To Vegan or Not to Vegan?
Earlier this month, The Boston Globe published an eye-catching article titled, “Vegan mom fed her 11-month-old only fruit and nuts. Now she faces child endangerment charges.” The story is about a mom who goes too far with her lifestyle, so extreme that her toddler son became malnourished and “failed to thrive.” The author did not try to hide his stance against veganism, adding satirical quotes from the family saying “[the mom] was going to live on water and sunlight.” Of course, anybody with common sense can tell that feeding a growing child with only fruit and nuts is a bad idea. Yet, the hostility against veganism as a lifestyle is unjustified. In fact, articles like this, attacking the vegan community and their way of life, are becoming more main-stream. Titles such as “Death by Veganism,” “Is veganism child abuse?”, or “Woman trying to prove ‘Vegans Can Do Anything’ died of altitude sickness on Mount Everest” are becoming click baits for people who would like to find every opportunity to ridicule their herbivore counterparts. Like everything else in life, people will be split when it comes to endorsing veganism, with some vouching for it while others swear they’d never even attempt to try. Regardless of where you currently stand, having a fair view without any misconception is crucial before making a judgment.
To make your decision-making process easier, here are four common misconceptions about the vegan life to consider.
- Vegan = Healthy
Yes, a lot of people decide to become vegetarians/vegans for health reasons, but a “vegan diet” does not automatically equal a healthy one. By definition, a vegan abstains from any food of animal origins, whether it is meat, fish, eggs, dairy, or even honey. That leaves them with vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, nuts, and seeds. As restricted as it sounds, this is actually a really broad range of food. You can boast yourself as vegan and live on a diet of coke, french fries, and Oreos. Similarly, people who do not abstain from meat or dairy completely, but are conscious about limiting those foods, can be a healthy bunch regardless of their status as “meat eaters.”
Because of this very reason, health enthusiasts who go on a vegan diet prefer to classify their food selection as a “whole foods, plant-based” one. This means that not only do they only consume foods of plant origins, they also make an effort to eat them in their unprocessed states. To make it easier to imagine, think of healthy eating as a continuum. An apple is most nutritious when it just got picked from the tree. If you choose to cook it down to applesauce, it still has some of the fiber and vitamins, but a lot is lost in the cooking process. By the time the apple goes into an apple pie, it is more candy than it is fruit. In that sense, you can make a vegan apple pie, but if you’d like to pursue a healthy lifestyle, you’re better off eating the fresh apple.
- Vegans don’t get enough protein
The belief that people need lots and lots of protein to build muscle and lose fat is pervasive these days, and I blame the supplement and meat industry. The more protein you think you need, the more you spend on sports bars, protein shakes, and other supplements. In reality, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is only 0.36 grams of protein per body weight, as according to The National Academy of Sciences. This means that if you are eating a traditional Western diet that has a lot of meat and dairy products, you are probably eating too much – twice as much as your body needs to be precise. Not only is this redundant, but the protein overload (animal protein, in particular) can also be very harmful. A host of chronic diseases has been linked to our tendency to load up on protein, for example: diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, impaired kidney function, heart disease, and more.
Another common (but faulty) belief that is often linked to this misconception is the idea that plants don’t have protein. In reality, you can get plenty of (good) protein from a variety of beans, nuts, grains, and even leafy vegetables. Below are some of the staples vegans love and their protein content, according to Nutrition.gov:
Tofu: 2.75g/ounce (typical block is 4 ounces)
Brown rice: 5g/cup
Peanut butter: 4g/tbsp
Soy milk: 5g/cup
As you can see, it’s not hard to get your protein while munching on your vegetables. If you eat a diet with a variety of foods, you should have no problem meeting the protein requirement.
- It is expensive to be a vegan
Like any diet, it can be costly if you choose to – meaning it really depends on the kind of food that you consume. Meat and dairy alternatives can be comparable or more expensive than their “real” counterparts; I am not going to argue with that. However, the point of a healthy vegan diet (or whole food, plant-based diet) is to eat food at more natural stages. This means that the faux meat that you usually see is too processed to be healthy, and probably shouldn’t be included as a staple in your diet. Other “real” plant-based staples, such as beans, grains, and some nuts, are actually much cheaper than animal products. Take this calculation from PlenteousVeg.com as an example:
Rolled oats: 0.7 cents per gram of protein
Dry beans: 1.1 cents per gram of protein
Dry chickpeas: 1.1 cents per gram of protein
Brown rice: 1.9 cents per gram of protein
Steak: 4.5 cents per gram of protein
Ground beef: 4 cents per gram of protein
Milk: 2.7 cents per gram of protein
Eggs: 2.5 cents per gram of protein
Another argument against veganism being too expensive is that “cheap” foods these days are actually calculated on a caloric basis – not on a nutritive one. That is why McDonald’s is considered cheap; it offers consumers a caloric bomb for a fraction of what a proper meal would be. This is fine if we are just counting (or hoarding) calories, but I would say this is not anybody’s primary goal except for body builders. To be healthy, we look for nutrients, namely vitamins, minerals, fat, protein, carbohydrates, and other essential components. Using this logic, a Big Mac is ridiculously expensive because it offers so little to your health.
- A vegan diet is restrictive
A common concern I hear when people mention veganism is that they fear the restrictions in terms of what they can eat. This is actually ironic, given the fact that if you consume meat, you are also restricted to just fish, pork, chicken, and beef. A plant-based diet, however, offers you a plethora of options when it comes to legumes, vegetables, nuts, grains, and fruits. Feeling like some leafy vegetables? Choose from kale, spinach, collard greens, cabbage, watercress, bok choy, lettuce, and countless more for you to explore. How about some beans for your protein? You can eat black beans, red kidney beans, garbanzo beans, navy beans, azuki bean, lentils, lima beans, pinto beans, and so on. You get the point.
When people think of the variety of their meals, they often refer to how the food is cooked, not the actual ingredients itself. However, an egg is an egg is an egg; it doesn’t matter whether you consume it scrambled, boiled, in your favorite brownies, or in a birthday cake. The real gem comes from the diversity of your ingredients list. The more varied your food is, the more nutrients you are getting out of it. This is where vegans tend to excel – we eat A LOT of different kinds of food. Most vegans that I know stock their pantry with at least 4 – 5 kinds of beans, 2 – 3 kinds of grain, even more kinds of nut, and a fridge full of vegetables. Eating this way, we benefit the most from what nature has to offer because each food has a different composition of micro and macro nutrients. Many studies also showed that different vegetables help prevent various cancers and other diseases. When we look at it this way, vegans are the most liberated eaters of all – we can, and we do, eat as much as we want to, limiting ourselves from nothing but the few options in the animal department.
If you are slowly opening up to the idea, rest assured that there’s a lot of (free) information out there to help you get started. Even if you choose not to, be kind to the ones who do. The choice to become a vegan might feel radical or even insane at times, but don’t forget that most people do it for good reasons; we do it for our own health, to prevent animal sufferings, to protect the environment, and just to make the world around us a better place in general. If we work towards respecting everybody regardless of their skin color, sexual orientation, and culture, why not their diets too?
For more information about the vegan lifestyle, check out the following: