Vegetarian/Vegan MythsRD Resources for Consumers: Vegetarian/Vegan Myths
There are many myths about a vegetarian/vegan diet which cause people to question its safety. Please read the following for information about the safety and benefits of a vegetarian/vegan diet.
Myth #1: A Vegetarian/Vegan Diet is not safe for a Growing Child
A well-planned vegetarian/ vegan diet is safe for people of all ages, including babies,children, teenagers, pregnant mothers, and adults. Consuming a variety of nutritious plant foods provides all of the nutrients children need during this important time of growth.
It is very easy to consume enough protein on a plant-based diet, as long as a person eats a variety of foods
throughout the day. Almost all foods contain some protein, except alcohol, sugar, and fat. Good sources
of protein include: legumes (lentils, beans, peas), soy-foods (tofu, tempeh, edamame), seitan, meat substitutes (veggie burgers, plant-based crumbles), milk (dairy and non-dairy), nuts, seeds, grains (rice,
millet, quinoa), bread, and vegetables.
Protein requirements can be met when a variety of plant foods are eaten and overall energy needs are met. All of the essential amino acids can be eaten throughout the day and there is no need to ‘combine proteins’ at the same meal.
Myth #3: Vegetarians/Vegans Cannot Eat Enough Iron
Surveys of vegetarians/vegans have found that iron deficiency is no more common among vegetarians/vegans than among the general population. There are several reasons why it is easy
for a vegetarian/vegan to get enough iron:
1. Many commonly eaten foods are high in iron: dark leafy greens (kale, collards, bok choy), beans, tofu, tempeh, black strap molasses, quinoa, tahini, fortified cereals, etc.
2. Vegan diets are high in vitamin C, which greatly increases absorption of iron. Adding a vitamin C-rich food, such as tomatoes, bell peppers, or citrus fruit, to a meal increases iron absorption sixfold.
3. Many combinations of commonly eaten foods, such as beans and tomato sauce or stir-fried tofu and broccoli, are high in both vitamin C and iron. Broccoli and bok choy are foods high in both vitamin C and iron independent of other food combinations.
Myth #4: The Only Rich Sources of Calcium for Bone Health are Dairy Products
Calcium needs can easily be met on plant-based diets because of the many calcium-rich plant foods
available. Plant foods may provide additional benefits for bone health since they can be good sources of
other compounds believed to affect bone health. Diets that are higher in fruits and vegetables, and
lower in animal protein and dairy may promote bone health. Other factors that contribute to good bone
health include exercise and vitamin D intake.
Other factors that contribute to poor bone health include high sodium intake, extreme weight loss, alcohol, and smoking.
Naturally calcium-rich foods include: leafy green vegetables (collards, kale, mustard and turnip greens), broccoli, bok choy, calcium-set tofu, almonds, and blackstrap molasses. Calcium-fortified foods include: certain brands of juices (apple, orange, and vegetable juice blends), breakfast cereals, protein
bars, margarine, and non-dairy soy, rice or almond beverages.
Myth #5: Vegan Diets Do Not Include Many Food Choices
Typically people following a vegan diet have much more variety in their diet because of the many new foods to which they are exposed. Almost all food items can easily be made vegan (e.g. vegan cheese, cheesecake, cookies, pizza, milkshakes, casseroles, burgers, Italian food, milk, yogurt, etc.).
A vegan diet is typically rich in whole grains and grain products (brown rice, millet, barley, oats, whole wheat bread), a variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, adzuki
beans), soy foods (tofu, tempeh, miso), seitan, etc.
Myth #6: Eating Soy Increases Risk of Cancer
Soy is a good source of nutrients that has many health benefits. Studies show that eating soyfoods early in life decreases risk of breast cancer in adults. Studies suggests that children and/or teens who consume as little
as one serving of soy daily decrease their risk of breast cancer later in life by 25 to 50 percent. Soy has been found to be helpful for other conditions. Soy may be helpful in reducing heart disease risk, relieving hot flashes, preventing/treating prostate cancer, and promoting bone health for postmenopausal women.
For more information about any of the topics above, please see one of our free resources at:
A registered dietitian can help you develop a healthy vegetarian eating plan that meets your needs. To find an RD in your area, visit http://www.eatright.org.
For More Information On Vegetarian/Vegan Nutrition Go To:
Becoming Vegan, by Brenda Davis & Vesanto Melina
Vegan for Life, by Jack Norris & Virginia Messina
RD Resources are a member benefit of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. They are available in the Members
Section of the website at http://www.VNDPG.org. © 2012 by Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group.
Written by: Eric C. Sharer, MPH, RD, LDN
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