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Addressing Common Myths About Vegan Nutrition

Addressing Common Myths About Vegan Nutrition

The Rise of Vegan and Plant-Based Nutrition 

Vegan and plant-based diets have become more popular in recent years and so have myths and misunderstandings about their nutritional adequacy. Some believe that switching to a vegan diet will guarantee weight loss, while others think that simply adopting a vegan diet automatically makes them “healthy.” These myths need to be addressed because they can lead people to adopt veganism for the wrong reasons, create unrealistic expectations, or make current vegans question their choices. In this article, we’ll bust the most common myths about vegan nutrition and detail the best ways to address them.

 

The Most Common Vegan and Plant-Based Nutrition Myths

Vegans Don’t Get Enough Complete Protein

One of the most prevalent myths about vegan diets is that vegans can’t get enough complete proteins, or proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids. These essential amino acids cannot be made by the human body and must be obtained from the diet (1). Complete proteins are primarily found in animal-based foods like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, which leads many to conclude that it’s impossible to get them on a vegan diet. While it’s true that most plants are not complete proteins, a well-varied diet can actually provide all the essential amino acids. Key sources of plant-based proteins include:

  • Legumes: beans, lentils, peas
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds
  • Whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, oats

Not all animal-based protein sources are considered complete, either. Let’s take collagen, for example. Collagen is a protein found in the connective tissues of animals and is marketed for its benefits for skin health and joint function (2). Since it doesn’t provide all nine essential amino acids in the required amounts, collagen is not considered a complete protein. Thus, similar to plant-based diets, animal-based diets also require a well-varied diet to ensure adequate protein intake.

With a well-balanced diet and a focus on protein, vegans can easily meet their daily protein needs.

 

Vitamin B12 Can Be Obtained From Plants

Studies show that approximately 52% of vegans are deficient in vitamin B12, a vitamin essential for nerve function and DNA synthesis (3). This is because animal products are the primary source of vitamin B12, and naturally occurring plant-based options of B12 are very limited. Naturally occurring B12 can be found in shiitake mushrooms and certain algae products.

Vegans should pay special attention to consuming foods fortified with B12 or taking a B12 supplement. Fortified foods are foods that have essential vitamins and minerals added to them to enhance their nutritional value (4). The nutrient of interest is typically added in its synthetic form, which, in the case of B12, is usually cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin. Examples of foods fortified with B12 include plant-based milks, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast. Supplementing with vitamin B12 can also help make sure you're getting enough. Deficiencies in B12 can be very serious and can take a long time to present themselves, which is why most healthcare professionals recommend B12 supplementation for their vegan patients. Supplementation has been shown to effectively prevent and treat B12 deficiency (5). We created the plant-based essentials, our bestselling all-in-one vegan multivitamin, to cover all the essentials including vitamin B12. You can find vitamin B12 in its most bioavailable form in the plant-based essentials here.

  

Vegan And Plant-Based Eaters Can Obtain Omega-3 Fatty Acids From Plants Alone

Although plant-based sources of omega-3s exist such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, omega-3 from plants exists in the form of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which needs to be converted to DHA and EPA to be utilized by the body (6). This conversion process is highly inefficient, meaning only a small portion of the ALA found in plants can be converted and used by the body. Only about 0.5-5% of ALA is converted to DHA, and only about 5-10% of ALA is converted to EPA (7). DHA and EPA are omega-3s that are more beneficial than ALA due to their direct roles in various physiological functions. They are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and their role in brain and heart health (8). Algae-based supplements can provide a direct plant-based source of DHA and EPA, making in an effective alternative for vegetarians and vegans. Algae oil can be found in the plant-based essentials.

While ALA found in plants is an important omega-3 fatty acid, the direct benefits of DHA and EPA are more significant. The inefficiency of converting ALA to DHA/EPA highlights the importance of consuming these omega-3s directly.

 

All Vegans Are Automatically Healthy

Another common myth is that adopting a vegan diet automatically leads to better health. While a vegan diet can be healthy, it requires careful planning to ensure it is balanced and nutritious. Just like any other diet, a vegan diet can be unhealthy if it relies heavily on processed foods. With the recent boom in veganism, processed food companies have started to create processed vegan alternatives with the idea that customers would see them as healthier options. It is crucial for vegans to focus on a whole food vegan diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds to get the essential nutrients that promote overall health.

 

There Are Plenty Of Plant-Based Sources Of Iron

While it’s true that there are plant-based sources of iron, the type of iron found in plant foods, known as non-heme iron, is not as readily absorbed as the iron from animal products (9). Non-heme iron is absorbed at a rate of about 1-10% compared to heme iron’s absorption of about 25-30% (10). Absorption of non-heme iron can also be affected by phytates, a compound found in plants that can bind iron and further reduce its absorption (11).

