My vegan friends are some of the most dedicated and loyal people I know.
I mean, it takes a lot to avoid all the delicious animal products abundant in our diets nowadays.
However, when I started researching veganism, I discovered some common lies and myths circulating in the community.
To be clear, I don’t believe vegans are lying to us (or themselves). I think they may be a little misinformed and looking at things through rose-colored glasses.
As you all know, I’m not a fan of overly restrictive diets.
Guess what? Vegans follow one of the strictest diets out there. Not only do they avoid animal products of all kinds, but they also generally don’t touch:
- Trans fats
- Refined sugar
- Processed grains
- Processed vegetable oils
- Artificial sweeteners, flavors, or preservatives
At first glance, these restrictions sound like a healthy approach to nutrition. Eliminating refined sugar, oils, and grains will generally help you eat fewer calories, which can help you lose weight.
But what the other restrictions of veganism? Are all of the claims they make accurate?
Is mock meat better for you than the real thing?
Do potatoes have more protein than steak?
Is the Impossible Whopper better than a regular Whopper?
Here are nine impossible whoppers, I mean lies, vegans like to tell that should be corrected.
- 1. There’s More Protein In Vegetables Than In Meat
- 2. Our Primate Ancestors Are Vegan So We Should Be Too
- 3. Humans Were Not Meant To Be Carnivores
- 4. Vegans Easily Get Enough (Healthy) Fat
- 5. Vegans Can Get All of Their Nutrients From Plants Without Supplements
- 6. Vegans Never Have Cancer Or Heart Disease
- 7. Vegan Food Is Always Healthier
- 8. Eating Vegan Is Cheaper Than Eating Animal Products
- 9. It’s Becoming Easier To Be A Vegan
- The Bottom Line on Vegan Lies
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None of these are vegan friendly. So where do vegans get their protein from?
Well, a lot of vegans claim that the protein found in many plants rivals that found in meat.
But doesn’t that sound too good to be true?
Here’s a list of protein-packed foods:
- Tofu (firm, tempeh, natto): 20 to 30 g of protein per cup
- Navy beans: 20 g of protein per cup
- Hemp seeds: 10 g of protein per 2 tablespoons
- Sprouted beans, peas, and lentils: 9.2 g of protein per cup
- Quinoa: 8 g of protein per cup
- Green peas: 7.9 g of protein per cup
- Greek yogurt: 23 g of protein per cup
- Steak (top or bottom round): 23 g of protein per 3 oz.
- Sockeye salmon: 23 g of protein per 3 oz.
- Boneless, skinless chicken breast: 24 g of protein per 3 oz.
- Yellowfin tuna: 25 g of protein per 3 oz.
- Boneless pork chops: 26 g of protein per 3 oz.
Notice something here?
Except for Greek yogurt, most of the non-vegan protein sources provide more than double the amount of protein in less than half the serving. You’re going to need a lot of vegetables to make up for the protein found in non-vegan foods.
As you may remember from this article about delicious protein packed foods, we need the amino acids protein provides for our bodies. Protein allows our bodies to transport nutrients and supports our muscles so we can move. From regulating hormones to healthy skin and hair, our body needs protein to perform every function.
To be clear, vegans can round up the same amount of protein non-vegans would typically eat to maintain a healthy protein intake. However, they have to work harder to do so.
Is it better to work smarter or harder?
A non-vegan diet is more flexible than a vegan diet.
Flexibility gives you efficiency, which leads to smarter choices about your diet.
Summary: Although vegans can match the protein intake of meat eaters, they can’t do so efficiently since most meat sources have double the protein content of typical vegan sources.
Many vegans preach that since humans evolved from apes they should follow diets similar to our primitive ancestors.
What do gorillas and apes eat? World Wildlife says that gorillas eat a “mainly vegetarian diet, feeding on stems, bamboo shoots and fruits.”
Research shows that primates in the wild rarely develop lifestyle diseases like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes because of their high activity levels. Vegans conclude that since apes don’t eat meat (or refined grains and sugar) and they’re managing to avoid serious diseases, we should eat like this, too.
