Eat Your Veggies! Vegetarian and Vegan Diet Myths Exposed
It seems that, these days, being on a diet is the thing to do; Atkins®, South Beach Diet®, carb-free, low-fat, fat-free, and high-protein are just a few diets promising quick, easy weight loss through the cutting of just a few things from one’s daily menu. However, some (myself included) would argue that fad diets are the nutritional equivalent of bungee jumping: your life and health are at stake, yet you place your trust in a thin cord, the safety and efficacy of which are “to be seen”! Fortunately, there is a simple answer, a time-tested diet that meets the nutritional needs of almost anyone while aiding in weight maintenance and providing great taste. What is this amazing diet, you ask?
The answer is simple: vegetarianism.
If it sounds like a stretch to cut meat (and perhaps all animal products) from your diet, that may be because you have believed misconceptions about the vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. Read on to unravel the mystery; perhaps this is the health solution you’ve been looking for.
Misconceptions about Vegetarian Diets
1. A vegetarian diet includes chicken and fish, right?
Not usually. Most vegetarian diets include foods that come only from plant sources (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes such as peas and beans, and grains), and excludes all animal-based foods, including chicken and fish. Vegans, who are strict vegetarians, exclude all products that come from living creatures, including eggs, dairy foods, and even honey since it is produced by bees.
There are, however, some people who include limited types of animal-based foods in an otherwise vegetarian diet:
- Lacto vegetarians consume dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) as part of their vegetarian diets.
- Ovo-lacto vegetarians (or lacto-ovo vegetarians) include eggs in addition to dairy products in their diets.
- Pescetarians follow a vegetarian diet but also eat fish and other seafood. They may or may not include dairy products and eggs in their diets.
2. Vegetarians can’t build muscle.
This is a persistent misconception based on the belief that a vegan or vegetarian diet doesn’t provide enough protein and nutrients. Yes, you do need protein to build muscle, but vegetarians who eat a balanced and varied meat-free diet get a sufficient supply. In fact, there are many professional athletes, including award-winning bodybuilders, who follow vegetarian diets.
3. Following a vegetarian diet leads to weight loss.
Unfortunately, simply cutting meat out of your diet is not a guaranteed way to lose weight. You need to burn more calories than you consume to shed pounds. If your “vegetarian” diet consists of potato chips and candy bars, then you won’t be on your way to weight loss, and you won’t reap the health benefits a plant-based diet provides. You should also watch out for packaged and highly processed foods which may be vegetarian (meaning they don’t contain animal products) but that may also be high in calories and low in nutritional value.
Misconceptions about Vegan Diets
1. A vegan diet can’t meet a person’s nutritional needs.
One of the most incorrect yet rampant misconceptions about veganism is that vegans don't get the nutrients they need, particularly protein and calcium.
However, the truth is that vegans easily get enough plant-based protein and calcium, as well as other nutrients lacking in lacto-ovo and meat-based diets. A vegan whose diet is balanced and varied (including plenty of soy products, leafy greens, broccoli, seeds, nuts, and whole grains) can more than adequately meet his or her nutritional needs. In fact, four ounces of firm tofu (or ¾ cup of collard greens) contains as much calcium as one cup of cow’s milk, while three ounces of seitan, a wheat derivative, has 31 grams of protein – nearly three times as much protein as a piece of chicken the same size.
2. A vegan diet is a health compromise
Another common misperception is that, by going vegan, a person compromises his or her health. Many people believe that vegans are weak, pale, and lack endurance.
In reality, however, going vegan is usually one of the healthiest choices a person can make, since veganism aids in:
- Digestion – Plants require minimal processing by the digestive system, causing less stress to the system than animal products.
- Meeting nutritional needs – Plants contain abundant vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
- Regularity – A well-balanced vegan diet is rich in the fiber that is essential to regularity.
- Weight maintenance – Vegans are more likely to have a healthy weight than people who consume animal products.
3. Vegans eat boring or bizarre foods.
A common turn-off to veganism is the belief that, to be vegan, one has to eat weird, unappetizing, obscure, and hard-to-prepare foods.
However, if this were true, no one would be vegan! The truth is that there is an array of delicious, “normal,” dairy- and meat-free foods. There are numerous ways to prepare fruits, vegetables, grains, and soy products to create delicious, satisfying dishes – including vegan pizza, lasagna, and ice cream!
4. It is expensive to follow a vegan diet.
Given the increase in food prices, and the price discrepancy between organic and conventional vegetables, the misconception that being vegan is expensive is understandable.
This perception is, however, incorrect: vegetables are, hands down, cheaper than meat and most dairy and pre-processed foods. In addition to saving money on food costs, vegans cut costs in the long run by decreasing the risk of diet-related health problems, such as obesity, heart problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
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