BREAKING THE MYTHS | The Facts of a Plant-Based Diet
Whether you are a devoted vegan or choose to follow a plant-based diet, you will doubtlessly have been asked numerous questions regarding your lifestyle choices.
There is a huge amount of information available for reasons both for and against a vegan diet, and so-called ‘facts’ that lead to confusion, concern, and dismissal of plant-based living.
Here are eight of our top facts to help you not only become more informed about your decision to move away from animal products, but also to do so healthily and be able to share the true benefits of, and reasons for, a vegan diet:
1. The Old Protein Myth
It is exhausting fielding the many questions you will be asked about protein, and no matter how often you answer them, there will always be those who question, or deny, the logic.
When we look at the greatest herbivores of the natural world, it becomes only too clear that - though we may be genetically different - protein is not a ‘meat thing’. Elephants, cattle, horses, gorillas, and many bears to a significant degree, are all plant-based. Gorillas occasionally eat insects, bears such as the grizzly replenish their nutrients with fish, but on the whole, these animals grow to an incredible size, weight, and strength purely with plants.
We share 98 percent of our DNA with gorillas and, for obvious reasons, they are the easiest with which we can draw parallels. When you look at the sheer mass of a Silverback Gorilla, and when you take into account that their brain, skeleton, and digestive system are all close reflections of our own, it is abundantly clear that meat is not needed for health, or even for significant muscle growth.
Looking at dietary equivalents, you will quickly understand that meat is not the protein panacea we are led to believe
1oz of meat contains the same protein as:
½ a cup of quinoa
1oz of tempeh
2oz of tofu
1 tablespoon of peanut butter
¼ cup of black beans
¼ cup of chickpeas
¼ cup of kidney beans
½ oz of almonds
Reference: choosemyplate.org 
TRUTH: We can get more than enough protein from plants, but when first removing meat from your diet, you must be aware of the need to replace your source of protein, not simply omit it. Balance your diet, and be sure to include some form of protein in every meal.
For more information on fitness on a plant-based diet, I highly recommend watching Game Changers - available on Netflix.
2. You Need Milk For Calcium
There are multiple things wrong with this statement. Firstly, let me admit that yes, milk does contain a high percentage of calcium, but so do many green vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, as well as sesame seeds and dried fruit.
It is also shown that potassium, not calcium, is more beneficial for overall bone health . Added to that, growing studies show that milk can be directly linked to weakened bones and osteoporosis, due to its inclination to acidify the body . This is also true of almost all dairy products to some degree.
And it’s not only osteoporosis; the Mayo Clinic has also found that increased dairy consumption contributes significantly to increased risk of prostate cancer4. Also, though the links are tenuous, dairy’s tendency towards an acidic bio-environment could technically promote the growth of many kinds of cancer cells.
TRUTH: We do need calcium; milk is high in calcium, but it is far from the best source, can lead to nutritional imbalance, and there are far healthier plant-based alternatives.
3. Humans Are Carnivores
The World Cancer Research Fund International states that there is a “17 percent increased risk (of bowel cancer) per 100g of red meat per day”
As a long-term plant-baser, this one can be particularly infuriating! Firstly, no, humans are not carnivores - we are naturally omnivorous, biologically tending far more towards a plant-rich, insectivorous diet, similar to chimpanzees.
Yes, we do possess canine teeth, but when you look at the canines of a gorilla, who eats 100 percent plants, and a tiger, who eats nothing but meat, you will quickly conclude that canine possession or size has no bearing at all on dietary needs.
Our digestive tract is far longer than a carnivore’s. Meat tends to sit in our intestines and bowels for a long time, as our enzymes aren’t strong enough to break the meat down efficiently. This can lead to acidification of our digestive system and is attributed to a higher risk of bowel cancer. In fact, the World Cancer Research Fund International states that there is a “17 percent increased risk per 100g of red meat per day”. Carnivores don’t get bowel cancer for numerous reasons, but primarily because their gut enzymes work specifically to break down raw red meat, and their shorter digestive tracts mean the meat passes far more quickly, without having the opportunity to sit and stagnate.