Another paper shows that ape digestive tracts are longer than humans due to their diet being high in low quality plant foods. Since humans have shorter digestive tracts, we need higher amounts of protein for better health.
Another thing to consider is that primates actually do eat other animals, namely insects, birds, and lizards. In fact, research shows eating insects has become an important part of primate evolution and fills important gaps in nutrients like healthy fats and protein.
Chimpanzees have also been shown to kill and eat tortoises for nutritional needs as shown by recent research.
What we should learn from our primitive ancestors is this: eat more fruits and veggies and make sure to eat lean sources of protein occasionally.
Summary: Although primates are primarily plant based eaters (frugivores), they also eat other animals to fill nutritional gaps in their diet, so they aren’t vegans.
Some vegans claim that our genetic makeup means we shouldn’t be omnivores by nature.
They say since we lack claws, sharp teeth, and strong hydrochloric acid in our stomachs to digest meat, we’re biologically programmed to only eat fruits and vegetables.
However, research suggests that even though we don’t have the same bodies as carnivores in the wild, learning to cook and eat meat is one of the factors that allowed humans and apes to separate as species. Eating meat and gaining new nutrients apes didn’t have access to actually enlarged our brains and furthered our evolutionary development.
We became omnivores, able to eat plants, meat, and everything in between.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, told LiveScience that, “It is certainly possible to survive on an exclusively raw diet in our modern day, but it was most likely impossible to survive on an exclusively raw diet when our species appeared.”
Summary: Although humans don’t have typical carnivorous features, the new nutrients gained from eating meat is how humans have evolved beyond other primates.
Whenever you have a nutrient that’s necessary for your body, but can’t be made by your body, it’s called an essential nutrient.
You have to get these nutrients from your diet.
Since our bodies cannot make essential fatty acids, you can only consume them through your diet. There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You can find EPA and DHA in foods like fatty fish. These are readily available for our bodies to use the second we start digesting them.
However, even though ALA occurs in vegan-friendly foods like nuts and seeds, our bodies have a harder time converting ALA into usable forms like EPA and DHA.
DHA can be found in red brown algae, but let’s be honest—how many vegans do you know that eat algae on a daily basis?
Vegans can get these essential fats, but it’s far from easy.
Summary: There are three essential fats you must get from your diet and vegans can only get one of them easily from their diet.
Getting all the nutrients you need is difficult with an omnivorous let alone a restrictive diet like the vegan diet.
This is true for a variety of reasons. This includes the way we cultivate food now and what animals used for slaughter are fed.
Many vegans have to take vitamin B12 because B12 is not found in plants.
We only need about a microgram of B12 each day. If we’re eating animal-based foods, we’re certainly getting more than this.
Some animal products that contain high amounts of B12 include liver, clams, and beef. A single flat iron steak contains around 200% of the RDI for B12.
What’s not used by our bodies immediately gets stored. However, if you stay on the vegan road long enough, then those stores become depleted. That’s not great because this vitamin is critical to ensuring our cells function correctly in our bodies.
We need vitamin D for bone and dental health, nervous system regulation, and preventing tissue damage.
Vitamin D is commonly found in dairy products and foods like tuna, salmon, and eggs. These sources are all off-limits for vegans.
While research proves you can get your RDI of vitamin D by eating vegetables, vegans need to pay attention to the oxalate content of those vegetables for them to be worth it. Research shows if foods have a high oxalate content, less vitamin D is absorbed by the body.
So, unless you like eating tons of kale for its low oxalate content, or sitting out in the sun to absorb your vitamin D during cold months, you’re going to need to add these supplements to your diet if you become a vegan.
Summary: Not only do vegans have to supplement certain vitamins like vitamin B12 and D that aren’t found in plants, they also have to be aware that anti-nutrients like oxalates can stop absorption of other important nutrients, which can lead to deficiencies.
Part of this lie is true.
