When someone chooses to become vegan, very often they find they come face to face with commonly held beliefs about veganism that turn out to be merely superstition. David Macfarlane, a reporter for the UC Observer who recently wrote about his progress in adopting a vegan diet, goes into detail about how he finds that not only do most vegans believe that morally, ethically, environmentally, socially, economically and in terms of their own health, veganism is the best option…they also have proof to back it up. That’s why today we’re tackling 6 myths about veganism and getting to the truth behind some common assumptions.
1. Vegan diets are dangerous and/or unhealthy
Actually, they can be far healthier! Being vegan is like other ways of eating: take care with what you’re putting in your body, and your body will take care of you. However, vegan diets also have numerous advantages over others. Vegans are far more likely to reach the recommended 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, have lower rates of obesity and reduced risk of colorectal and prostate cancer. If you want more information about how the vegan diet goes hand in hand with living well for longer, click here.
2. If you’re a vegan, your diet will lack protein, iron or calcium.
Many people assume that protein and iron must come from meat, and calcium must come from milk. Not at all. Most people already get more than enough protein, and more than enough isn’t better—even for athletes such as endurance runners and bodybuilders. A diet based on a variety of plant foods and adequate calories gives you enough protein. Tempeh (an easily digestible protein made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into blocks which can be sliced), seitan (a versatile protein made from wheat gluten), peanuts and peanut butter, almonds and almond butter, lentils, pinto beans, black beans, chickpeas, quinoa, soymilk and tofu are great staples; broccoli is also protein-rich!
Iron: Vegans have no special susceptibility to iron deficiency. Dark green, leafy vegetables and beans or lentils are great sources of iron. Iron also stars in blackstrap molasses, tofu, prune juice, bulgur wheat, dried apricots, raisins, cashews, figs, and fortified cereals. Include a good source of vitamin C at meals to boost the absorption of iron from these foods. What are good sources of vitamin C? Oranges or any citrus fruit or juice, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower—all are good choices.
Calcium: As a vegan, will you need calcium supplements? It’s not difficult to get enough calcium from plant foods. Sesame seeds are great sources of calcium and magnesium (and thus, recipes using the sesame butter known as tahini—such as baba ghanouj or hummus—are good picks). And, according to Ginny Messina, RD, “Calcium is very well absorbed from kale, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, broccoli, fortified plant milks, fortified juices and firm tofu made with calcium sulfate—all good sources of this mineral.
3. Being vegan is expensive
While there are many expensive packaged vegetarian foods, staples such as potatoes, beans and pasta are famously affordable. And lowering our cholesterol, along with the other benefits of plant-based living, saves health care expenditures over the long term. With the will and the planning, any community can start a garden in a school, back yard, or reclaimed lot. So let’s do it! We can show children it’s fun to grow food and share it. And there are many reasons to eat close to home: supporting biodiversity, reducing miles food travels to your plate, sustaining green space in your community, keeping family farms in business, and ensuring that the person growing your food cares about the health of your family and their land.
4. Vegans can’t find anything to eat when they go out.
Vegans can graciously accept meal invitations. It helps to let the host know in advance that you are a vegan. Offer to bring a dish that everyone can enjoy. Vegans can welcome family gatherings and cookouts as opportunities to share new recipes with people who might not otherwise try them. When a party is called for, you might suggest a vegan restaurant. Friends of Animals offers New York City and San Francisco restaurant guides on our website. And a guide by Green Menu will help you find information about restaurants in specific cities; see GreenMenu.org Of course, many restaurants serving international cuisines—such as Chinese, South Indian, Italian, Thai, Ethiopian, and Mexican—offer a variety of purely vegetarian dishes. Supporting international restaurants is a great way to delight your palate, refresh your creative spirit, and meet people from various regions of the planet.
5. Eating meat is an important and long-held tradition.
Vegans decline to uphold a tradition of treating other feeling beings as objects. You might also hear the eating meat is natural for human beings. Are hormones, antibiotics, toxins, waste pollution and unnecessary water shortages natural? We can do better than this.
6. Vegans are weak/can’t be successful athletes.
Vegan runner Cody Donahue shows that vegans can be physically strong—and support the vegan movement even as they exercise! Cody finished the New York City Marathon in 2011 in a time of 04:23 (pace: 10:04). Cody used a professional online fundraising system to gather race sponsors who donated to Friends of Animals’ vegan outreach and animal advocacy.
In 2015, Scott Gordon Jurek became the fastest person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail! He has also won many of the most prestigious ultramarathons multiple times, including the Hardrock Hundred (2007); the Badwater Ultramarathon (2005, 2006); the Spartathlon 152-mile (245 km) race from Athens to Sparta, Greece (2006, 2007, 2008); the Montrail Ultra Cup series (2002, 2003); and the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (each year, 1999–2005). In 2010, at the 24-Hour World Championships in Brive-la-Gaillarde, France, Jurek won a silver medal and set a new U.S. record for distance running: 165.7 miles in 24 hours. “But though I want to win,” Jurek told the New York Times in 2010, “the running is a vehicle for self-discovery. I’ve been racing for 15 years, but I feel like I’m still at my peak. You can read more about amazingly successful vegan athletes in one of our editions of Action Line magazine where we highlighted athletes from around the world who rely on a vegan diet.