March 10, 2014

Three Vegetarian Myths You Should Know!

This post is inspired by three people:  the dinner companion who called a salad “Rabbit Food”, a drug rep who I offered a taste of my cooking and told me:  “I guess I’ll try it, I’ll try about anything!” as if vegan food could be on Fear Factory, and the friend who told me that she made a vegetarian dish and was surprised it was “filling”.   Don't get me wrong - I respect people of all diets but I feel that eating veggie is sometimes viewed in a negative way and I'd like to shed some light on common myths associated with the diet. 

  1. Vegetarian Cuisine leaves you hungry:
Fat and protein are satiating and so is fiber, so including these components in a meal will create a satisfying experience, whether you feature meat or not.  An interesting article came out last year in the Washington Post  which suggests that humans enjoy the flavor of meat due to the combination of fat and umami flavor.  Umami is the “fifth taste” and described as savory (vs. sweet, salty, sour, bitter).  Most people would feel hungry if they only ate a green salad without dressing – boring!  Add in a protein source like beans or tofu and a fat source like olive oil or flax dressing and you’re getting the same type of profile you would from a meat dish plus extra vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.   When you eat a plant-based diet, you often fill up on fiber already, so add in some delicious seasonings and a fat plus a protein source for optimal balance and satiety.  Vegetarians certainly do not walk around hungry all day just because they don’t eat meat.

  1. Long-term Vegetarianism or Veganism is unhealthy or dangerous:
I tell folks all the time, if you are a vegetarian, you need to eat vegetables!   Any diet could potentially be unhealthy if unbalanced.  An all carb and cheese diet isn’t going to cut it….teen vegetarians are notorious for this.  To get access to vital nutrients, you need a mix of complex carbohydrates, protein sources, fats, fruits and lots of veggies.  There are so many studies linking a plant-based diet to increased longevity and health, the idea that they are unhealthy or unsustainable is definitely a myth.  Per a review of the literature in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:  “There is convincing evidence that vegetarians have lower rates of coronary heart disease, largely explained by low LDL cholesterol, probable lower rates of hypertension and diabetes mellitus, and lower prevalence of obesity. Overall, their cancer rates appear to be moderately lower than others living in the same communities, and life expectancy appears to be greater.” 

  1. You need more protein than a veggie diet can give:
There’s this old myth that needs to die about protein combinations from a book written in 1971 by a sociologist.  (Side note, she has since retracted her suggestion about protein combining, but the information lives on).   You’ve undoubtedly heard it before: meat is a “whole” protein source and plants (except soy) are missing key amino acids so you need to combine plants during each meal to make the protein complete.  If this were true, I’m sure humans would never have survived this long and the fact is that our bodies are very smart about putting together the proteins we eat over time as they gather all the building blocks needed to function.   If you’re aiming for 50-60 grams of protein per day, consider the following:

Tofu: ½ cup=20 grams
Kidney beans: 1 cup = 13 grams
     Almonds: ¼ cup=5 grams
     Quinoa (cooked): 1 cup=8 grams
     Lentils (cooked):  1 cup=18 grams

My favorite, favorite thing to discuss with patients when myth-busting protein is to present all the incredible vegan athletes in the world.  I just followed a vegan body builder on Twitter: Big Nelly (@AlphaD307).   He is super buff and very nice.  I provide articles to patients on vegan athletes including a raw vegan Olympain , vegan ironman, and vegan ultra marathon runner.  It's incredible what your body can do fueled by plants alone. 


  1. While I am an omnivore, you can easily get enough protein per day w/o meat. Whole wheat pasta, eggs, milk (including soy), peanut butter, avocadoes: plenty of typical foods with good amounts of protein.

  2. Agreed - good point! You can get enough protein without including soy, if you want to do that - plant foods are full of protein. Thanks for stopping by :)

  3. I typed "no longer vegan" on youtube and I found a never ending battalion of people who left the vegan diet because of health problems. Also, I read thousands comments of ex vegans who were sick. Finally, I did my own research and I found the following articles (just a small sample):

    Nevertheless, I found out that India is the widest vegan country in the world, but life expectancy is just 71 years. Nevertheless diabete and other diseases are at very high rate. Did I miss something?


  4. Great references, Luke - thanks for sharing! I have heard some of these arguments lately and agree that a vegan or vegetarian diet gone wrong can lead to deteriorating health. Any diet, unbalanced or lacking in critical nutrients, can be a problem. I do believe that a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diet can be a sustainable and healthful diet, even in the long run, but with these types of restrictions, a person needs to be educated. Dietitians can help here - I can point you or anyone that needs to wonderful practitioners who really know their stuff and can help create an optimal vegan diet.

  5. Also consider the large animals that exist on vegetarian diets...with the exception of the occasional tiny critters they may accidently consume. They are getting plenty of protein from plants alone. Why eat "grass fed" animals and just eat the plants directly?