There is a myth out there that it is hard to be healthy as a vegan. While there is a plethora of information available about maintaining a healthy plant-based diet, many continue to think that all vegans must be waif-like and malnourished. Despite the fact that there are some incredible vegan athletes out there—in fact, the 2011 “World’s Toughest Woman” is a vegan—still, many seem to think that a vegan diet is lacking in nutrients, and that following it will make you weak and unhealthy.
The truth is that like any diet, veganism can be unhealthy if it is not done correctly. Just recently, actress Eva Longoria came out with a statement about how she regrets her attempt at veganism, which apparently made her pass out from lack of nourishment. However, she admits that all she was eating was salad. While raw veggies are great, whole grains and proteins are also essential to a complete, balanced plant-based diet.
Here are a few unhealthy myths about veganism, dispelled.
Vegans Don’t Get Enough Protein
When people hear “protein” they usually think meat and as a result assume vegans cannot possibly be getting enough. In reality, plant-based proteins are not hard to come by, and are better for you than their animal-based opponents—meat is full of saturated fat and cholesterol, where plant-based proteins are not. Soy, quinoa and other whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds all offer plenty of protein.
Vegans Don’t Get Enough Calcium
The dairy industry has repeatedly hammered us with the idea that “calcium” is synonymous with “dairy.” This is not true. In fact, leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and kale, white beans, fortified soymilks and juices, and a variety of fruits and vegetables are all foods that are high in calcium – and they don’t contain the saturated fat and cholesterol that is present in milk. Additionally, the average American maintaining a diet high in animal protein often gets too much protein, which can lead to the leaching of calcium from the bones. A diverse plant-based diet, rich in legumes and cruciferous vegetables, can provide you with enough calcium.
A Vegan Diet is Expensive
Technically this has nothing to do with your physical health, but it does have to do with the health of your wallet—something many of us have to be conscious of. If you are mainly purchasing pre-made food or frequenting the Price-Per-Pound bar at Wholefoods, than yes, your vegan eats will be pricey. However, if you aim for less processed foods like grains and beans—especially bought in bulk—and try to keep your produce seasonal, your grocery bill will be lower than an omnivore purchasing pricey dairy and meat.
The bottom line is that a well-planned vegan diet—one that encompasses a variety of different vegetables, legumes and grains—is very healthy. Planning is critical to a healthy vegan diet, and I can vouch for that through personal experience. I have written before about how I—due to lack of planning and research—developed a b12 deficiency a year into veganism, and nearly a decade into vegetarianism. Foods like tempeh and fortified non-dairy milks can provide you naturally with b12, and many vegans also take a b12 supplement. However, if you aren’t making sure you are getting enough b12 (or calcium, or protein) your health can suffer. I still see a doctor on a semi-regular basis to make sure I am at my nutritional best. When I first became deficient, I asked her whether or not she thought I should stop my vegan diet. Was it making me unhealthy? My doctor, who has studied both traditional and holistic medicine, assured me that she believes a plant-based diet done right is one of the best things you can do for your body. So go vegan, but be sure to do it right.