Vegetarian myths and vegan misconceptions abound, and unfortunately, the vast majority of these negative vegetarianism arguments are just that: Myths and misconceptions.
But for many omnivores and meat-eaters eyeing up a lifestyle change to a plant-based diet, these untruths can seriously influence the decision-making process. If they aren’t debunked, then it’s all too easy to keep eating meat when a vegetarian lifestyle could be a healthier option.
In this article, we’ll be de-mything common myths about vegetarians and vegans, including claims that veganism is not healthy, that soy increases the risk of breast cancer, or that it’s just too expensive or difficult to maintain a vegetarian diet.
Here are the most common vegetarianism myths and misconceptions debunked.
What is a vegetarian diet?
Before we start debunking myths and introducing facts about vegetarianism and veganism, let’s define what we’re referring to as a vegetarian diet and a vegan diet.
Vegetarian diets cut out all meat, but there are varying degrees of vegetarianism that people adopt as part of their lifestyle. Some vegetarians are comfortable eating fish (pescetarians), while others might simply cut down on meat rather than entirely eliminating it (flexitarians). Others remove all eggs from their diet, while some avoid eating dairy products (or both egg and dairy products).
Vegans are entirely plant-based, and a vegan diet eliminates all meat, fish, dairy, and egg products. The majority of veggie and vegan facts and myths stem from the fact that there’s no meat or little dairy, and therefore a lack of certain nutrients.
But let’s debunk these myths about vegetarianism in more detail!
Vegetarianism myths and vegan myths debunked
#1 Vegan and veggie diets don’t have enough protein
The vegan and vegetarian protein myth is one of the biggest myths out there, and unfortunately, it’s a myth that not only seems plausible but one that routinely stops potential vegetarians from adopting a new lifestyle.
Traditionally, western diets are meat-heavy. The omnivore diet usually revolves around a dinner that includes one primary type of meat (or fish), with vegetables as the side dish. That’s because traditionally, meat is the major source of protein in the omnivore diet.
While it’s true that chicken, steak, or fish are all major sources of protein (which we need to repair and build our muscles), it’s not true that these are the only sources of protein. Vegans and veggies can easily source enough protein from plant-based products, with lentils, chickpeas, tofu, and many others offering high levels of protein.
People often wonder what happens when you stop eating meat, and the reality is that with protein-rich vegetables and veggie products, such as beans and tofu, you won’t see a noticeable difference in protein intake.
#2 Athletes can’t train on a veggie diet
Another of the most common veggie and vegan diet myths is that it’s simply incompatible if you’re an athlete, if you’re in training for a sports event or if you simply want to build muscle. This myth stems from the other myth; that there’s not enough protein in the diet.
Like that myth, this one is untrue. In fact, there are countless professional athletes who live by a vegan diet. Even the world’s strongest man was vegan.
Serious athletes do, of course, need to plan their meals to ensure they have enough protein and other essential nutrients, but with the right meal-planning, athletes can benefit from a plant-based diet.
#3 You need calcium from dairy products
Just as the traditional source of protein in western diets is meat or fish, the major source of calcium in western diets primarily comes from one type of product, dairy products. We see milk, cream, cheese, and eggs as essential to our diets, because yes, they are major sources of calcium, and we need that calcium for strong bones.
We see this almost as irrefutable, but the reality is that while we do definitely need calcium for bone strength (and children, in particular, need calcium when growing up), we don’t actually need the dairy. That’s because there are many more sources of calcium other than milk and cheese.
The best source of calcium for a veggie or vegan diet is leafy green vegetables and legumes. Including lots of green veg such as broccoli, green beans, peas, or bok choy in your diet can make up the deficit if you stop consuming dairy products.
Of course, many vegetarians continue to drink milk and eat cheese, but many vegans are also finding that there are calcium-rich substitutes for these on the market today. In the store, you’ll find a range of vegan cheeses and plant-based milks such as oat milk, or soy milk, readily available.
#4 You won’t have enough B12 in a vegan diet
B12 is one of the most important vitamins, but it’s often seen as one of the nutrients vegans lack in their diet. We need vitamin B12 to make red blood cells in our body, which are essential for carrying oxygen (we need it to live, basically!).
A traditional source of B12 is dairy products, but just like calcium, there are plenty of other sources for this essential vitamin. B12 can be found in many soy products such as tofu, while it’s also found in many different grains and cereals as well.
If you’re switching to a non-dairy diet, then you just need to ensure that you find a substitute for B12, and trust us, there are plenty of different options available to you!
#5 Soy is hazardous to health
Soy can play a major role in vegetarian and vegan diets, as it provides us with protein-rich meat-substitutes such as tofu and soy milk. However, the rumor mill is always in full swing when it comes to soy products, and they are often said to be hazardous to health.
One argument is that soy products can cause cancer (particularly breast cancer in women). There’s no evidence to support this rumor, however. Other arguments are against the pesticides or genetic engineering that might have gone into soybean production, but these days, it’s easy to select organic soy products if you’re worried about this.
#6 Plant-based diets are expensive
Meat-eaters are often quick to point out that it’s not always cheap switching to a plant-based diet. This isn’t exactly true, but there is some truth in the myth.
Of course, vegetables are always going to be cheaper than meat products. That bag of carrots is nowhere near as expensive as that packet of ground beef or rump steak. In fact, eating products such as beans, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and all those other veggies is going to cut out a lot of expenses from your grocery bill.
But where there is some truth in the myth is when we look at plant-based substitutes that have been manufactured (rather than simply farmed). Traditionally, there’s been less demand for products such as oat milk or vegan cheese, and these products are more expensive to manufacture than their traditional equivalents. If you’re switching your pork sausages for plant-based sausages, then yes, the plant-based sausages could cost more than the cheapest sausages on the shelf.
However, as vegetarian diets become more popular, surging demand has seen these products fall in price. The truth about veganism today is that these products are only going to get cheaper too.
#7 There’s no variation in a plant-based diet
Okay, so one of the most common myths that simply is not true is that there’s no variation in a plant-based diet. We beg to differ because there’s so much that can be done even with just a simple, plain block of tofu!
This myth arises from the fact that making the switch from meat-eater to plant-eater involves a lifestyle change. We grow up, in most cases, used to eating meat-based dishes. Cut out the steak, and on the face of it, you initially might think that you’re only left with the fries and the carrots.
However, there are so many different vegetables, so many meat substitutes, and so many different recipes that we can prepare using plant-based foods. Get creative, search out new cooking styles, new marinades, sauces, and new foods from around the world, and you’ll quickly find that there’s a lot more variation than that first glance had you believe.
In restaurants, too, chefs are having to adapt to changing lifestyles. While traditionally, vegetarian menus were limited, these days, there are often multiple options on the menu, as well as entire restaurants and shops dedicated to plant-based dining.
That’s one more vegetarian myth debunked!
The final word on vegan and vegetarianism myths
There are many more pros and cons when it comes to myths about vegetarianism and facts about veganism. The reality is that yes, being a vegan is unhealthy if you don’t plan your diet to include essential nutrients such as protein and B12, but the fact remains that there are lots of different plant-based foods that can provide all of the nutrients we traditionally source from meat or dairy products.
Going veggie or vegan also has benefits for the environment and the planet we live on, as well as our own personal health. It can be cheaper than a heavy meat diet, and these days, it’s not exactly a challenge to find veggie and vegan meals, even in your local restaurants!
Why not bookmark our guide to debunked vegetarianism myths for later?