Nutrition myth busters

Vegan nutrition myth busters

Common nutritional myths are dispelled for a plant-based diet By Yvonne O'Halloran

There are so many myths associated with a vegan lifestyle that it is important some are cleared up. There can be such conflicting information on the internet and even amongst the public and well-meaning friends and family, that sometimes it can mess with your head. So, I have compiled my top 10 nutritional myths so that you can be ready for the next time one of them is thrown at you.

Myth #1: You will spend your life eating bland salads

FALSE. Even though I admit that vegans make a delicious salad, there are so many food options, both bought and homemade. If there's an omni version of a meal, there's almost always a vegan version of that meal too.

Popular dishes such as lasagnas, spaghetti Bolognese, burgers, curries, casseroles, soups, sandwiches, 'steak' dinners, 'chicken' dinners, pizza, burritos and pasta... and the list goes on. Substitute the meat for plant-based meat, seitan, tofu, mushroom, or lentils/beans and you have a delicious but healthy plant-based meal.

Myth #2: Eating soya can cause cancer

FALSE. Numerous studies have shown that soya can be protective against cancer. One study found that soya resulted in a decreased risk of prostate and breast cancer in men and women respectively. This review analysed 14 studies and found that an increased intake of soya resulted in 26 per cent reduction in prostate cancer risk.

There was a 30 per cent reduction with non-fermented soya such as soya milk and tofu. A study on 2,400 Asian women found that those with the highest intakes of soya and vegetables had a decreased risk for breast cancer. Legumes and vegetables were found to be protective against certain cancers.

Myth #3: Protein will be hard to come by

FALSE. Protein is found in almost all foods, so if you eat a varied diet that incorporates foods such as beans, lentils, soya, tofu, nut butters, vegetables, and nuts and seeds you won't have to worry about protein intake.

In fact, protein deficiency is typically only seen in someone who is consuming suboptimal calories or in those with an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa). Most people consume way too much protein - we only require 0.8g/kg/day.

Myth #4: Plant eaters are more likely to be anemic

FALSE. Plant eaters may have less stored iron (ferritin) than omnivores, but some studies have found that vegetarians are at no more risk of iron deficiency than non vegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarian and vegan diets generally contain just as much or more iron than mixed diets containing meat.

It is also known that people who have lower iron stores and have a higher physiological need for iron will tend to absorb more iron and excrete less. At the same time, ensuring you are including vitamin C rich foods alongside your nonhuman iron sources will aid absorption, while avoiding calcium and tannins from tea with your iron-rich meal.

Myth #5: You will lack energy

MAYBE. Some think going vegan is a free for all and you can eat anything you want once it has a vegan label on it. There is a great deal of processed vegan food options available now and if you choose to eat a processed heavy diet with little fresh whole plants, or if you limit your food intake too much, you may lack energy. However, if you eat smart, chose whole plant foods, and diversify your meals, you will likely have more energy than you had when you consumed animal products.

Myth #6: Plant protein is inferior to animal-based protein

FALSE. It was once believed that plantbased foods were inferior as many did not supply us with all the essential amino acids our body needs. Protein combining was once a recommendation, but now the simple recommendation is to eat a variety of different plants through the day, which will ensure adequate protein and amino acid intake. Animal products don't come alone either.

 

Animal protein causes inflammation, and may contain dioxins, hormones, antibiotics, chemicals, micro-plastics and PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls - industrial products or chemicals).

Animal protein has been linked to an increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, obesity, and some cancers. So, I would flip this myth around to state that plant-based protein in many ways is superior to animal based proteins.

\"Vegan diets generally contain just as much or more iron than mixed diets containing meat\"

Myth #7: Without dairy you won't have strong bones

FALSE. Most of us grew up being told by the media and well-meaning family members that we must have dairy for strong bones. This is untrue! In fact, dairy can cause calcium to leech from bones.

Animal protein found in dairy products leaches calcium from the bones and encourages its passage into the urine. However, plant protein found in beans, grains, and vegetables does not appear to have this effect.

A 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women found that the women who drank milk three times a day broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2004).

Stick to getting your calcium from healthy whole plant foods instead and try to do some resistance training regularly for strong, healthy bones.

Myth #8: You have to give up your traditions

FALSE. Yes, you will have to adjust your traditions to fit in with the new lifestyle change, but that does not mean you have to forget the old Christmas or special traditions with your family. For BBQs you have vegan sausages and burgers, tofu skewers and lots of vegetables to choose from.

For Christmas, replace turkey with a vegan roast or make a homemade beet wellington for that special meal. Christmas pudding and cake can easily be veganised by using flax eggs instead of eggs and plant milks in place of cow milk. Aquafaba (the liquid from chickpeas) can make amazing vegan pavlova.

Myth #9: You will be hungry all the time

FALSE. With all the extra fibre you include into your diet, you will find you feel fuller and more satisfied even when eating less. However, if you were a big consumer of high fat, animal predominant diets, you may need some time to adjust. Most people will take two-six weeks to adapt to the new way of eating. If you feel hungry you may need to increase your food intake and calories a little.

Myth #10: Plant-based diets are not suitable for children

FALSE. Plant-based diets have been approved by all the major dietetic associations. For example, the American Dietetic Association states that 'Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

Well planned vegan diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.' It is advised that if parents are unsure about how to implement a plant based diet for their children or infants that they reach out to a plant-based dietitian for professional advice.

Find Yvonne on Facebook @livingvegandietitian and visit her website yvonneohalloran.com

VeganLife

The lifestyle magazine written by vegans for vegans.