BUSTED! … the top 10 vegan food myths

| 1 November 2022
minute reading time

Is being vegan more expensive? Do vegans miss out on nutrients? Is eating tofu harmful? Are we wheat-eaters or meat-eaters? Here we debunk 10 of the most common vegan food myths.


1. Being vegan is expensive

The idea that vegan food is more expensive may apply more to some ready meals, processed foods and restaurant menus, which sometimes overprice vegan options. A vegan diet based on fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses and wholegrain foods, however, is much cheaper than one that relies on meat, fish, eggs and cheese. Vegan staples such as tofu, tinned and dried beans, lentils, quinoa and pasta are some of the most affordable foods you can find. Check out Viva!’s Vegan Recipe Club budget recipes here: veganrecipeclub.org.uk/budget-recipes.


2. Vegan diets lack protein

It’s time to stop asking where vegans get their protein! The same place as horses, elephants, rhinos and gorillas is a good answer. The notion of ‘complete protein’ and concerns about vegans missing out are outdated. According to a study published in the journal Nutrients in 2019, a varied vegan diet – one that provides enough energy – will also provide all the protein you need. Reliable sources include soya and other pulses (peas, beans and lentils), nuts, seeds and wholegrains such as quinoa but all foods contain some protein.


3. We are designed to eat meat

Evidence shows our ancient ancestors ate a much more plant-based diet than Paleo pundits would have you think. They ate roasted root vegetables, leafy vegetables, celery, figs, nuts, seeds and chenopodium seeds, which are like quinoa. Our blunt little canine teeth, soft fingernails, long intestines and enzymes that help us digest carbs, are just a few of the features that show we are better suited to plant foods – much more wheat-eaters than meat-eaters!

Dr William C. Roberts, Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Cardiology, says: “Although most of us conduct our lives as omnivores, in that we eat flesh as well as vegetables and fruits, human beings have characteristics of herbivores, not carnivores.”


4. Chicken is the healthy option

Chicken was heralded as a ‘healthy’ option in the 1970s, being lower in fat than red meat. Since then, selective breeding has focused on rapid growth and supermarket chickens now provide more calories from fat than from protein, and much of that fat is saturated. A high saturated fat intake increases the risk of breast, prostate and bowel cancer as well as heart disease and diabetes. If you’re looking for a healthier option, swap the chicken for chickpeas!


5. You need cow’s milk for calcium

From an early age, my generation was told we could only get the calcium our bones needed from cow’s milk and dairy products. Untrue! Some 70 per cent of the world’s population are lactose intolerant and cannot digest the sugar in milk and so avoid milk and dairy products but they are not crumbling away! It may come as a shock to discover that the highest rates of osteoporosis and bone fractures are seen in the countries that consume the most dairy.

Dairy alternatives have become a mainstream choice, with one in every three people in the UK opting for plant-based milks – and almost half of 25 to 44-year-olds. This is good news for the planet as plant milks have a much lower environmental impact than dairy. Reliable sources of calcium include sesame seeds and tahini, tempeh, wholemeal bread, baked beans, figs, almonds, Brazil nuts, kale, spring greens and watercress. Tofu (made with calcium sulphate) and calcium-fortified plant milks and yoghurts also provide useful sources. Vitamin D, obtained mostly from the effect of sunshine on your skin, is also important as it helps your body to absorb calcium.


6. Vegan diets are not good for your health

Vegans have a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. A healthy, varied vegan diet lowers the risk of all these top killer diseases and more! Diets containing meat and dairy, even at low amounts, are linked to a higher risk of these diseases. More and more people are adopting a vegan lifestyle, including an increasing number of athletes, because it is better for your health and the planet!


7. Avocados, almonds and food miles

Headlines suggesting that vegans who eat avocados and almonds do more harm to the planet than people who eat local meat and dairy are wrong. The idea that only vegans eat avocados and almonds is ridiculous but even if that was true, a vegan diet would still be more sustainable than one containing meat and dairy, even if locally sourced. Transportation makes up a very small amount of the total carbon footprint of food and what you eat is far more important than where your food travelled from. Meat and dairy lie at the heart of the climate crisis – and that includes local grass-fed, methane-producing beef!


8. Vegans need supplements

All large health bodies agree that well-planned vegan diets can provide all the nutrients you need. However, everyone, regardless of diet, should consider taking a vitamin D supplement during winter and vegans need to ensure a good intake of B12. This vitamin is produced by bacteria that naturally live in soil and traditionally, both people and animals got their B12 from eating unwashed plant foods. Modern food production is now so sanitised that both us and farmed animals must get B12 from other sources.

This is why farmed animals are given B12 supplements and so meat and dairy are not ‘natural’ sources. Good sources include yeast extract, plant milks, nutritional yeast and margarines – providing they’ve been fortified with added B12. For vegans and older adults (regardless of diet) a B12 supplement is the best option.


9. Soya foods are bad for your health and the rainforest

There is no scientific evidence that soya harms human health. Scare-stories about soya interfering with sexual development or fertility are based on flawed animal experiments where animals were injected with high doses or force-fed excessive amounts. Soya provides an excellent source of protein, healthy polyunsaturated fats, disease-busting antioxidants, B vitamins and iron. Soya protein lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease. Girls who eat soya have a lower risk of breast cancer as adults and eating soya after a breast cancer diagnosis may reduce recurrence and improve survival.

Deforestation to make way for soya is an environmental disaster – but not because of vegans! Over 70 per cent of the world’s soya is fed to livestock. If you want to protect your health and the planet, swap that burger for tofu!


10. Vegans don’t get enough iron

It’s a tired old myth that you need meat for iron. One of the largest studies of vegetarians and vegans, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Oxford study, compared the diets of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans and found that vegans had the highest intake of iron – meat-eaters came last! The best sources include wholegrain foods, pulses, seeds, dried fruit and dark green leafy vegetables. Vitamin C can help boost iron absorption.

There it is, the top 10 vegan food myths busted! Be reassured, a healthy, varied, vegan diet is best for your health and the planet and of course the animals too!

About the author
Dr. Justine Butler
Justine joined Viva! in 2005 after graduating from Bristol University with a PhD in molecular biology. After working as a campaigner, then researcher and writer, she is now Viva!’s head of research and her work focuses on animals, the environment and health. Justine’s scientific training helps her research and write both in-depth scientific reports, such as White Lies and the Meat Report, as well as easy-to-read factsheets and myth-busting articles for consumer magazines and updates on the latest research. Justine also recently wrote the Vegan for the Planet guide for Viva!’s Vegan Now campaign.

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