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Vegan Myths Debunked

August 1, 2012
By Guest Blogger
|30Comments|


I’ve been vegan for years, so I’ve grown accustomed to certain myths people believe about what it means to eat a plant-based diet and live a creature-free life. Here are a few things people often get wrong about veganism.

All vegans are skinny, white women

We come in all colors, shapes, sizes and genders. Not all vegans are frail/anemic-looking waifs either – some are ultra-marathoners, UFC fighters, famous talk-show hosts, actors and actresses … most, however, are regular men and women. You can’t look like a vegan; you can just live and eat like one.

There’s also an often unspoken view that veganism isn’t very manly since Real Men eat meat. To that I’d say that real men take care of their bodies and want to decrease their risk of things like prostate cancer, diabetes and heart problems (all of which have been shown to worsen due to the consumption of meat and dairy).

Vegan food is all weird soy-based fake meat and cheeses

There are a lot of faux meats and dairy-free cheeses, but they’re not the only option for eating a plant-based diet. Think of them as “gateway drugs” for eating less meat and dairy. They offer comfort in similarity to a “typical” diet and some taste pretty good too. These products are really good for a transition from SAD (Standard American Diet) to a diet more focused on lots of whole vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains. It is really easy to eat vegan without them though, and focus more on eating a variety of whole, plant-based foods.

Veganism isn’t healthy

Technically, you could call yourself a “vegan” and live on potato chips, Oreo cookies (these are vegan because they don’t contain any actual food) and diet soda. But one of the main benefits of an intelligent, plant-based diet is the sheer diversity of whole foods you can and should eat on a daily basis. Every single day I eat more whole foods than I have fingers and toes. Add up all the fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds I’ve consumed by bedtime and it would total far more than 10. Countless studies have shown that eating this way can effectively treat, and even prevent, a slew of chronic diseases. Some real dangers and potential killers related to a non-vegan diet include cancer, diabetes and heart disease – all of which have been linked to dairy and meat consumption by actual medical journals, written by established scientists. So eating a plant-based diet can be really healthy, if you do it correctly.

Vegans can’t get enough protein or calcium

This is definitely the question that vegans hear most often. But when was the last time you heard of anyone being protein deficient in the Western world? It just doesn’t happen – among vegans or omnivores. I get my protein from eating a well-balanced, whole foods diet. There is protein in nuts, seeds, vegetables and many other foods. North Americans are obsessed with protein, and really, we eat far too much of it. If your diet includes various and diverse plant-based foods, you’ll get enough, even if you’re very active. Good sources of protein include foods like almonds, lentils, quinoa, beans, broccoli, tempeh and chickpeas. And none of these proteins have bad fats or cholesterol (bonus!).

Personally, I know that dairy is not a good source of calcium, but I definitely believe the milk industry has an insanely good marketing team. There’s more calcium in small amounts of broccoli, molasses, kale, grains or soy than in a big glass of cow’s milk. There are lots of cultures, past and present, that have never consumed any dairy as part of their diets, and they haven’t shriveled up and died from a lack of calcium.

Veganism is too militant/absolute

Being vegan isn’t a religion or exercise in absolutism. If you are vegan (or heading that way), it doesn’t mean you’ve got to sign up for a militant animal rights group or protest naked outside fur shops. If that’s your thing, all the power to you for making a difference. You can also make a difference in a more subversive way by making omnivore friends a delicious plant-based meal or simply by buying fewer animals and animal products. There are as many types of vegans as there are types of non-vegans – so whatever works for you is the best thing you can do for “The Cause.”

For every study or piece of research published about the benefits of a plant-based diet, there’s a news article that claims the latest healthy eating trend is actually horrible for you. I will offer this key piece of advice: Learn who funded the research you just read, or if it’s an article on a website or in a newspaper, ensure it’s based on a scientific find and not paid for by the meat or dairy industries. There is, unfortunately, a lot of money spent to make people think that meat and dairy are good for you, even if science says otherwise.

Finally, remember that veganism isn’t for everyone. It’s just for folks who want to stay healthy, feel good, live longer and generally be really awesome.

Paul Jarvis is the author of “Eat Awesome: A regular person’s guide to plant-based, whole foods.” He believes veganism is love – and that deliciousness always trumps dogma. He lives with his amazing wife Lisa, in Tofino, British Columbia.



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30 responses to Vegan Myths Debunked
  1. I agree 100%! I’m a 46 yeat old ER nurse who was diagnosed with lupus 10 years ago. It has attacked my heart, but thnak God, and a pacemaker, Im able to work full time. I have had horrible joint pain and fatigue for years. After reading Kriss’s book Crazy Sexy Diet, i became vegan, and can honestly say, my pain is gone!!! I feel better now than I’ve felt in years and am so thaakful

  2. Amazing article! Thank you so much. I feel like I should print it out and carry it around in my back pocket so I can quote it when I get badgered with the “why would you do that to yourself???” questions. Thanks again.

  3. Oooh, I LOVED this post! This hit the nail on the head on every vegan myth, each of which I have encountered in my personal journey to become a plant-based lady.

