As someone whose life calling involves healthy food, I think it’s great to see the elevated attention given to food and diet philosophies in today’s culture. When it comes to the pros and cons of various dietary paths, there’s such an abundance of information out there that it can become really overwhelming.
You may have heard that vegans don’t eat adequate nutrients and are always hungry, or that it’s simply not satisfying to only eat plants. As a vegan for the last 20 years following a whole foods, plant-based diet, I can assure you that these myths (and many others) are completely false! In fact, a vegan lifestyle can be delicious, nutritious, and very affordable.
Here are some of the myths that I hear most often:
Vegans Don’t Eat Enough Protein
Many people assume that by omitting animal proteins including fish, meat, and dairy, vegans are protein deficient. This is so far from the truth! There are tons of nutrient-rich, plant-based foods that can contain protein, including beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and whole soy foods like tempeh and tofu. Dr. Michael Greger, a whole foods, plant-based diet expert whom I greatly admire, finds that it is recommended that the average person eats 42 grams of protein a day, with most non-vegans eating close to 80 grams a day. The protein myth is often tied to athletic performance. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching The Game Changers, which highlights the stories of many exceptional athletes who excel in their respective sports without consuming animal products.
All Vegan Food is Healthy
Assuming that all vegan food is healthy definitely isn’t true. While vegan foods can be healthier than a lot of traditional foods, you still have to pay attention to the ingredients. Plant-based cheeses, meat alternatives, or processed packaged foods are often high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar and aren’t necessarily nutritious. A healthy vegan diet should focus on whole foods. In my book, The Whole Foods Cookbook, I recommend focusing on the essential eight: whole grains and starchy vegetables, beans and other legumes, berries, fruits, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, and nuts and seeds.
If you do choose to eat processed, vegan alternatives on occasion, try and opt for brands with ingredient panels that are as clean as possible. This means avoiding products that contain seed oils (palm oil, soybean oil, etc.), added refined sugars, and a bunch of ingredients that you’ve never heard of. A good rule of thumb for when you’re reading a nutrition label is if you can’t pronounce the ingredient or have never heard of it, it’s probably not the best thing to put into your body!
Eating Vegan is Expensive
Oftentimes, people think that maintaining a vegan diet is expensive. The truth is – vegan diets can be more expensive or less expensive than a traditional diet depending on what you decide to purchase. Eating a whole foods, plant-based diet is not expensive, but eating a vegan diet consisting of processed vegan alternatives can be costly since these alternatives can be expensive. Purchasing whole food ingredients such as rice, oats, beans, legumes, and seasonal fruits and veggies can be very affordable and can actually save you money, especially when purchasing in bulk. As an example, I may make a healthy bowl for dinner that contains brown rice, black beans, some kale, or another form of leafy greens, sweet potato, and whatever leftover fresh veggies are in my fridge. I may top it with a nut-based sauce or something I’ve made with avocado. Altogether, these meals generally cost me less than $5.
Vegan Food is Boring
I hear this a lot and it is so far from the truth – vegan food can be absolutely delicious! I think this myth stems from the lack of variety in the standard American diet. Reports show that potatoes are the most consumed vegetable (think fries!) and that oranges are the fruit people eat most (think orange juice!).
Since most people don’t eat a large variety of foods, this translates to people’s assumptions of a vegan diet. But don’t mistake being plant-based as being deprived of options – it’s quite the opposite! There are dozens of different types of beans and grains, for example. There’s not just a plain old Russet baked potato – try sweet potatoes, Jewel yams, or Japanese sweet potatoes. The colors, flavors, and textures vary greatly, so you can still make versions of your favorite dishes whether you like them baked, mashed, crunchy, or creamy. There is so much more to experience and enjoy than the typical produce we stick to – you just have to be willing to experiment! A general tip is to try and make your plate as colorful as possible.
Vegan Food Lacks Flavor
Many people assume that following a vegan diet means you’re eating a plate of lettuce, nuts, and fruit, but this is so far from the truth! Whole foods, plant-based cooking involves the same level of culinary sophistication and uses similar cooking methods as traditional cooking. The key to creating an amazing plant-based dish is to flavor generously. Don’t be shy! Using a delicious, vegan marinade, sauce, or dressing or using an abundance of delicious spices and herbs is guaranteed to elevate the flavor of your meal. The cuisines and flavor combinations you can enjoy on a plant-based diet are limitless!
Dining Out is a Challenge
Another myth: it’s really hard to dine out when you’re a vegan. With plant-based eating increasing in popularity, it is now much easier to find plant-based restaurants or menu items that are vegan-friendly. Oftentimes, if you call ahead or talk to your server, the kitchen is usually more than happy to accommodate a request for plant-based dishes.
If you want to dive deeper into the topic, I highly encourage you to check out the sources below to learn more: