Eating plant-based is on the rise as more and more folks discover the health benefits of eating this way. Despite its growing popularity, there’s still a ton of misinformation around a plant-based lifestyle. Let’s tackle (and bust) 5 common plant-based myths:
If you’re already eating plant-based, I’m sure you’re sick of talking about protein…I’m sorry! If you’re new to eating this way and worried you won’t get enough protein, here’s the simple answer: you’ll be fine as long as you’re eating a whole food plant-based diet and not a junk food vegan diet.
What’s the difference between whole food plant-based and junk food vegan? A vegan diet means abstaining from animal products. But you can be vegan and eat unhealthy foods — Oreos are technically vegan, after all. A whole food plant-based also means limiting or avoiding animal products, but is health-focused and centers around unprocessed or minimally processed grains, legumes, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
The only way to be protein deficient is by not getting enough real food overall (Oreos all day). A well-rounded plant-based diet provides the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein, no problem. The official RDA for protein is 8% to 10% of total calories consumed.
Notice this is NOT a minimum; this is the recommended amount.
Here’s the thing: Americans should stop fretting about vegans lacking protein (they’re not!). Instead, maybe fret a little about how so many people on the Standard American Diet aren’t getting enough protein and are eating too much protein, which increases our risk for chronic diseases and long-term health issues.
Spinach: 1 cup = 7 grams
Kale: 1 cup = 5 grams
Peas: 1 cup = 9 grams
Nut butter: 2 tablespoons = 8 grams
Quinoa: 1 cup = 9 grams
Lentils: 1 cup = 18 grams
Beans: 1 cup = 13-15 grams
Tempeh: 1 cup = 30 grams
First, you can get more than enough calcium on a plant-based diet. Many veggies are high in calcium, especially leafy greens.
And here’s another thing to consider: the dairy industry’s claim that milks builds stronger bones isn’t necessarily true.
Research shows that animal products can actually deplete calcium from your bones, whereas plant-based calcium sources do not. This may explain why populations with the most milk consumption have the highest rates of hip fractures.
Protect your bones by doing weight-bearing exercises, getting enough Vitamin D, and eating plant-based foods for calcium.
Kale: 1 cup = 101mg calcium
Soybeans: 1 cup = 515mg soy
Spinach: 1 cup = 30mg calcium
Collard greens: 1 cup = 84mg calcium
Broccoli: 1 cup = 70mg calcium
Connected to the protein myth, there’s a big worry that if you switch to a plant-based diet your athletic performance and/or ability to build muscle will suffer.
Don’t fret — as you can see from this image of plant-based body builder, Torre Washington, the opposite appears to be true. Studies show eating a vegan diet can actually reduce your recovery time between workouts by lowering inflammation in the body.
Thanks to nutrient density and anti-inflammatory properties, it’s no wonder more and more professional athletes, from Serena Williams to Tom Brady, are switching to plant-based foods.
As for not being able to gain muscle, more protein does not equal more muscle. Adding more protein to your workout routine while maintaining the same amount of physical exertion will not yield bigger muscles or faster gains. In fact, adding too much protein can have adverse effects on your health, as we mentioned in Myth #1.
We could go on and on about how delicious plant-based food can be but if you’re eating a Standard American Diet — one that’s high in saturated fat, salt, and added sugar — you probably won’t like the taste of whole food plant-based meals, at first. Your taste buds have lost sensitivity and are dulled from years of junk.
The good news: your taste buds can re-set in a matter of weeks when you stop eating a high fat, sugar, and salt diet.
Our advice: try eating exclusively whole food plant-based for 2 weeks and give your taste buds some time to regain sensitivity. Research shows the longer you eat whole food plant-based foods, the more you’ll like the taste of the food and eventually, Standard American fare will taste too fatty, salty, and sugary.
Don’t lose any sleep worrying over this myth. A plant-based diet high in complex carbohydrates and fiber is linked with improved sleep quality. A high fat diet, on the other hand, can diminish sleep quality.
After switching from Standard American Diet foods to a plant-based diet, you may also find you have more energy during the day. Plants are much easier on your digestive system than animal products. When you’re body is working hard to digest, you can feel drained.
Join our 2-Week Plant-Based Challenge here to get ready-made meals delivered to your door, plus real-time support from our plant-based experts and community of over 500 plant-based beginners!
By Ali Brown
Ali is a nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.
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