    #1: All Vegans are Skinny, White Women: While I am a female, almost everyone I meet is shocked at my figure and the fact that I am vegan. They expect me to be starving, frail, almost delicate. Instead, I’m a curvy, hourglass, sexy, lush woman with energy to spare. I love breaking the stereotype in my own way.

    #2: When I transitioned to veganism, I admit I was a fan of Gardein and veggie dogs! It made the transition easier, and as I learned more about delicious vegan food I began cooking more for myself and eat very little processed soy products. I mean, why buy soy cheese when it is so easy to make a creamy cashew cheese at home?

    #3. Veganism and the plant-based diet is not only healthy, but it likely slowed the progression of my chronic disease and improved my quality of life. With a focus on anti-inflammatory foods, I’ve managed to decrease the flare-ups I have of my ulcerative colitis and improve my nutritional status. Comparing my health from being an omnivore to vegan, there is just no comparison. I am 1000% healthier now.

    #4. See above. As well, I follow a holistic nutritionist who assures me that – with knowledge about my nutrient sources and eating a varied plant-based diet – I am more than meeting my calcium and protein needs.

    #5. I personally like to live with compassion and kindness, so being overly militant and extreme as an activist is just not me. Sometimes it just seems too mean, or simply too much. I believe that I make a difference every day, with each meal I prepare. I also believe I am casting my own vote for more plant-based food options, with each day I fill my shopping cart with fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, gluten-free grains, and vegan protein powders!

  4. So well put! There’s so much good stuff in there, and so well worded, I don’t know where to start!

  5. I would love to know how one might transition from a traditional American diet of 3 heavy meals a day all of which include me to a vegan or even vegetarian diet. What is your daily menu?

  6. Amazing article! So many things in this article are said to me on a regular basis! I too want to carry this article around with me. Thank you so much!

  7. I love vegans who live on oreos and diet soda! I’m still working my way to being a sound vegetarian (I go through binge phases sometimes) but the increase and balance in energy, as well as better blood test results I’ve had since cutting out meat, dairy, salt, sugar, and gluten make it worth it. Especially when those same “vegans” constantly get sick.

    I think if we all learned to look at health info more thoroughly instead of taking it at face-value, we’d all be better off since most people tend to get their health info in snippets from magazines, talk-shows, and commercials.

    Article enjoyed. Check.

  8. I was raw vegan for 90 days as part of my strategy to beat cancer without chemo back in 2004. After 90 days my naturopath added clean meats and some cooked food back to my diet.

    Veganism is not the ideal diet for all humans and will not guarantee that you will “stay healthy”
    Some thrive on vegetarian/vegan diets some do not.

    Rather than assume you are healthier because you are vegan, it’s important to get a complete metabolic analysis to determine what exactly is going on in your body.
    A natural health professional can analyze your biomarkers: hair, blood, urine, saliva, and stool.
    Only then will you really know if your diet is promoting your health.

    As a raw vegan I was protein deficient aka Cachexia, even though you haven’t heard of it,
    it is very common in cancer patients. I needed more animal protein to thrive.

    From there I was 80% raw vegan 20% cooked/animal food.

    8.5 years later still cancer free!

    Be careful with the vegan health dogma.
    The truth is different people need different things.
    I personally know people that have beaten cancer naturally with a primal diet.
    That’s only eating raw meat.

    Also toxic chemical ink in your skin is a huge mistake.

    (((c)))

  9. Great article! People really have a hard time getting past the protein one, don’t they. LOL

  10. Hi Chris – I appreciate your comment and am pleased you’re cancer free, it’s truly amazing to take control of your own health like that!

    In my book (and I suppose in life) I advocate listening to your body and consulting with nutrition/health experts.

    Also, All of my tattoos are organic inks made from natural compounds (and are vegan too). People have been getting tattoos for 1000s of years (almost every indigenous culture has some sort of tattoo traditions). There are zero toxins in any of that tattoos I have ever had done.

  11. Fantastic article! Cheers!

  12. ‘Real men’ might want to also think about impotence, which is totally linked to eating animals. Penile erectile dysfunction is a degenerative disease which is a disease that is caused by improper diet and lifestyle and is therefore reversible by proper or improved diet and lifestyle. So yes, penile erectile dysfunction is 100% reversible. The veins in the penis are much smaller and ED is a sure sign that your arteries may be clogging up as well (heart disease, stroke). So be a real man and stay alive and have a healthy sex life well into old age without taking stupid, dangerous pills. We don’t need to consume animals to live. There is so much proof out there. But don’t take my word for it. Research it yourself, guys.

  13. Great blog Paul, informative yet not proselytizing.

    I, on the other hand, will proselytize a little. My wife I, being mature, juicing raw foodists, no longer suffer from the chronic lifestyle-induced degenerative diseases that once plagued our existence. We now thrive while many around us suffer from what they are led to believe are age-related declines and/or genetically-predisposed maladies.

    Wake up citizens of the US. Know that because, in our society, wealth trumps health, each of us must seek wellness beyond the veil of modern medicine and her keeper – big pharma.

