Vegan Myths – busted!

There is a buzz around Veganism at the moment, with tons of documentaries, social influencers, cookbooks and news stories focusing on this dietary lifestyle. The number of vegans in the UK has quadrupled since 2006, and with more people than ever before taking part in Veganuary this January – a plant-based diet might have piqued your curiosity recently…? 

However this new way of eating can cause some confusion, so whether you’re trying Veganuary, considering cutting down on animal products or simply just interested -we’ve asked BeeZee Bodies nutritionist Freya to debunk some of the myths you might have heard.  

MYTH: It's expensive to eat a vegan diet

While some vegan speciality foods can be a little pricey, Freya suggests some ways you can do a Vegan food shop on a budget:

  • Instead of pre-prepared vegan foods (like meat-free burgers) try buying the ingredients separately and making your own version.
  • Due to increasing demand meat alternatives like Quorn and Linda McCartney are now widely available. Supermarket own brands are also increasingly available and can often be a cheaper option.
  • Vegan staples such as beans, wholegrains, legumes, pulses and tofu are much cheaper than meat, the money you save on this can go towards the slightly more expensive products, such as plant-drink milk alternatives.
  • Buying frozen fruit and vegetables is also a good way to keep the cost down. Frozen lasts for longer and often has higher nutrient quality than some ‘fresh’ options.
  • Sometimes buying ingredients in bulk or online can also make the vegan diet cheaper.  
MYTH: Vegans are deficient in nutrients

Vegan diets can meet all your nutritional needs if you plan properly. Here are some nutrients to be especially aware of:  

B12 

Vitamin B12 keeps your blood cells healthy, and not getting enough of it can lead to feeling weak and tired.

B12 is typically only found in animal products but there are supplements and many products that are fortified, which can be reliable sources. B12 is often added to plant drink milk alternatives, cheeses, yoghurts, nutritional yeast, yeast extracts, vegan spreads and breakfast cereals – check the labels. 

Vegans should aim for at least 3micrograms (mcg) of B12 per day. If a supplement is being used, a 10mcg should be taken daily. 

 

Calcium 

Calcium is needed to keep your bones and teeth strong and healthy. All the calcium you need can be obtained from a vegan diet. Fortified foods (foods which have had nutrients added) such as plant drink milk/yoghurt alternatives, calcium set tofu and fortified bread are good sources of calcium.

Non-fortified foods such as kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, okra, pak choi and cauliflower also high in calcium.

 Omega-3 and Omega-6 

Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential for our nerves, eyes and immune system. 

Omega-6 is easy to consume in a vegan diet, so long as you’re eating a wide variety of plants, nuts and seeds. Good sources of omega-6 include hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.

However, Omega-3 (commonly associated with fish) can be more difficult for vegans to get enough of. Good sources include chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts. 

Here are some tips for ensuring you get enough of these essential healthy fats: 

  • Use rapeseed oil as your main cooking oil (rather than sunflower, olive or vegetable oil) as the omega-3 and omega-6 are the most balanced.
  • The Vegan Society suggests you would need to eat roughly a tablespoon of chia seeds or ground linseed, two tablespoons of hemp seeds or six walnut halves a day in order to meet the recommended intake.  

 

Supplements from microalgae may be necessary for some groups but it is generally better to obtain nutrients from your food as opposed to supplements as some new research suggests these are better absorbed and utilised by the body.  

MYTH: Vegans can't get enough protein

Although protein is often noted as an area of concern for vegans, if meals are planned to include these, you can get plenty of protein from plants!  

Protein is used for all sorts of things in the body such as, growth and repair, hormone production, carrying oxygen, fighting infection and even for energy.

The UK guidelines suggest you should aim to consume 0.75g of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, some research suggests that because of the way that the body processes plant protein, vegans should aim for 1g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. For example, if you weighed 60kg you should aim for 60g of plant protein.  You can use this table to add up how much protein you’re consuming from plants.

Vegans should ensure that most of their meals contain a good source of protein in order to meet recommendations. Examples of good sources include beans, lentils, chickpeas or tofu. Other sources of protein include, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice.

MYTH: Vegan diets aren't healthy

You may have heard people say that a vegan diet is not healthy, however, the British Dietetic Association suggest that a well-planned vegan diet can “support healthy living in people of all ages”.  

Although more research is needed for the long-term health of vegans, research suggests that a reduction in consumption of animal products, including red and processed meats and high-fat dairy products are likely to have a beneficial effect on health... as well as the environment.  

However, vegan doesn’t necessarily mean ‘healthy’ either. Due to consumer demand there are many vegan fast food options now on our high streets and supermarkets. These can still be just as high in fats and sugars as the non-vegan options. Try sticking to unprocessed foods and eat the rainbow in every meal! 

MYTH: I'll lose weight by going vegan

You might assume that by going vegan you will automatically lose weight because you’re eating more fruit and vegetables and are more limited in high-fat and fast-food options. However this isn’t necessarily the case – chips, bread, crisps are all vegan, but in excess can lead to weight gain. Likewise, vegan ice-cream and vegan chocolate may have replaced the dairy ingredients for plant-based alternatives, but it’s still high in sugar and calories.  

However, you may lose weight on a vegan diet if you are changing from high saturated fat and processed foods to eating more vegetables and fibre.  

Useful links if you're thinking of trying a vegan diet

The Vegan Society: 

https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/how-go-vegan 

 

The Vegan Society has developed an app that helps you keep on top of your nutrition as a vegan. Search VNutrition on your app store.  

 

The British Dietetic Association:  

https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/vegetarianfoodfacts.pdf 

 

NHS:  

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-vegan-diet 

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