To enhance non-heme iron absorption, you can consume vitamin C-rich foods alongside iron-rich foods, which has been shown to significantly increase iron absorption (12). If necessary, iron supplements can also help maintain adequate iron levels, especially in individuals with higher iron needs such as pregnant women or those with anemia.

Shop iron in the plant-based essentials here.

 

Being Vegan Or Plant-Based Guarantees Weight Loss

The notion that a vegan diet inherently leads to weight loss is another misconception. Weight loss depends on various factors including caloric intake, macronutrient balance, and physical activity. Many who report weight loss after transitioning to a vegan diet do so because they limit their overall caloric intake rather than just simply remove animal products from their diet. It’s important to be aware that vegan diets can also be rich in calorie-dense foods such as nuts, seeds, and avocados, and overconsumption can lead to weight gain.

 

Vegan Supplements Are Expensive

It’s often assumed that vegan supplements are expensive, though the risks associated with nutrient deficiencies from not eating a well-balanced diet can be more costly in the long run. Investing in an all-in-one vegan multivitamin is the most cost-effective option because, in a single purchase, you get all the nutrients that may be lacking on a plant-based or vegan diet. Investing in supplements now can be seen as a proactive measure to prevent potential health issues in the future.

Click here to read more about our vegan multivitamin designed with plant-based eaters in mind.

 

Conclusion

The benefits surrounding vegan and plant-based diets are numerous, but it’s important to debunk these myths about vegan nutrition to promote a balanced and informed approach to a plant-based lifestyle. By addressing these misconceptions, we can provide the resources, confidence, and knowledge people need when deciding if a vegan diet is right for them. Whether motivated by health, ethical, or environmental reasons, a well-planned vegan diet can be both nutritionally adequate and beneficial.

 

References:

  1. National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on the Tenth Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 6, Protein and Amino Acids. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234922/
  2. Al-Atif H. Collagen Supplements for Aging and Wrinkles: A Paradigm Shift in the Fields of Dermatology and Cosmetics. Dermatol Pract Concept. 2022 Jan 1;12(1):e2022018. doi: 10.5826/dpc.1201a18. PMID: 35223163; PMCID: PMC8824545.
  3. Gilsing AM, Crowe FL, Lloyd-Wright Z, Sanders TA, Appleby PN, Allen NE, Key TJ. Serum concentrations of vitamin B12 and folate in British male omnivores, vegetarians and vegans: results from a cross-sectional analysis of the EPIC-Oxford cohort study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Sep;64(9):933-9. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2010.142. Epub 2010 Jul 21. PMID: 20648045; PMCID: PMC2933506.
  4. Olson R, Gavin-Smith B, Ferraboschi C, Kraemer K. Food Fortification: The Advantages, Disadvantages and Lessons from Sight and Life Nutrients. 2021 Mar 29;13(4):1118. doi: 10.3390/nu13041118. PMID: 33805305; PMCID: PMC8066912.
  5. Fernandes, S.; Oliveira, L.; Pereira, A.; Costa, M.d.C.; Raposo, A.; Saraiva, A.; Magalhães, B. Exploring Vitamin B12 Supplementation in the Vegan Population: A Scoping Review of the Evidence. Nutrients202416, 1442. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu16101442
  6. Anderson BM, Ma DW. Are all n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids created equal? Lipids Health Dis. 2009 Aug 10;8:33. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-8-33. PMID: 19664246; PMCID: PMC3224740.
  7. Brenna JT. Efficiency of conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to long chain n-3 fatty acids in man. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2002 Mar;5(2):127-32. doi: 10.1097/00075197-200203000-00002. PMID: 11844977.
  8. von Schacky C. Importance of EPA and DHA Blood Levels in Brain Structure and Function. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 25;13(4):1074. doi: 10.3390/nu13041074. PMID: 33806218; PMCID: PMC8066148.
  9. Hooda J, Shah A, Zhang L. Heme, an essential nutrient from dietary proteins, critically impacts diverse physiological and pathological processes. Nutrients. 2014 Mar 13;6(3):1080-102. doi: 10.3390/nu6031080. PMID: 24633395; PMCID: PMC3967179.
  10. Skolmowska D, Głąbska D. Analysis of Heme and Non-Heme Iron Intake and Iron Dietary Sources in Adolescent Menstruating Females in a National Polish Sample. Nutrients. 2019 May 10;11(5):1049. doi: 10.3390/nu11051049. PMID: 31083370; PMCID: PMC6567869.
  11. Armah SM, Boy E, Chen D, Candal P, Reddy MB. Regular Consumption of a High-Phytate Diet Reduces the Inhibitory Effect of Phytate on Nonheme-Iron Absorption in Women with Suboptimal Iron Stores. J Nutr. 2015 Aug;145(8):1735-9. doi: 10.3945/jn.114.209957. Epub 2015 Jun 3. PMID: 26041677.
  12. Lynch SR, Cook JD. Interaction of vitamin C and iron. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1980;355:32-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1980.tb21325.x. PMID: 6940487.

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