  14. This is an excellent and well-written post! Thank you! I have been a vegan for almost 3 years and, believe me, I am not a skinny white woman!!

  15. Wonderful article! I was aware of this information but the way you put it together was beautifully perfect and straightforward. Thank you!

  16. Such a great article that will definitely be shared by this gal!

  17. What about vitamin B12 deficiencies. I’ve heard many vegans end up with this because of the abstinance of animal foods. Also, where do you get omega 3’s from?

    Some of the best marketing ever has come out of the dairy industry. Whenever I tell people I avoid dairy, they ask: “Where do you get your calcium,” and I say: “From dark, leafy greens and broccoli, of course!” Studies show that calcium from vegetables are more bioavailable, as well. And you can get all the nutrients that you can get in dairy elsewhere.

    I also hesitate to think meat is inherently bad for humans. The way it is produced for the masses, I think it is, but if properly raised, and consumed moderately, there is no issue. Like Chris mentions different diets work for different people. I believe more disease is caused by processing foods (meat included,) than by whole foods, no matter what type.

    Good article!

  18. I’m so very happy for those who have found a diet for their optimal health, but sadly my experience with “Vegans” is they are arrogant. I eat fruits, veg, nuts, seeds, quinoa, beans etc. but I refuse to eat fake eggs, fake meat, fake cheese. If I crave an egg, “one of natures perfect nutritional packages”, I will eat an organic, certified humane egg.

  19. Sorry, maybe not arrogant, maybe intolerant of non vegans.

  20. Great article Paul, it fits with my own sentiments exactly. As a vegan, I get asked so many questions about what I am eating. It is like eating healthy has become a foreign thing to most people! I sometimes feel like saying to those interrogating me and my food: maybe you should pay this much attention to the food that YOU are eating, and you would be healthier!

    I never want to be dogmatic in my approach to veganism, and I totally understand that we all have a unique bio-individuality, and I love your approach Paul, which is informative yet not pushy. Well done!

  21. Great article! I have been “Plant Powered” for a couple of weeks and loving it. I am still working on removing dairy…it feels intuitively right to remove it from my diet yet I still find it difficult (yogurt & cheese mainly). I usually go full tilt with something but for me I feel like leaning into this new way of eating is the best choice and I am having fun experimenting along the way!

  22. Hi Paul, I bought your e-book and I love it!!! Great article. I love that you never judge even though some have a tendency to judge you. I too used to think that Vegans were tree hugging hippies and animal rights activist. My family has been on a plant based diet for over four months and the results have been insane. I have many people that I have shared this info with and have found many like-minded people. I wish I would have been educated earlier in my life, but I am confident that my children will grow in to healthy adults. Thank you. BTW I really dislike the word “vegan”. It is too easily misinterpreted.

  23. Erin — Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed my book! If you make any recipes, take photos and post to instagram or twitter.

    PS: I’m not a big fan of the word “vegan” either. Labels are for jars, not people – that’s why I didn’t use on my book cover.

  24. Good article. Its good to be hearing so much more from male vegans these days.

  25. I totally agree with Leon above – that people are getting nutritional “facts” from snippets in the media without bothering to research the whole story. Then they repeat these snippets as if they are gospel. Thank you, Paul, for encouraging people to go deeper and do their reading before making decisions about diet and health.

  26. Enjoying everyone’s posting, in response to Still On The Farm, I too will not eat FAKE meat, cheese, eggs, etc…. this is not whole food and eating most processed foods in boxes(packaging) will also not enhance your health. Most soy and corn products are now GMO, so I do not eat anything with soy or corn derived filler products. Great resource is the book In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, highly recommend it!
    Thank you and here is to the ability to educate ourselves for better health!

  27. Hi! I liked many of your points. I’m a naturopathic medical student and wanted to add that I see a ton of patients who are lacking in protein. Many people, vegan or not eat too many carbs and do not balance their carb intake with a protein at each meal so the sugar from the carbs gets absorbed too quickly and spikes their blood glucose. Dysglycemia is a risk factor for the diseases you mentioned, like diabetes and cancer.

    I think a vegan diet is great for promoting a predominately plant based diet, which I think all diet camps can agree on. The challenge is if you can be a good vegan – get enough quality protein and eat only whole foods. Vegan cheese and other meat substitute products are no better than any other processed food. One of my favorite teachers says, if you have to read the ingredients to know what it is, don’t eat it.

  28. Thanks for the book recommendation, Whole Food Fan, just downloaded “In Defence of Food” & also M. Pollen’s book the “Omnivore’s Dilemma”. Looking forward to the read.

    Thanks

  29. Thanks for the book recommendation, Whole Food Fan, just downloaded “In Defence of Food” & also M. Pollan’s book the “Omnivore’s Dilemma”. Looking forward to the read.

    Thanks

  30. Great article! I think it’s funny how everyone’s so quick to talk about protein and calcium – but so many omnivores here in Italy eat just pasta with cheese for lunch – where are your vitamins? I’m for the “live and let live” mentality, but I often find myself attacked by omnivores that think they know better.