Though vegans make up a tiny fraction of the population, the demand for vegan food has been skyrocketing in recent years. Just take a walk through your local supermarket and you’ll find a dozen different non-dairy milks, countless vegan granolas and protein bars, and a variety of plant-based yogurts and cheeses.
While plant-based foods are becoming increasingly mainstream, many people remain reluctant to adopt a fully vegan diet, in part, due to misinformation. It’s time to clear the air on five common misconceptions about being vegan.
Vegans just eat salad—how boring!
Sure, vegans do eat salads. But they also eat tacos, pasta, smoothies, chocolate, falafels and pizza. Did you know that you can make ricotta cheese out of tofu? Or that you can use aquafaba—the water from a can of chickpeas—to whip up meringues and macarons? How about a decadent chocolate mousse made with ripe avocados or roasted sweet potatoes? In short, eating plant-based is anything but boring, unless you’re eating garden salads all day long. In which case, we’d agree with you—that’s boring. And definitely not healthy.
For a delicious vegan meal to add to your weeknight rotation, try the following dish: sauté spiralized vegetable noodles such as sweet potato or zucchini in olive oil and garlic; then, toss in a creamy, cheesy sauce made with puréed tofu, cashews, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and seasonings of choice. Pair with a salad topped with sliced avocado and pumpkin seeds for a balanced meal.
Vegans must miss meat and dairy. Why else would they eat those weird meat and cheese substitutes?
To begin, not all vegans eat meat substitutes; many stick to minimally processed or unprocessed foods like vegetables, tofu, tempeh, grains and beans. When vegans do eat meat and cheese alternatives, it’s not necessarily because they crave the taste of animals. Rather, vegans are evolutionarily wired to crave the taste of fat, salt and familiar comfort foods, just like all humans. Happily, the vegan cheese selection has expanded beyond the chalky soy-based products from the ‘90s. These days, you can buy nut-based cheeses that mimic the texture and flavor of the “real thing” without the added cholesterol.
Vegans can’t get enough calcium without dairy.
Those “Got Milk” commercials featuring hunky celebrities may have been convincing eye candy, but they’re false advertising. Vegans can easily meet their calcium needs from plant-based sources.
Quick science digression: calcium, like many minerals, naturally occurs in soil—not in the bodies of cows. Accordingly, plants, whose roots absorb that calcium, are the most direct sources of calcium. In contrast, dairy products are indirect sources of calcium because cows consume either (a) calcium-rich grass or (b) calcium-fortified grains (the overwhelming majority of U.S. dairy cows are grain-fed).
Not only is it more sensible to get calcium directly from plant sources, but it’s also healthier. Research shows that dairy products—often high in saturated fat and retinol (vitamin A)—can have the paradoxical effect of weakening your bones, and can also increase your risk of certain cancers.
Some of the best plant-based sources of calcium include collard greens, kale, beans, chia seeds, tahini, tofu, blackstrap molasses and fortified plant-based milks and orange juice. For a warming winter treat that satisfies your daily calcium needs, try this homemade hot chocolate: heat two cups of almond milk on the stove; add two tablespoons raw cacao powder; a dash each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and sea salt; and one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses. Salud!
Eating vegan is expensive.
Eating vegan can be expensive if you subsist on cold-pressed juices and artisanal tree nut cheeses. For most people, however, eating vegan actually pads your wallet. Meat and dairy products tend to be the most expensive items at the grocery store, particularly if you’re buying organic. In contrast, vegan staples like beans, legumes, pasta, and grains are among the least expensive. And, when dining out, nearly every restaurant charges more for meat-heavy entrees than vegetarian fare.
In fact, a recent study shows that eating a vegetarian diet can save you $750 annually.
Vegans can’t get enough protein.
Before we debunk this common myth, let’s get one thing straight: most Americans are eating too much protein, almost twice as much as the amount recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board. Moreover, research shows that adults who eat a high-protein diet (particularly animal-based protein) are four times more likely to die of cancer and 75 percent more likely to die from any cause than adults who eat a low-protein diet.
So, how can vegans ensure they meet their protein intake requirements? Let’s start with beans and legumes, which offer 14 to 22 grams of protein per cup. Next, minimally-processed soy products are excellent sources of protein. Toss tempeh in a stir-fry, sprinkle edamame over a salad, and add soft tofu to smoothies and desserts. Finally, rely on superfoods like quinoa, amaranth, hemp seeds and almonds, and don’t forget to incorporate vegetables like peas, broccoli, and spinach into your diet.
As you can see, eating vegan isn’t restrictive, bland or pricey. And a well-balanced plant-based diet can provide your body with all the nutrients it needs, from calcium and protein to fiber and Omega-3s. With the added benefits of a smaller carbon footprint and a healthier heart, it’s no surprise that veganism’s popularity is at an all-time high.
Chef Franklin Becker is the Co-Founder and Chief Culinary Officer at Hungryroot. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Becker has worked in some of the country’s best kitchens. Most recently, Becker served as co-founding partner of Little Beet and Little Beet Table, as well as Culinary Director for all of Aurify brands. In 2013, Becker was invited to compete in Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. He has appeared on Iron Chef America, The Today Show, Dr. Oz, The Rachel Ray Show, Beat Bobby Flay as a judge, and is the author of three cookbooks: Eat & Beat Diabetes, The Diabetic Chef, and most recently, Good Fat Cooking.