Is a Vegan Diet Healthy? – Dispelling the Myths Associated with Veganism and Nutrition
Most people couldn’t care less about your daily diet or your nutrition.
That is, of course, until they find out that you are a vegan.
Suddenly, everyone is a highly experienced nutritionist and feel the need to lecture you on your diet.
Questioning you, “Is a vegan diet healthy?” “Where do you get your protein?” “You’re going to get sick, right?”
The bottom line of all of these speeches? Being vegan isn’t healthy for you.
So, are these people right? Is a vegan diet healthy?
Are vegan diets keeping you from some of the fundamental nutrients that you require?
To get to the bottom of this debate, is a vegan diet healthy, let’s take a look at some of the most common myths regarding a vegan lifestyle.
1. Vegan Diets Don’t Offer Enough Protein
Now, the most persistent argument against a vegan diet is that it is virtually impossible for you to get as much protein as with an omnivore diet.
This, of course, is because most people associate large amounts of protein with meat. Thus, they assume that it doesn’t matter how many plant-based foods you eat, you just can’t get as much protein as your body needs.
So, let’s break this down.
First, let’s identify how much protein you should be eating each day.
According to the Recommended Dietary Allowance, the average person needs to consume around 0.8 grams of protein for each kilo of body weight. So, if you weigh around a 100 pounds, your recommended protein intake can be calculated as such:
(100 ÷ 2.2) x 0.8 = 36.36g
Now that you have a rough idea of how much protein you need to eat, let’s take a look at some of the top protein sources in a vegan diet:
|Food Source||Protein Content (g)|
|Seitan||25 per 100g|
|Soybean Derivatives (Tofu, Tempeh, Edamame)||10 – 19 per 100g|
|Lentils||18 per cup|
|Chickpeas||15 per cup|
|Beans (Pinto, Kidney, Black)||15 per cup|
|Nutritional yeast||14 per 25g|
As you can see, as long as you have the right mix of foods with each meal, reaching your daily requirement for protein isn’t too difficult at all.
2. Plant Protein Isn’t As Nutritious as Animal-Based
Another point that people will bring up is the fact that animal-based protein is superior to plant-based protein.
Now, to a certain extent, this is actually a valid argument. While plants do contain protein, they can’t be considered “complete” protein sources on their own.
To understand this concept a little better, let’s dive into the basics of proteins and amino acids first.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.
The human body needs around 20 different kinds of amino acids to build the type of protein that it requires. These amino acids, in turn, can be either essential or non-essential.
Non-essential amino acids are those that your body can produce by itself.
Essential amino acids are the ones that your body needs from outside sources like food.
Animal protein sources are actually pretty similar to the kind of protein that you have in your body. As such, when someone eats meat, they are able to get most of the essential amino acids that they need.
This is why they are known as complete proteins.
Unfortunately, plant sources are missing one or two amino acids that you need, which makes them incomplete protein. This doesn’t mean that all hope is lost for vegans, though.
Rather, you simply need to get better at combining the right kind of proteins to get your complete protein content.
Here are some excellent combinations:
- Black beans and rice
- Whole wheat bread with peanut butter
- Pasta with peas
- Bean soup and crackers
- A combination of nuts, seeds, and legumes such as peanuts
- Lentils and almonds
3. You Will Become Vitamin B Deficient
One of the reasons it can be a bit tricky to dispel certain vegan myths is because some of them are actually rooted in truth.
Take a look at the research done on vegans, vegetarians, and B12 levels, for instance. The results aren’t good – vegans and vegetarians are at a higher risk of B12 deficiency.
This is due to the fact that this vitamin is mostly found in either animal protein or dairy products.
Also, many plant sources don’t have quite enough B12 levels to provide you with what you need. The main exception to this is Korean purple laver which appears to have enough B12 to prevent a deficiency.
As you may have noticed, though, there are plenty of vegans who don’t have any kind of deficiency.
Clearly, a vegan diet doesn’t automatically result in a B12 deficiency. So, what gives?
Well, here it is all about eating foods that have been fortified with B12.
Luckily, you can find everything from breakfast cereal to nutritional yeast that has been fortified with B12.
It is just a matter of making note of the label and making it a point to add these foods to your shopping cart. Crisis averted.
4. You Can’t Consume Enough Iron
Ugh. This is just another one of those myths that never seem to die.
So, let’s see why people have gotten the wrong end of the stick regarding vegan diets and iron consumption:
Well, to start with, animal sources and plant sources do contain different kinds of iron.
See, meat and fish have what is known as “heme” iron. This nutrient is readily absorbed by the human. Plants, on the other hand, contain “non-heme” iron. These, however, aren’t taken in by your body quite as easily.
Again, this doesn’t mean that vegans don’t get enough iron. Instead, you just need to eat more iron sources to be able to get the same benefit.
Let’s break this down a little. These are the average iron requirements for people per day:
- Adult men = 8mg
- Women (19 – 50) = 18mg
- Women (50+) = 8mg
- Pregnant Women = 27mg
Vegans, on the other hand, need to eat twice as much as their gender and age group since they are eating iron that isn’t absorbed as easily.
This, however, isn’t too difficult at all since there are a number of plant sources that contain significant iron levels. Here are the top ones:
|Food Source||Iron Content (mg)|
|Spinach||2 – 3.4 per ½ cup|
|Tomato puree||2.4 per ½ cup|
|Edamame||1.9 – 2.4 per ½ cup|
|Lima beans||2.2 per ½ cup|
|Asparagus||2.1 per 6 spears|
|Hearts of palm||2 per ½ cup|
|Potato||1.3 – 1.9 per vegetable|
|Snow peas||1.7 per ½ cup|
Once you have identified the top sources, it is simply a matter of eating the right amount to get your RDA of iron.
5. There Is No Way for You to Get Calcium
When you think of calcium, what comes to mind?
Well, if you are like most people, you are probably imagining a glass of milk or a hunk of cheese right now.
While these may be the better-known sources of calcium, not all calcium comes from dairy or animal products.
What most people keep forgetting is that there are plenty of seeds, fruits, and vegetables that are actually rather high in calcium.
Now, you need about 700mg – 1000mg of calcium each day and here is how you can meet your target as a vegan:
|Food Source||Calcium (mg)|
|Poppy Seeds||126 per tablespoon|
|Winged beans||224 per cup|
|Almonds||80 per ounce|
|Collard greens||226 per cup|
|Rhubarb||87 per cup|
If you feel like this is a lot of information to keep a track of, don’t worry.
Instead, just turn to foods that have been fortified with calcium. You will find that there are many types of cereal, flour, and cornmeal that are fortified with calcium.
Eating these foods ensures that you get the right amount of calcium with less fuss.
Now, when addressing these common myths, there are a few takeaways to keep in mind when people ask “is a vegan diet healthy?” Remember, just because you are vegan doesn’t automatically make you healthy.
You still need to be careful about what you eat. The main purpose behind this is to make sure that you are getting all the protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals that you require.
However, having a greater awareness of your diet also ensures that you avoid putting the wrong things into your body as well.
To be a healthy, functioning vegan, you need to have the best of both worlds. Knowledge and effort will make sure that you always consume just what you need.
It is clear that being a vegan doesn’t mean depriving your body of the nutrients it needs.
Sure, you may have to pay a little attention to what you are putting into your body but that’s the extent of it. As long as you eat a healthy and balanced diet, there is no need for you to suffer from any nutritional deficiencies at all.
In fact, you will actually enjoy a healthier way of life since a vegan diet has a number of benefits to offer. So yes is the answer to the question, is a vegan diet healthy?
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