Since vegans don’t eat meat products or dairy, that rules out a lot of common junk food that people tend to overeat. Even though veganism might not be ideal, it’s better than the standard
However, vegans may be at risk for certain types of cancer.
Something else to consider is many vegan foods are still highly processed. Many of these foods have GMO soy in them that’s soaked with glyphosate containing herbicides.
Glyphosate has been shown to increase cancer risk by as much as 41% in recent studies.
Vegans should also be careful when choosing what kind of vegan diet they follow. Research shows vegan diets high in starches, refined grains, and sweets can actually increase the risk of heart disease.
These vegans, colloquially known as “soygans” and “starchitarians” often end up being sicker after adopting this lifestyle.
Summary: Vegans generally have lower instances of cancer and heart disease, but this is heavily dependant upon the type of vegan diet people eat.
Just because something isn’t made from animal products doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
In fact, vegan substitutes for animal products like mock meats and dairy can end up being worse for you because they’re heavily processed.
For example, do you know what’s in butter?
Butterfat, milk proteins, and water. The process of butter churning has been around for centuries. But since it’s an animal product, vegans can’t use it.
Vegan approved faux butter like Earth Balance spread advertises their product with a natural name and logo aimed at vegans.
But the ingredients?
Palm fruit oil, canola oil, soybean oil, flax oil, sunflower lecithin, lactic acid, and ‘naturally extracted’ food color.
These are some of the worst oils to use and eat.
Summary: Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy since many vegan alternatives are heavily processed and arguably worse for you than what they’re meant to replace.
As Antonia Noori Farzan wrote for The Billfold, while veggies and fruits are cheaper than meat per pound typically, going vegan is still going to raise your grocery bill.
Farzan used to spend $270 per month on groceries, but that number jumped to $375 when she became a vegan.
No, it’s not the fruits and veggies that racked up the bill; it’s the other vegan approved replacements that are expensive.
- Vegan sour cream ($5.99) compared to organic sour cream ($3)
- Amy’s vegan macaroni and soy cheese ($4.69) instead of the real cheese version ($3.69)
- Vegan pints of ice cream that start at $6.99 (Ben & Jerry’s are usually around $5)
- 16 oz. coconut milk yogurt ($5.49) instead of the same sized container of Chobani ($3.99)
Summary: The vegan replacements for typical animal products are actually more expensive on average than the things they’re replacing.
While veganism is becoming more popular thanks to celebrities and clever recipes on the Internet, vegans are still in the minority.
According to One Green Planet, “7.5 million people in the U.S. now eat diets that do not include any animal products.” While that number sounds pretty high, it actually only accounts for 2.5 percent of the population. The numbers are similar in other countries as well.
Unless you’re going to a strictly vegan restaurant, chances are that a vegan meal is going to fall into three categories: salad, grilled or roasted side-dish-vegetables-turned-into-an-entree, or something on the menu with the protein taken off the plate.
Even though the trend is upwards, vegans are still going to have a hard time eating out with their non-vegan friends or family members.
Summary: Veganism is trending upward, but vegans are still in the minority and their food options still remain fairly limited compared to other diets.
I believe just like there are tons of recipes for great lasagna, there are a ton of great ways to reach your health goals.
You can be healthy while eating a vegan diet, you just have to be honest with yourself about what it takes.
You have to understand a few things upfront:
- It’s harder to get protein efficiently as a vegan
- Our primate relatives are not naturally vegans, but frugivores (Eating mostly fruits and plants along with small amounts of other animals to fill nutritional gaps)
- Humans evolved beyond our primate ancestors because of cooked plants and meat
- Vegans can’t get all essential nutrients like certain fats from plants
- Careful supplementation is a must for a healthy vegan diet
- Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy
- The type of vegan diet you’re on greatly influences your risk of disease
- Vegan foods are generally more expensive than their animal-based counterparts
- Though veganism is becoming more popular, the options are still limited
If you can accept these things, you can definitely be a healthy vegan.
And if you want to learn more about healthy vegan dieting, check out this article on how to be a vegan bodybuilder: