Vegetarian diets are a trend currently on the rise. Each day, more and more people are leaning towards a healthier, greener and more sustainable lifestyle, and going vegetarian is one of the fundamental pillars in this change.
The benefits of a vegetarian diet are many, and they are only surpassed by the numerous myths and misconceptions that revolve around it. Chances are, you probably heard of many before. From things that have to do with the supposed poor nutritional value in plant-based diets, to foodies that complain about the alleged lack of variety when you take away the meat from the plate, the amount of unsubstantiated information that flies around in the Internet is overwhelming, and seldom you see people taking the initiative of setting the record straight.
In this article, we take matters into our own hands and tackle the three most prevalent myths about vegetarian diets. We will identify the myth, look into its origin, break it down, and clarify it, destroying common places that have been misguiding too many people over the years.
Let’s get going, then, shall we?
1 – You Can’t Get Enough Protein On A Vegetarian Diet
Yup, this is the grand daddy of them all. You tell someone you are a vegetarian and, all of a sudden, people automatically turn into nutritionists and protein specialists. “If you don’t eat meat, where do you get your protein?”, people will ask.
Yes, meat is an important source of protein. However, what many people fail to understand is that meat is not the only source of protein out there. More importantly, even before worrying about stuffing ourselves with protein, we must establish how much protein we actually need in the first place. Let’s approach each of these two subjects one at a time, and shed some light into the debate.
Whole, natural plant-based foods DO contain protein. Not only that, some vegetables, like soy, actually have more protein than popular protein sources, like milk and some meats. Here are some examples worth mentioning (values established per 100 grams):
- – Couscous: 15.1g
- – Pasta: 12.5g
- – Peanut Butter: 25g
- – Pumpkin Seeds: 29g
- – Brown Rice: 7g
- – Peas: 6g
And the list goes on and on. There are literally hundreds of legumes, beans, grains, cereals, vegetables, and even fruits that contain considerable amounts of protein. Notice that, just from this short list alone, any meal containing at least two of these ingredients would provide you with roughly 1/3 of your daily protein requirements. Three meals like this a day and you would have all the protein you would need to strengthen your immune system, repair damaged muscle cells and produce new ones.
Bottom line: there is plenty of protein in vegetarian diets.
Now, the second part of myth: establishing one’s daily protein requirements. Just think about it, when was the last time you saw someone being hospitalized for a protein deficiency? That’s right, never!
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an adult man needs roughly 56 grams of protein daily, while an average woman needs a little less, about 46 grams.
That said, and knowing you can easily meet your protein requirements with the vegetarian foods available, rather than stressing about protein, what usually works like a charm is to simply be mindful to include one decent vegetable protein source in every meal or snack. All it takes is something with a little bit of protein in your plate, then, you do your regular 4 to 5 meals a day, and you can check the protein box in your diet.
And you want to know the nest part? Following a vegetarian diet, not only will you get all the protein you need, for the first time in your life you won’t suffer from an excess of it!
At the end of the day, when it comes to nutrition, this is what truly matters: eating the right foods, in the right proportions.
2 – Vegetarians Tend To Be Always Weak Or Tired
People assume vegetarians are more prone to fatigue or physical under-performance mostly because meat is packed with iron and vitamin B12. These nutrients are essential for preventing anaemia and sustaining energy levels. However, shunning animal products doesn’t automatically make vegetarians iron or B12 deficient, since all they need is to nourish their body with healthy, nutrient-rich alternatives.
As long as vegetarians eat plenty of plant-based sources of iron, such as beans and dark leafy vegetables, like spinach, their iron needs will be covered. And as for vitamin B12, it may be hard to get it from from non-animal sources, but you can find it in fortified cereals or soy milk, or you can be even more practical and simply take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Still, many people will still assume vegetarians are weaklings, incapable of excelling at demanding physical activities, such as professionals sports. Well, Martina Navratilova would certainly disagree. The former world nº 1 player, winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 major women’s doubles titles (an all-time record), and 10 major mixed doubles titles – and once dubbed “the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who’s ever lived” – was and still is a vegetarian herself.
Not enough to make the point? Well, then, consider Salim Stoudamire, the plant-eating NBA point guard, who, late in the games, when most players are starting to fade, is frequently seen picking it up a notch and racing past his meat-eating opponents who, despite of their supposed dietary advantage.
Still not convinced? This should rattle your world, then: Tony Gonzalez is a 247-pound NFL tight end. After signing a five-year contract extension, making him the league’s highest paid tight end, Tony decided to change his diet and went vegetarian. In 2008, while on a meatless diet, Tony went on to break the NFL record for receptions by a tight end.
Not too shabby for a vegetarian powerhouse, huh?
Finally, when it comes to the alleged lack of power that many people tend to think vegetarians are afflicted by, there is another common reasoning behind such thinking. It is fairly simple and goes something like this: first, meat is full of raw animal testosterone. Second, meat is full of saturated fat and, according to research, that saturated fat is pro-testosterone.
Well, to those who think this way, reality may come as a true shock. There was one recent study that directly examined which of the two groups had higher testosterone levels, vegetarians or carnivores. The researchers were mostly interested in comparing IGF-1 levels, but also monitored several other androgen-related hormones, including testosterone. Surprisingly to many, the results determined that vegetarians and vegans had average testosterone 6% and 16% higher than the carnivores, respectively.
As we know, testosterone levels have a direct influence in physical performance, and research suggests keeping meat off the menu can only help in raising testosterone production.
Long story short: vegetarians are not weak or feeble, they are actually stronger and more vigorous than meat-eaters.
3 – Vegetarians Only Eat Salads
Conventional recipes that include meat tend to follow a traditional and relatively static model: they are composed of one piece of meat or fish – the protein – and one or several side elements. It’s like each plate has a leading actor and a few supporting actors in the back, that are only there to help highlight the star even more. If you think about it, this is one way your diet can start lacking variety. Many people will focus mainly on the stake on their plate, and just nibble on the mashed potatoes or on the french fries to help push the meat down. Where is the variety in that?
A boring diet like this is far too common and is the result of poor planning and unwillingness to cook your own food.
However, when you stop eating meat, you tend to become more adventurous in your cooking and eating. Plant-based foods are delicious and satisfying. The longer you’re on a plant-based diet, the more your palate will change. And, as your palate changes and you find an entire new world of flavours and textures, you will start looking at your plate not as the stage for a meat monologue, but as a theatre where all the elements in the plate are main actors in a delicious and exquisite play.
By definition, vegetarians eat only plant-based foods, and they make sure they surround themselves with plenty of different ingredients, allowing them to combine these ingredients in colourful and delicious recipes. Now THIS is variety!
Vegetarians typically tend to make the effort to find healthy, original and nutritious recipes, shopping for ingredients in advance and making all sorts of culinary experiments in their kitchens. Of the meat-eaters you know, how many still share this passion for food? And how many of them have fallen into the comfort zone of cooking up nothing but the same 3 or 4 recipes over and over again, falling into an endless and boring culinary loop?
As paradoxical as it may seem, taking the meat away from the plate doesn’t leave you with less alternatives, it only forces you into looking at all the others you were not paying attention to.
And there you have it, the three more prevalent myths about vegetarian diets broken down, examined, dissected, and properly corrected.
In case you are thinking about giving vegetarianism a try, or in case you are a vegetarian already and frequently run into any of these poorly sustained arguments, keep this information in mind. It might just be what you need to guide you in the right direction.