6 Vegan Myths Debunked – Sharon Palmer, The Plant Powered Dietitian

What are some of the most common myths and concerns for vegan diets? From lack of protein to getting anemia, I am debunking vegan myths in this evidence-based nutrition guide today.

As a plant-based dietitian with a few decades of nutrition experience, I have heard a lot of myths on social media and when I speak at events around the country. That’s because numerous diet myths swirl around vegan diets. Yes, you can get enough protein on a completely plant-based diet. And no, you must supplement (or consume fortified foods) with vitamin B12 if you eat a vegan diet—no two ways about it. And the diet confusion and myths keep rolling in. So, I asked some of my favorite plant-based registered dietitian nutrition experts to share in the joy of setting the record straight on these common 6 vegan myths debunked.

6 Vegan Myths Debunked

Tofu Cobb Salad from Plant-Powered for Life is a great plant-based source of protein.

Myth 1: Vegans and vegetarians don’t get enough iron, so they are often anemic. 

Busted! “There are so many medical reasons someone could be anemic! Vegans have many ways to get enough iron. Studies show that vegetarians generally consume as much iron as, or slightly more than, omnivores. Iron in food is categorized as heme and non-heme. Meat contains both types of iron, while plants contain only non-heme. This is where the confusion comes in, I think. Heme iron is more readily absorbed by about 15-35%. Non-heme iron absorption varies between 2-30% but is plentiful in vegetarian foods like beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, green leafy veggies and whole grains. Vitamin C is a strong enhancer of iron absorption and adding even a small amount such as 150 mg increases iron absorption to almost 30%. I love to send people recipes that include iron-rich vegan foods that also have a good vitamin C source like this Apricot Chickpea Vegetarian Stew,” says Seattle-based dietitian and health writer, Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO. Learn more about plant-based iron sources and try one of my favorite iron-rich recipes for Tofu Cobb Salad featured above.

Smoky Sweet Potato Chili is an economic recipe featuring dried beans.

Myth 2: Eating a vegan, plant-based diet is expensive.

Busted! “Many celebrities are transforming their diets to a plant-based, vegan diet, so the diet can be associated with a more expensive lifestyle. However, eating a vegan, plant-based diet is actually one of the most inexpensive and sustainable ways to eat. By choosing wisely at the grocery store, you can actually save money,” says Sherene Chou, MS RD, Sustainable Food & Nutrition Consultant. Sherene shares these economic tips for eating plant-based:

  • Bulk Bins: You can find staples, like lentils, beans, and whole grains, which are typically under $2 per pound, to stock your pantry. Many stores also offer bulk spices, which come in handy when you only need 1-2 teaspoons for a recipe.
  • The Frozen Aisle: You can find cheaper and sometimes better tasting fruits and vegetables, like antioxidant-rich berries, which are picked at the peak of ripeness and quick-frozen to help preserve their integrity.
  • Imperfect Produce: You can find the best deals on fresh produce when looking for the imperfect ones. Markets are beginning to celebrate ugly, imperfect produce by offering lower produce prices on these fruits and vegetables. Not only can you save money, you can also help offset the food waste in our country.

Learn more about budget-friendly plant-based diets tips here.

It’s OK to enjoy treats occasionally, such as these Six Layer Vegan Magic Bars.

Myth 3:  You have to eschew all processed foods, salt, and oil in order to be healthy.

Busted! “This just isn’t the case. In fact, a diet that includes a variety of nutritious foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, in addition to pleasure foods, is most sustainable and going to lead to the best overall health in the long-term. Unfortunately, I see a lot of disordered eating among plant-based dieters. I teach people principles of intuitive eating and body acceptance and help them develop strategies for self-care that benefit their physical, mental and emotional health. I help vegans learn to ease back on restriction and enjoy a wide variety of delicious foods that fit within their ethics, “ says Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN.

Carrots at a local farmers market.

Myth 4: Vegans have really good eyesight because they eat so many foods high in beta-carotene.

Busted! “I think people misunderstand vitamin A’s role in vision with a vitamin A deficiency, which, fortunately, is rare in the US, one symptom is xerophthalmia. Xerophthalmia is a condition in which the cornea is damaged, night vision is impaired, and ultimately blindness results. Eating foods containing vitamin A, or its precursor beta-carotene, keeps xerophalmia from developing, and in that way, protects vision. However, if your diet is adequate in vitamin A, eating more won’t make your vision any better. If you need glasses, you will still need glasses no matter how many carrots you eat,” says Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, Nutrition Adviser, VRG.

Bring something healthy and delicious along as a guest, such as this recipe for Cilantro Avocado Hummus.

Myth 5: People don’t know how to deal with vegan meal requests.

Busted! “When I’m invited into someone’s home for a planned meal, I always share up that I am vegan as a courtesy to the hosts, so it’s no surprise. I add a disclaimer akin to, ‘We understand it may be different, but please don’t let it burden how you plan the event.’ In this sentence, we convey our dietary preferences without pressuring the hosts. Happily, our hosts have surpassed our expectations. Always heap loads of love onto the meal planners when they step up and create a grand-slam-home run vegan meal. They deserve it!” says Irana Hawkins, PhD, MPH, RDN. Learn more about tips on how to handle a vegan diet request in social situations here.

Eating a plant-based diet can include humble, approachable foods, such as beans and rice. Try this recipe for Black Beans and Rice Vegan Bowl.

Myth 6: Eating a vegan diet is elitist.

Busted! “While some vegan products may be high in price, that doesn’t mean a vegan diet has to be. Eating a vegan diet can be very affordable, particularity when shopping for staples such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Having worked with low-income clients for years, they were often surprised with how budget-friendly eating whole, plant-based foods could be. Some of my favorite options are dried lentils, canned beans, and frozen fruit and vegetables,” says Chris Vogliano MS, RDN.

For other blogs on healthy, plant-based eating, check out the following: 

Eating for Healthy Aging
5 Tips for Plant-Powering Your Eating Style
How to Eat a Healthy, Plant-Based Mediterranean Diet
7 Steps to Go Plant-Based
Create an Inflammation Fighting Kitchen with these Top 20 Anti Inflammatory Foods Tips
The Many Benefits of Learning How to Grow Your Own Food

Image: Tuscan Asparagus Fennel Farro Salad, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

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