There are a whole lot of myths surrounding vegetarianism and veganism that people who don’t follow a vegetarian or vegan diet regularly bring up. These myths are often based on decades-out-of-date science, thought terminating cliches, a plain dislike of vegetarians and vegans, or just plain old ignorance. Vegetarians and vegans will often hear these myths whenever discussing their diet with an omnivore or even just when vegetarianism or veganism is mentioned. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of these myths, and if you have to face them on a day to day basis, you need to know all of the facts so that you can argue your case. Let’s debunk the myths about vegetarianism and veganism…
Myth #1 – Vegetarians don’t get enough protein
This is a common vegetarian myth, and one that you will often hear if you spend any time around the gym. You would think that fitness oriented people would be clued-up on all of the vegetarian and vegan sources of protein, but a lot of people seem to think that the only significant sources of protein are from animal products. With the recent trend towards added protein in food, people often think that they are not getting enough, especially if they are physically active. I used to buy into this madness of thinking that I needed more protein, and used to consume whey protein shakes in order to make sure that I had enough. The reality is that it did not make any difference, even as someone whose hobbies include rock climbing, running, and lifting weights.
The average person only needs 0.8g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, which works at about 56 grams for the average man, and 46 grams for the average woman. It is really easy to get enough as you can see below:
Example vegan sources of protein:
Tofu – 8g of protein per 100g
Chickpeas – 16g of protein per 100g
Quinoa – 13g of protein per 100g (this is also a complete protein)
Soy Milk – 3.3g of protein per 100g
Example vegetarian sources of protein:
Eggs – 13g of protein per 100g
Whole Milk – 3.2g of protein per 100g
Cheddar Cheese – 25g of protein per 100g
As you can see, anyone who says that vegetarians or vegans don’t get enough protein clearly does not have a clue what they are talking about. Vegans have to be a bit more careful as vegan protein sources (except quinoa) are not complete protein sources, so you need a variety of different sources and your body can make the complete protein. To do this just make sure that you have some grain sources of protein (e.g rice) and some bean sources of protein (e.g tofu).
Myth #2 – Vegetarians don’t get enough iron
Another common myth is that vegetarians don’t get enough iron. While this myth does have some merit, in that the form of Iron in plant sources is harder to absorb than in animal sources, you can get plenty of iron in a vegetarian diet. Great sources of Iron for vegetarians and vegans are chickpeas (48% of the RDV for men, and 15% for women per 100g), cashew nuts (112% of the RDV for men and 35% for women per 100g) and dried apricots (45% of the RDV for men and 14% for women per 100g).
Myth #3 – Humans evolved to eat meat
If you have a friend who has gone “paleo” this might be one that you commonly hear. The reality is that the human digestive system has evolved to be incredibly flexible, as if it wasn’t we wouldn’t have been able to survive in such a wide variety of climates throughout the world. Humans can be healthy on a variety of diets, from the Inuit, who live mostly on a diet of seafood, to other ancestors who live on mostly plant based diets. In fact, most of the scientific evidence points to our digestive system being better adapted to plant foods.
Myth #4 – But if you don’t drink milk, you won’t have strong bones!
This one always annoys the hell out of me. A significant number of people seem to have been brainwashed by the dairy industry into thinking that milk is the only source of calcium. Well, how did our ancestors survive before domesticating cattle then? Did they chase after other animals hoping that they would sit still long enough to look after them? I don’t think that would have worked very well for them…
Anyway, there are loads of decent plant sources of calcium such as nuts, seeds, beans and leafy greens. For example:
Almonds – 26% of your RDV per 100g
Spinach – 14% of your RDV per 100g
Kidney Beans – 15% of your RDV per 100g
Myth #5 – If you become a vegetarian or vegan, you will be weak and sickly!
Try telling that to the vegan athletes, they look far stronger than most of the people who will say that being a vegetarian or vegan will make you weak and sickly.
Myth #6 – If you become vegetarian or vegan, you will be deficient in [Insert Vitamin Here]
Yawn, let’s ignore that fact that there are vitamins and minerals (e.g magnesium and vitamin d) that the majority of the population have minor deficiencies in. It is perfectly possible for vegetarians to obtain all of the vitamins and minerals that they need without supplementation. Vegans may need to supplement with Vitamin B12, unless they like to eat a type of seaweed called purple laver (or nori).
Myth #7 – If everyone stopped eating meat we would have to kill the animals anyway / The animals would never have lived if we didn’t raise them for meat
This is one of the myths that I really hate. And my response to this myth is probably the most simple on on this list: “Would you rather be born into a life of constant suffering from living in a factory farm and then slaughtered for meat, or to have never existed”. I know which option I would choose.
Myth #8 – Your child is a vegetarian? You are harming them!
I think we all know that the standard western diet is not beneficial for children, you can see this in how high the rates of childhood obesity are, the number of cavities children’s teeth have and the increasing vitamin and mineral deficiencies that children have these days. That is what is harmful. Sure, if you do not feed your child a nutritionally balanced diet, they are going to get sick. This is the case regardless of whether your child is a vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore. The important thing is to know the nutritional needs of your child and make sure that the foods they are eating meet them.
Myth #9 – Vegetarian food is so expensive!
Sure, processed vegetarian and vegan foods can be more expensive than their non-vegetarian equivalents. This is due to the massive subsidies that giant agribusinesses get from the government. When I went vegetarian, I cut my food bill in half. How? I stuck to whole, unprocessed foods and made my meals from scratch rather than buying expensive “fake meat” products. Your wallet and your body will thank you…
Know of any other annoying vegetarian myths that really need to be busted ? Please, post them in the comments below, we could even make this into a series!