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The 11 Biggest Myths About the Vegan Diet, Debunked

by
author image Lynette Arceneaux
Based in Southern California, Lynette Arceneaux has worked as a writer and editor since 1995. Her works have appeared in anthologies, such as "From the Trenches" and "Black Box," in the magazine "Neo-opsis," and on numerous websites. Arceneaux, who holds a Master of Arts degree, currently focuses on the topics of health and wellness, lifestyle, family and pets.

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The 11 Biggest Myths About the Vegan Diet, Debunked
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While only six percent of Americans are vegan, this lifestyle and diet has been gaining popularity in the media and the world of nutrition, thanks in part to a recent focus on plant-based eating. And more attention has been brought to veganism with various celebrities jumping on the “vegan challenge” bandwagon, including Beyoncé, Jay-Z and, most recently, Jennifer Lopez and with movements like Meatless Mondays. There are varying opinions, myths and misunderstandings about the vegan diet and lifestyle, and a number of experts have stepped up to set the record straight and provide accurate information. Read on to see the 11 biggest myths about the vegan diet.

MYTH 1: A Vegan Diet Is Naturally Healthy By Default
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MYTH 1: A VEGAN DIET IS NATURALLY HEALTHY BY DEFAULT

“One of most common myths about the vegan diet is that it’s automatically healthy by default,” says Georgie Fear, coauthor of “Racing Weight Cookbook: Lean, Light Recipes for Athletes” and registered dietitian. “But just as vegetarian or omnivorous diets can be either adequate or inadequate, vegan diets can be complete and supportive of fantastic health or they can be lacking in essential nutrients and detract from someone’s health,” Fear explains. It depends on the food choices a person makes. Vegans, like everyone else, must be knowledgeable and informed about food choices to achieve balanced nutrition and health. Without making a conscious effort to include specific foods, vegans can easily become deficient in vitamins B12 and D, iron, omega-3s, calcium, iodine and zinc. And as with any restricted diet, vegans need to be mindful that they are consuming enough calories.

Related: 17 Reasons Why You Probably Need More Omega-3s in Your Diet

MYTH 2: Vegans Are Obsessive
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MYTH 2: VEGANS ARE OBSESSIVE

“Although some vegans do things that might appear extreme, many have made this lifestyle choice for sensible reasons, such as to address a serious health issue or due to compassion [toward animals],” says Joanne L. Mumola Williams, holistic nutritionist and author of "Health Begins in the Kitchen." Most family farms have been replaced by massive operations that often disregard their animals’ welfare. “Many vegans are moved by the plight of these animals and refuse to eat meat, dairy, fish, and even honey,” Williams explains. Still another reason some choose a plant-based diet is concern for the environment. “Growing animals for food uses significantly more land and water than growing plants,” adds Williams. It also generates greenhouse gases and pollution.

Related: 16 Famous Vegans and Vegetarians

MYTH 3: A Vegan Diet Doesn’t Meet Nutritional Needs
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MYTH 3: A VEGAN DIET DOESN’T MEET NUTRITIONAL NEEDS

False. “Research shows most vegans have a diet richer in vitamins and minerals than do non-vegetarians,” says Sharon Palmer, registered dietitian and author of “The Plant-Powered Diet.” “That’s because a well-planned vegan diet is rich in plant foods, which are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals.” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics agrees, stating: “It is the position of the [Academy] that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” To make sure they’re meeting their needs, vegans must include adequate amounts of foods that contain vitamins B12 and D, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iodine and zinc.

Related: The 21 Best Vegetarian Muscle-Building Foods

MYTH 4: Expectant Moms Shouldn’t Follow a Vegan Diet
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MYTH 4: EXPECTANT MOMS SHOULDN’T FOLLOW A VEGAN DIET

The truth is that a pregnant woman can continue eating a vegan diet and still have a healthy pregnancy and child as long as there’s a focus on getting enough calories and consuming adequate amounts of specific nutrients, including vitamins B12 and D, iron and calcium. As with any expectant mother, it’s important for vegan moms-to-be to receive regular prenatal care and take prenatal vitamins and supplements as prescribed by their doctor.

Related: 16 Famous Vegans and Vegetarians

MYTH 5: Vegans Don’t Get Enough Protein
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MYTH 5: VEGANS DON’T GET ENOUGH PROTEIN

Our bodies rely on 20 different amino acids to help build proteins. The body can make some of these amino acids, or building blocks, but nine of them must come from food, making them an “essential amino acid.” While most animal proteins provide all of the essential amino acids, making them a “complete protein,” the majority of plant proteins do not -- making it important to consume a variety of different protein sources. “Even if a particular food choice is low in certain amino acids, if they are careful to incorporate a variety of plant-based foods into their diet, vegans can easily get all the protein they need,” says Joanne L. Mumola Williams, holistic nutritionist and author.

