When it comes to fad diets, there are a million and one to choose from. But when the latest scientific research all points to plant-based diets as being some of the healthiest and most sustainable for the planet, why is there so much resistance to the facts?
Say hello to my old friend: vegan myths.
Where will you get calcium from if you’re not drinking cow’s milk? You won’t be able to build muscles at the gym without adequate protein! Besides, you’d miss the taste of cheese too much.
If you’ve ever been confronted with any of these arguments when deciding to go vegan, then… I can completely empathise.
Maddeningly, many of the most widely accepted, common-place myths out there about veganism… simply aren’t true! It’s high time we discussed some of them in a little more detail so that you’re better informed when it comes to your all-important dietary choices.
Vegan Myth #1: If you don’t eat meat you won’t get enough protein 🏋️♀️
Ah, let’s start with this old chestnut.
Whilst it’s true that you won’t get enough protein if you don’t educate yourself as to where it comes from, it certainly isn’t true that you can’t get enough of it from a vegan diet.
In a world where eating meat has become synonymous with muscle-building, it’s worth watching a documentary like The Game Changers which challenges this widely-held assumption. The film interviews scientific experts as well as athletes who have adopted plant-based diets. For example, plant-based bodybuilder Patrik Baboumian and vegan boxer Bryant Jennings, to name just a couple.
You might be surprised that there are plenty of vegan athletes who are not only coping but thriving on a plant-based diet. There is even evidence of shorter recovery times due to the anti-inflammatory properties of high-antioxidant foods.
Plant-based protein sources include:
- Soy products
- Nuts and seeds
- Leafy green vegetables
- Plant-based milks
Eat a variety of plant proteins throughout the day to ensure you cover all your basic protein needs, and you can bust this myth once and for all!
Vegan Myth #2: Plant-based equals rabbit food 🐰
Oh, so you eat leaves, do you?
Anonymous (AKA, most meat eaters)
Yep, there’s a widespread misconception that being vegan means eating a lot of bland salads. And, whilst it’s not completely unfounded – we absolutely do eat more than our fair share of leafy greens like kale, rocket, and spinach – I’d argue that plant-based food is some of the most colourful and creative cuisine out there.
Veganism encourages you to try all sorts of ingredients you may never have thought to experiment with before, like tempeh, tofu, or seitan. Some of these foods can lack excitement if cooked without TLC. However, learning how to impart flavour with punchy herb and spice combinations is one of the true joys of vegan cooking.
From umami-oozing nutritional yeast to a simple yet delicious lime and coriander dressing, going vegan is as much about retraining your taste buds to enjoy the fresh, zingy flavours of real food, rather than the sugary, salty, highly-processed foods they’ve become accustomed to.
Another unfair insinuation is that vegan food is not filling enough. On the contrary, here is another secret joy that many vegans are celebrating every single day: you can ditch the calorie-counting because going plant-based means eating to your heart’s content!
You will naturally feel full when eating a diet rich in fibre, in contrast to high-calorie foods like meat and dairy. So for better weight management and hearty portions, why not give plant-based eating a try?
Vegan Myth #3: It’s going to break the bank 💷
Okay, so it can admittedly be annoying having to pay a 40p surcharge for oat milk in coffee shops.
But honestly? This is probably my biggest bugbear when it comes to feeling the need to spend more on a vegan diet.
Mock meats, fake cheese, and vegan junk food can all add up if you’re not careful. But when you’re following a diet that mostly revolves around plant-based whole foods – fruit, vegetables, bulk bags of whole grains, and tinned legumes – these are some of the most economical ingredients you can buy.
Meat, fish, and dairy used to be some of the most expensive items on my weekly shopping list. So contrary to popular belief, you may find that you’re actually saving some well-earned pennies by eating vegan. I’ve got lots of tips on how you can go vegan on a budget just here.
Vegan Myth #4: You’ll be calcium-deficient without milk 🥛
If you remember any fromage frais adverts growing up as a kid, then you’ll likely have had it drilled into you that dairy = calcium = strong bones.
Calcium is indeed an essential mineral during all stages of life. It is required to build healthy bones and teeth, helps with blood clotting, and regulates muscle contractions (including vital organs like the heart).
There are plenty of plant foods that contain calcium. However, the bioavailability can be lower than in animal and dairy sources, so it’s wise to incorporate a range of calcium-rich and calcium-fortified foods into your diet. These include:
- Fortified plant-based milks and yoghurts
- Low-oxalate green leafy vegetables
- Fresh and dried fruit
- Beans and pulses
- Nuts and seeds
- Calcium-set soy products (e.g. tofu, tempeh, or mock meats)
As you can see, there is no lack of variety when it comes to calcium sources that vegans can take advantage of.
Vegan Myth #5: Dairy & eggs are just a by-product of the meat industry 🐄
Whilst we’re on the subject of dairy, I know plenty of vegetarians who can’t stand the thought of eating meat, but will happily consume cheese all day long. And, when food choices inevitably get brought up in discussion, eggs & dairy products are regularly touted as merely by-products of the meat industry.
The misconception is that when it comes to milking cows or hens laying eggs, no animals are harmed. But unfortunately, even when it comes to reassuring slogans like ‘free range’, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
For a sad but necessary watch to become fully informed, check out the documentary film Earthlings. From the separation of mother and calf to the slaughter of male chicks (just because of their gender), the dairy and egg industries aren’t half as innocent as it may first appear.
Vegan Myth #6: Vegans are preachy, pretentious know-it-alls 🎤
Caveat: my family might just agree on this one!