TRUTH: humans are biologically and psychologically not carnivores. If anything, we should look to chimpanzees for our dietary needs, “including seeds, fruit, leaves, bark, honey, flowers, and insects” into our diet, according to San Diego Zoo . However, in today’s marketplace, we have so many healthy and delicious options available that there is absolutely no need whatsoever to consume meat. And if there is no need, it can also be concluded that there is no reason.
4. Vegan / Plant-Based Diets are expensive
This one is open to debate, but only the same debate applies to any meal of any kind. Sure, if we eat at expensive restaurants, buy the finest ingredients and don’t budget properly, any diet is expensive.
When you first become plant-based, the temptation is to purchase the many tasty treats you can indulge in guilt-free. It is also easier to purchase the pre-made, packaged, ‘convenient’ foods than it is to learn the quick and easy meals you can create with whole foods, and the cost of this convenience can add up. It is laziness, ignorance, or naivety that causes this expense, not the diet itself.
However, with just a little easy research into ways to create balanced, healthy, and tasty meals at home, you will rapidly find that meat is, in fact, one of the most expensive primary ingredients in the supermarket, especially in these post-pandemic times. Some plant-based options are expensive, there is no denying it, but these are almost always more than offset by the savings on your other ingredients and, at the very least, you will find little or no difference in your weekly grocery bills.
TRUTH: Veganism doesn’t make your food bill higher, you do! Once you become familiar with your dietary options and ingredients, you are more than likely to save money on groceries.
5. Veganism is Hard
This is another loaded statement; sure, a vegan or plant-based diet is hard...at first, but isn’t everything?
Teetering on the brink of your decision to eradicate animal products from your diet and begin an entirely new way of life is daunting, there is no sugar-coating it. What will you eat if your usual ingredients are no more? Where will you eat? How will you socialize with your meat-eating friends? There is a lot to think about, and a lot to learn. Fortunately, it has become so easy for us to assimilate our plant-based choices into a ‘normal’ lifestyle that it will take no time at all and little more effort to make that switch.
Almost all major restaurants have vegan icons next to suitable dishes, or even a completely plant-based section or menu, and veganism is such a common and appreciated request now, that even those that don’t have specific dishes are usually understanding and accommodating. If you're still lost, try Yelp or Happy Cow for plant-based options near you.
Grocery stores offer entire meat-free sections and most products are now required to alert shoppers to potential ‘trigger’ ingredients (lactose, eggs, milk solids, as well as gluten, nuts, and so on).
TRUTH: Yes, going plant-based can be hard, but any change is hard at first. The world has embraced the plant-based life - even those who don’t necessarily subscribe to, or even believe in, its ways. You don’t need to search out your products or ingredients, you don’t need to unleash in-depth explanations of what ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based’ means to restaurant staff, and there is so much online and print support for an animal-free diet that you will never be at a loss for information or delicious recipes.
6. Soy is Bad
There are several ways that soy is deemed bad:
Some believe that soy contains estrogen that spikes our own levels, leading to hormonal imbalance.
Some think that soy is responsible for the destruction of the rainforests.
30 million hectares in Brazil alone will be used to cultivate soy & over 70 percent of that soy will be used directly for animal feed.
Some think that excessive consumption of soy can do far more harm than good to the environment, in terms of emissions, mono-crop agriculture, pesticides, and more.
And you know what? This is all true...to a degree.
TRUTH: Let’s take one at a time:
Estrogen Yes, soy contains estrogen. It is what is known as a phytoestrogen - different to the estrogen we have in our bodies, though acting similarly. However, you would need to consume massive, almost impossible amounts for it to have a negative effect. In fact, the estrogen it contains, combined with its numerous other nutritional components, makes soy far more beneficial to us than detrimental .
The Rainforests Yes, the rainforest is destroyed in the name of soy. It is estimated that this year, 30 million hectares in Brazil alone will be used to cultivate soy. But here’s the thing: that land is also being cleared for livestock, and over 70 percent of that soy will be used directly for animal feed. Only 6 percent is used for foods such as soy milk, tofu and tempeh, with the remainder being used for soy oil. It takes far more soy to create the meat we eat than it would to create an equivalent amount of soy-based products, and that says nothing of the resources used. In fact, WWF Germany found that, if the country were to reduce its meat intake only to the level of its dietary guidelines, it would save 1.8 million acres of agricultural land .
