Top Myths About Plant-Based Diets
By LINDSAY NIXON
"Aren't plant proteins incomplete?" "Don't you need to add oil to vegetables to access their nutrients?" "Isn't plant-based eating really expensive?" "Won't all those carbs make me fat?"
If you're considering a plant-based diet or you're new to the plant-based lifestyle, you may have questions like these. The plant-based diet is different in many ways from most others, and myths and confusion about it come from fear, ignorance or misinformation.
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Here's an overview of some of the more common myths -- and the facts:
1. I Can’t Get Enough Protein From a Plant-Based Diet
All plant foods -- including fruits and vegetables -- contain protein. Plant proteins aren't "incomplete" or missing amino acids. Nor do you need to bind or pair various plant foods together to achieve "complete" proteins because your body pulls all the necessary building blocks (amino acids) it needs from all the foods you eat, even if you don't eat them at the same time.
2. I Need "Healthy" Oils in My Diet
All plant foods contain fat, so you get plenty of dietary fat without adding high-fat sources like nuts or processed, highly condensed sources like oil.
"The reality is that oils are extremely low in terms of nutritive value. They contain no fiber, no minerals and are 100-percent fat calories. Above all, they contain saturated fat, which immediately injures the endothelial lining of the arteries when eaten," explains Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr. of the Cleveland Clinic and author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.
3. Carbs Will Make Me Fat
Complex carbohydrates (i.e., fruits, vegetables and whole grains) are the body's preferred fuel, and excess starch does not turn into body fat. Carbohydrates consumed in excess of our needs are stored (invisibly) as glycogen in the muscles and liver or are burned off as heat (a process called "facultative dietary thermogenesis") if glycogen stores are already full.
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It's the company carbohydrates keep that makes you fat. For example, it's not the potato in the potato chip or french fry that's the problem, it's the oil the potato was fried in.
In the words of Dr. John McDougall, a physician and nutrition expert, "The fat you eat is the fat you wear. Fats (and oils) are the metabolic dollar stored for the day when food is no longer available. Even 'healthy oils' are moved from the spoon to the flesh with such efficiency that you should assume every drop you eat makes that journey."
4. A Plant-Based Diet Is Expensive
Eating a plant-based diet can be affordable if you stick to the basics and steer clear of packaged, processed foods. Sure, some premium foods like vegan ice cream are pricey, but the cost is comparable to premium dairy ice cream -- and this isn't something you should be buying regularly.
Even in health-food stores, you'll find that most of the expensive items are prepared foods -- you're paying for the preparation.
Healthy, whole plant foods are reasonably priced, especially if you buy in season and/or locally. Most people who adopt a plant-based diet often find they spend less on groceries each week.
Nondairy milk (soy milk, almond milk) is usually cheaper than dairy milk. Beans, lentils and grains like rice cost a fraction of what you'd pay for even the cheapest slabs of meat. Frozen vegetables are a bargain, and you can't beat seasonal fruits on sale. And don't worry if you can't afford organic -- a conventional apple is still healthier than an organic potato chip, and conventional spinach is better than no spinach at all.
Readers -- Do you eat a plant-based diet? Have you noticed any changes in your body when eating a plant-based diet? What kinds of foods do you eat on a plant-based diet? Did you find this article helpful? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Lindsay S. Nixon is the best-selling author of The Happy Herbivore Cookbook series. Since 2011, Nixon has sold more than 200,000 books. Her work has been featured on Food Network and Dr. Oz and in The New York Times, Vegetarian Times, Shape, Fitness Magazine, Women's Health and WebMD, among others. A rising star in the culinary world, Nixon is praised for her ability to use everyday ingredients to create healthy, low-fat recipes that make eating well easy, affordable, realistic and delicious.
1. Q&A with Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD, website of Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., accessed March 23, 2014 (http:heartattackproof.com/qanda.htm)
2. "When Friends Ask: 'Why Do You Avoid Adding Vegetable Oils?'" The McDougall Newsletter 6, no. 8 (August 2007), http://drmcdougall.com/misc/2007nl/aug/oils.htm.