising given the package it comes in that includes lots of overall fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and toxins, along with no fiber or protective compounds like plants. To be digested protein has to go through a deamination process in your liver. This is one of the reasons why high protein diets are associated with liver stress and damage. High protein diets also negatively influence the kidneys, which have to remove the high amounts of urea that protein by-products are transformed into. Additionally, there is stress put on the digestive system in trying to breakdown common protein foods, like meat, which are the toughest foods for us to digest. This commonly results in fatigue and lethargy after such heavy meals. Finally, high animal protein diets are associated with increased risk of heart disease, colon cancer, kidney stones, and any diseases that stem from acidosis and inflammation.
The truth is that plants are full of protein and plants have the right type of protein. In fact, the whole topic of protein quality and quantity in plant foods alone is full of its own myths. There is no shortage of protein and there is no need to go out of your way to get protein. All whole plant foods, namely fruits, vegetables, grains, beans/legumes, nuts, and seeds contain protein. Everyone will get more than enough protein for their needs when they eat enough food for their metabolic and lifestyle needs (calorically) and from within a basic variety of foods, even if these only include plant foods. The risk of not getting enough protein only comes from not eating enough food for one’s needs, as is the case for people affected by poverty or famine, and for people who eat very poor diets based on heavily refined and processed plant foods with minimal variety.
MYTH #4: All vegans / vegetarians eat tofu, and rely on soy as one of their main foods.
FALSE: Having already read myth #3, I am hoping that this myth is self-explanatory. Just like all vegans and vegetarians do not eat or enjoy the same kinds of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, they do not all eat or enjoy tofu and other soy foods. In fact, with soy being condemned in so many, mostly unjust, ways, many vegans and vegetarians who are health-conscious avoid all soy. Even though soy is a nutritious and healthful food, when it is in its whole and non-GMO form, it is not an essential food of any kind. So those who don’t enjoy it don’t eat it, and those who do enjoy it do eat it regardless if they are vegan or vegetarian.
Likewise, having read myth #4 there is no need to seek out soy specifically for protein in the diet. There is more than enough protein in whole plant foods without ever needing to rely on soy in any way. When I first went vegan, I did not eat tofu or any soy foods for at least the first 6 months as I didn’t see any use or desire for them. Tofu and most soy foods were foreign to me, and I had no plans of adding them to the diet. It wasn’t until I began to read up and learn about the amazing health benefits of tempeh, and then realized how delicious it was. After that, I became open to tofu as well, included it in the diet from time to time, but still on rather rare occasions, as I much prefer whole plant foods that have not been processed in any way.
The key to the most healthful vegan or vegetarian eating is to eat the plant foods you enjoy in their most wholesome and unprocessed forms, whether this includes soy or not.
MYTH #5: It is hard for vegans / vegetarians to eat out at restaurants, events, or while traveling.
FALSE: To be fair, this was true to a great degree years ago, and still is in some isolated parts of the world or small communities. However, in big cities today vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based options are abundant. Aside from specialty restaurants that cater specifically to vegans and vegetarians, almost every major restaurant has something that is vegan, vegetarian, or that can be easily adapted to be such. From fast food chains to fine dining, the food industry and culinary landscape are changing and fast to accommodate growing consumer demand for plant-based options. In the event that you do get stuck at the odd restaurant where there is nothing adequately veg on the menu, don’t be shy to communicate with your server and see what the kitchen or chef can do for you. Most places are very accommodating and some chefs even enjoy the opportunity of creating a unique meal.
When it comes to traveling, nothing beats being responsible for your own food. This means that you plan ahead, rather than get stuck somewhere new without knowing if there will be adequate food choices for you. Research if there are any veg restaurants where you are going. Research locations of farmer’s markets and grocery stores, which are always one of the best places to rely on for healthy vegan or vegetarian eating. If you are going on a hike or on a road trip, be sure to pack and bring your own healthy veg food. If you are booking accommodations, get ones with a kitchen space of some sort that can allow you to prepare some or all of your own food. If you are flying by airplane, today most airlines have a diverse menu to choose from that accommodates both vegans and vegetarians alike. If your meals are included with your flight, you normally just have to pre-book the veg meal at the time of booking your ticket, so that the airline is adequately prepared. If the meals are not included with your flight, the in-flight menus that offer food for sale have various veg options to choose from. However, if you want to save money, bring your own food for the plane ride.
Finally, if you are going out to someone’s house, take the initiative, and again responsibility, and bring a veg dish yourself. This way you don’t have to put the host on the spot about catering to your needs, if they are not ready or willing to, and you will have some guaranteed food that you will feel comfortable eating. Usually however, most dinner parties will always include some vegetables and vegetable dishes, along with fruits that can be relied upon. The most important thing is to communicate with your host as much as possible about your dietary choices, what you are open to and not open to eating, and what you can do to create a good experience for yourself and those you may share the meal with.
Today, it is easier than ever to be vegan, and even more so to be vegetarian, and only getting easier as plant-based food products continue to flood grocery stores and restaurant menus.
Education leads to information, and being equipped with the right information leads to better choices, thoughts, and behavior. Ignorance does not help anyone and only propagates myths that may be sabotaging your health and happiness. So whatever path you choose, vegan, vegetarian, plant-based, or none of these, be sure to act and speak with as much mindfulness and awareness as possible by educating yourself about these topics. This will create a more enriching experience for you, including better health, confidence, and satisfaction, and also enhance the quality and pleasure of the experiences and interactions you have with others.