Environmental Harm As is evident in the point above, soy is a hugely destructive crop, but most of it is used in the meat and dairy industries. Both of these industries also clear huge amounts of land for grazing, consume massive amounts of freshwater, destroy topsoil, and create excessive greenhouse emissions. By switching from meat to soy, you will be creating far more benefit in offset than you will harm.
To find out more about the soy industry’s environmental impact, visit www.onegreenplanet.org
7. ‘Plant-Based’ and ‘Vegan’ Are the Same Thing
I thought I should include this as I have used both terms in this blog. A lot of people - vegans and non-vegans - think that being plant-based is the same thing as being vegan. Omnivores dismiss it as a fancy, trendy way of saying vegan, and vegans like to believe that another soul has awakened to the inhumanity of animal cruelty. But neither is true.
Non-vegans will express confusion as to why you are still wearing leather shoes, vegans will be horrified (sometimes insultingly) if you have some cheese or honey, or if you don’t partake in their activism.
TRUTH: Being plant-based does not make you vegan. Though people’s perspectives vary, just as their reasons for becoming either vegan or plant-based do, generally speaking, plant-based lies somewhere in between vegetarianism and veganism, and is usually a dietary or health choice. Though they will often share many vegan beliefs, someone who is plant-based will, at least technically, still wear animal products such as leather and wool, they may infrequently have dairy products, they will almost always not eat meat, but that isn’t to say they can’t on rare occasions. Nor will plant-basers necessarily avoid other non-vegan products, such as cosmetics. For the vast majority of their time, what they put into their bodies is completely free of animal products.
Veganism on the other hand, “is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”  It goes far, far beyond diet alone.
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
8. Plant-Based Diets Are For Fairies
...or wusses, or girls, or [insert non-manly and derogatory insult here]. It is the long-held belief that there is nothing more manly than gnawing away on a 12-ounce steak with nothing but your bare hands. ‘Real men eat meat’, or so the slogan touted by the meat industry goes. It is macho to stand over a sizzling barbecue, to rip meat from the bone with your teeth, or to munch into a triple-patty burger to ‘eat like a man, man’, as Burger King likes you to believe.
We have to admit, when we see a muscle-bound Hollywood actor hunting down a buck elk in the snowy wilderness with nothing but a bow and a buck knife, we feel pretty emasculated - but really, who does this?!
Most meat eaters haven’t killed so much as a spider. Shopping at the grocery store for meat that you didn’t kill yourself and grilling it in the comfort of your tidy, suburban yard is about as manly as driving a Prius (which is another ethical quandary all of its own).
TRUTH: The only reason eating meat is ‘manly’ is because the ad agencies tell you it is. The multi-billion-dollar meat and dairy industries spend millions each year on promoting their products in the best ways they can, usually based on a multitude of fictional premises. Standing up for what you believe in, fighting for a cause, speaking out as a voice for the voiceless, or even just defying peer pressure and thinking for yourself; these are far more manly actions than picking up a triple-decker, flame-grilled cholesterol-burger at your local Drive-Thru.
When athletes - including footballer Colin Kaepernick, winner of 16 prestigious ultramarathon titles Scott Jurek, world-title boxer David Haye, mixed martial artists Abel "Killa" Trujillo and Nate Diaz, and bodybuilders Barny du Plessis and Patrik Baboumian - are at the top of their fields, defeating (sometimes easily) men who still consume animal products, it is apparent that meat and machismo do not go hand in hand.
The bottom line is that many myths and the questions people have are borne of naivety, clever marketing from the meat and dairy industries, or even underlying guilt that what they are doing is inherently wrong. A plant-based diet isn’t the answer to everything, and sometimes we need to supplement or go to extra lengths to make it work. But living without animal products is, in general, easy, affordable, healthy, positive and incredibly enjoyable, not least because of the satisfaction of knowing you are not contributing to the many ill effects of a meat-based diet - on your health, on the animals, and especially on the planet.