Related: 13 Surprising Vegetarian Sources of Protein

MYTH 6: You’ll Lose Weight on a Vegan Diet
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MYTH 6: YOU’LL LOSE WEIGHT ON A VEGAN DIET

While research shows that overall vegans tend to be thinner; this is not always the case. “I’ve worked with dozens of clients who gained weight after transitioning to a plant-based diet,” says Georgie Fear, registered dietitian and author. “When someone adopts a vegan diet, they often decrease their intake of protein and increase their intake of carbohydrates,” Fear explains. Since carbs tend to be less satiating than proteins and fats, excesses in calorie intake can occur, which can lead to weight gain. To avoid gaining weight, Fear recommends, “focus your meals around fresh vegetables, which are low in calories, and make ample use of plant-based proteins, which are highly satiating,” such as hemp seeds, tofu, edamame, beans, nuts and seeds.

Related: The PROs and CONs of the Top Diets

MYTH 7: Vegans Must Rely on Soy for Protein
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MYTH 7: VEGANS MUST RELY ON SOY FOR PROTEIN

Not necessarily. “It’s easy to get enough protein without ever eating soy,” says Michelle Dwyer, a health coach and nutrition consultant in Oakland, California. “While soy in the form of tempeh, miso and tofu can be a great addition to any diet, some people,” Dwyer says, “are sensitive to soy and must avoid it.” She points out that vegans can also get their protein from nuts, seeds, legumes and lentils. “You can also use other nondairy milks, including hemp or rice, and coconut amino acids instead of soy-based products like tamari and soy sauce,” adds Dwyer.

Related: Should I Be Eating Soy?

MYTH 8: A Vegan Diet Is Too Restrictive and Difficult to Maintain
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MYTH 8: A VEGAN DIET IS TOO RESTRICTIVE AND DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN

“Avoiding all foods from animal sources seems like a daunting task. Many assume vegans have an uninteresting diet and a very difficult time sticking to it,” says Joanne L. Mumola Williams, holistic nutritionist and author. A 2011 poll sponsored by the Vegetarian Resource Group, however, showed that 38 percent of Americans questioned often eat vegetarian meals. This growing interest has led to an expanding vegetarian food industry, including plant-based proteins and many delicious substitutes for non-vegan items, making sticking to a vegan diet easier than ever before. Depending on location, some local grocery stores and restaurants may not carry vegan items, but websites like HappyCow.com can help people locate the nearest vegan-friendly stores and restaurants.

Related: Sign Up to Receive the FREE LIVESTRONG.COM Weekly Health and Fitness Newsletter

MYTH 9: Vegans Can’t Build Strength or Be Athletic
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MYTH 9: VEGANS CAN’T BUILD STRENGTH OR BE ATHLETIC

“All you have to do is look at the amazing variety of vegan athletes, including endurance athlete Rich Roll, who was named one of the 25 Fittest Men in the World by “Men’s Fitness” magazine, and former professional Ironman athlete Brendan Brazier, to see that vegans can be strong and athletic,” says Sharon Palmer, registered dietitian and author. “A vegan diet that supports athletic performance is achievable. In fact, plant foods are rich in anti-inflammatory compounds,” Palmer adds. These compounds are particularly beneficial to athletic recovery. “Vegan athletes should ensure that they’re meeting their protein and nutrient needs by eating a balanced diet with good sources of plant proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats,” says Palmer.

Related: The 21 Best Vegetarian Muscle-Building Foods

MYTH 10: A Vegan Diet Is Lacking in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
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MYTH 10: A VEGAN DIET IS LACKING IN OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

The three main types of omega-3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are found in animal food sources like fatty fish. They are also long-chain fatty acids, which makes them readily available to the body. ALA is found in plant-based foods like walnuts, hemp and flaxseed, but it’s a short-chain fatty acid and is not easily converted into EPA and DHA. It’s important for vegans to make a concerted effort to eat enough of these foods and a variety of them. Vegans can also obtain DHA and EPA fatty acids through supplementation with algae to help meet their omega-3 fatty acid needs.

Related: 17 Reasons Why You Probably Need More Omega-3s in Your Diet

MYTH 11: A Vegan Diet Isn’t Healthy for Children
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MYTH 11: A VEGAN DIET ISN’T HEALTHY FOR CHILDREN

Because their brains and bodies are changing, growing and developing rapidly, children require plenty of vitamins and minerals. A well-planned vegan diet can certainly supply all the nutrients a child requires for growth and energy as long as the parent or guardian is well educated about nutrition requirements and pays special attention to the child’s calcium and iron intake, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The academy also recommends that parents of children who don’t eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy foods find good sources of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and zinc or provide supplements.

Related: Surprising DOs and DON’Ts of Getting Your Kids to Eat Healthy

What Do YOU Think?
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Are you vegan now or have you ever followed a vegan diet? If not, would you consider it? Why or why not? Did any of these myths surprise you? Are there other common myths -- or erroneous opinions – about veganism that we might have missed? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Related: 14 Foods to Help You Get Lean

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