That said, most vegans will quietly make their own dietary choices. The problem arises sitting at dinner tables and in restaurants when these choices are loudly called out and even mocked by meat-eating companions. The behaviour of those who are closed off from the potential advantages of a plant-based diet can be simultaneously defensive and attacking, without any prompting from vegans whatsoever.
In my own experience, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a vegan attempt to force their dietary choices onto others. If a calm and considered discussion of the ethics and sustainability of plant-based diets is now classed as preaching, then as Romesh rightly puts it, maybe it’s because News Flash: vegans actually ARE making better choices.
Shining a light on pressing ethical issues is not preaching – it is necessary. We all need some vegan truths dishing up every now and then.
Vegan Myth #7: It’s impossible to get vital nutrients 🥦
First things first – traditional Western diets (including the Standard American Diet) are nutritionally inferior compared to vegan diets. This is because they include mostly highly processed, sugary junk foods. Vegan food, on the other hand, is based on whole foods that are heart-healthy and have been proven to prevent the onset of long-term chronic diseases.
The truth of the matter is that you can be nutrient-deficient with many diets, meat eaters included. For example, during the winter months, it’s easy to find yourself lacking in essential Vitamin D if your food choices and daily sunshine intake aren’t carefully considered.
The irony is that in living more intentionally, most vegans will have taken the time to properly educate themselves on their nutritional needs, so will naturally consume a far wider range of nutrient-dense foods than the majority of the population.
When it comes to vital nutrients, the only one that is genuinely lacking in a strict vegan diet is Vitamin B12. This can be found in meat products, but it is largely supplemented to livestock in their feed. As such, by supplementing yourself you are only choosing to do so directly. You can find B12 at your local wholefood store (try Holland & Barratt), or you could opt for a daily vegan essentials multivitamin.
Vegan Myth #8: You must be a hippie or privileged 💁♀️
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
Particularly in days gone by, veganism was often viewed as an alternative ‘fringe’ lifestyle that could largely be dismissed as ‘kooky’ or ‘weird’.
Over the past decade, however, veganism has skyrocketed in popularity. You’d be hard-pressed to recognise our supermarkets with the explosion of ‘free from’ aisles and vegan products that have started rapidly appearing on the shelves.
Nowadays, Veganuary is a household term. And it’s more uncommon to find a restaurant without at least one plant-based option on the menu than with. So what’s the next step? Oh yes, violent opposition, with claims typically levelled that veganism is a privilege of the white upper-middle class.
Arguably, if you are blessed with privilege, then surely the best use of it is to highlight important issues that speak up on behalf of those less fortunate than yourself. And, more to the point, there are plenty of non-white vegans across the globe. A study commissioned by The Vegan Society found that 30% of vegans identified as non-white vs 13% of the population.
Roll on the final stage of truth, please!
Vegan Myth #9: Our ancestors ate meat therefore veganism is unnatural 🍗
Humans have hunted, practised animal husbandry, and eaten meat for thousands of years. And this is often used to reason that a vegan diet is unnatural.
In particular, the fact that we have incisors is said to ‘prove’ our meat-eating birthright. However, when was the last time you were able to tear chunks out of your prey with just your teeth?
In reality, our heritage is quite the opposite. Humans are anatomically herbivorous, and our ancestors ate a diet predominantly featuring plant-based whole foods. Carnivores have sharp claws and canine teeth that tear flesh, stronger stomach acid to break it down, and much shorter intestinal tracts to let meat pass through their bodies quickly.
Whilst our ancestors did sometimes turn to meat for sustenance, it was far less than the vast quantities consumed by today’s standards. As Dr Neil Barnard explains in his book The Power of Your Plate, we aren’t designed to eat a predominantly meat-based diet. And, as such, we have never properly adapted to it either. This explains the correlation between meat-eating and cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes.
Vegan Myth #10: Going vegan is too hard 😩
It’s not uncommon to feel mental resistance when facing the steep uphill battle that is changing your habits, missing cheese, and saying goodbye to some of your favourite comfort meals.
However, it’s important to remember that veganism doesn’t have to mean a death sentence or never enjoying food ever again. You can take the tiniest of steps when first dipping your toe into intimidating plant-based waters. For instance, switch out the cow’s milk in your tea for oat or almond. Transitioning to a vegan diet is one of discovery rather than lack, especially when you start to experiment with new ingredients and construct your plate in new and exciting ways (meat and two veg, begone!).
It’s important to approach veganism with an open mind and truly understand your why. This will help you to stay accountable to your long-term values, which is more fulfilling than any short-term gratification of your tastebuds.
Cooking with whole foods can take longer than shoving a ready meal in the microwave, but consider some smart minimalist meal planning or a vegan recipe box delivered to your door for some easy solutions.
The Truth: A Vegan Diet Is an Ethical, Sustainable & Healthy Choice
Veganism has health benefits for both individuals and the planet as a whole. Myths around veganism are particularly damaging because, from a sustainability point of view, the world can’t support billions of meat-eaters. It also puts pressure on our healthcare systems with long-term, chronic illnesses that could be prevented – or at least greatly reduced – by eliminating animal products.
Of course, a vegan lifestyle is an ethical choice that concerns itself with morality, and inevitably grows into a philosophy that is about much more than our food choices. But what we choose to put in our mouths would be a great place to start when it comes to demystifying veganism as a healthy lifestyle choice.
What are your pet peeves when it comes to common myths about veganism? Or are there some concerns you have that still haven’t been debunked? I’d love to hear from you!