Today we have the pleasure of introducing Jona Friedri, certified nutritionist and founder of Oh, Wholly Vegan! We first connected with Jona through a Facebook group. We had a few exchanges which led to us checking out her website, where she blogs about delicious plant-based recipes. Given her background in nutrition, we thought it would be cool to get her to contribute an article about the common misconceptions of nutrition on a vegan diet. If you’re new to a plant-based diet, you’ve probably had at least one of these misconceptions cross your mind. Jona does a great job of breaking down the facts about vegan nutrition.
Over to you Jona.
I was asked by Masha and Michael to write about common misconceptions of nutrition on a vegan diet. At first I wasn’t sure what to write about except protein deficiency, but then I remembered all the questions that people come up with when asking me about a vegan diet and I realised I could write a whole book on this topic! So yes, this article is a bit longer but I believe I’ve covered pretty much everything people are worried about when they’re becoming a vegan. So here’s my list of common misconceptions I’m dealing with on a daily basis.
1. There‘s no way I’ll have enough protein for my workouts
Serena Williams, Mike Tyson, Brendan Brazier, Scott Jurek, Patrik Baboumian. What do those names have in common you ask? Well, all those people are vegan and professional athletes. What I’m trying to say is there’s no need to stop working out. You‘d have enough protein if you build yourself a proper meal plan. So why are so many people panicking about protein deficiency?
Well, because there are a lot of myths when it comes to protein. The majority of people are convinced that protein is only in meat, dairy and eggs, but that’s not true. What we need to know about protein is that it’s built from amino acids. And yes, in animal products there are all the amino acids that you need for building protein, and yes they’re also in grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetables. So what’s the problem? The problem is, that individual plant foods have lower percentages of some of the amino acids, but that doesn’t matter for those vegans who have healthy eating habits. As long as you eat various foods during the day you most likely have enough of every amino acid you need. However, if you’re not sure about how to eat, you can always eat quinoa which contains a lot of all essential amino acids or as anyone else you can use a protein powder, the only difference will be that you use a vegan protein powder (made from peas or brown rice for example).
2. Vegan diet = healthy diet
No, that’s not true. Vegan diet = plant based diet, that means it doesn’t include any animal products. But that’s it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have healthy eating habits. Nowadays there’s a lot of unhealthy vegan food like some fake meats, sweets and other processed food. Just because you’re eating plants instead of animals doesn’t mean you’re eating fresh and organic food only, you could also be eating a lot of sugar or E numbers (E’s). So if you’ll want to eat healthily you’d better check what you’re eating…just like anyone else.
3. I will definitely loose weight, cause there are no fats in plants
Mmm.. no. A vegan diet doesn’t guarantee weight loss. Not at all. As I mentioned before a vegan diet doesn’t equal a healthy diet and I’m sorry to break it to you, but if you eat plenty of sugars you’d be fat, vegan or not. Another thing is that even healthy food contains fat and sugars, I’m sorry but it’s true. Fruits, for example, contain a lot of sugars, fructose to be specific, and you should know that 40-50% of fructoses is transformed to fat in your body – that’s why you should eat fruits in the morning rather than in the evening. You’ll have plenty of time during the day to burn it off! Once again, if you follow healthy eating habits you wouldn’t have to care about getting fat.
4. I’ll have too much fibre and all the nutrients won’t absorb
Yes, there’s quite a lot of fibre in fruits and vegetables but you don’t have to worry much about it. As long as you eat other things as well you’ll be okay. To be honest, the majority of the population doesn’t have enough fibre so it’s quite ironic that people are worried about having too much of it, don’t you think?
5. I won’t have enough Vitamin B
Not completely wrong. Vitamin B is diversed into B1 – B12, the only one which cause problems to vegans is vitamin B12. B12 is a very complicated vitamin with a unique absorption mechanism and several inactive analogues. It’s made by bacterias in the colon, so generally it’s found in all animal products except honey. To be honest, there are no reliable sources of B12 in plant based food, so yes you can suffer from B12 defficiency – I say “can” because B12 is storaged in your body for a very long time so if you’d had enough of it when becoming vegan you might not feel the symptoms of B12 defficiency for years.
The best way to prevent health problems is to supplement B12. I could talk about B12 for ages, but a lot was already written and by now you probably care only about if you have enough of it or not, and what you should do now, right? Well visit this page their step-by-step guide is amazing.
Vitamin B12 as we live longer and longer is harder to absorb even for conventionally eating people. The Food and Nutrition says, that everyone after the age of 50, vegan or not, should supplement this vitamin.
If you were like me, you’d now be asking yourself: so is a vegan diet natural? Are we herbivores or omnivores? Well, we’re not either. We’re herbicarnivorous, meaning we can adopt easily and choose what we’re going to eat according to the situation. However, if you have doubts, ask yourself a different question. Is it really important? Because I don’t know about you, but I’m doing this because of my morals, not because I was fated to it. Note> An interesting article on this subject was written by Tom Billings .
6. I will have to take several supplements to stay healthy
It’s no coincedence I talked about vitamin B12 first. That one you really need to supplement. However, other vitamins and minerals you most likely don’t. Once again, a balanced diet and eating as much of a fresh ingredients as possible is everything.
People are usually afraid of not having enough vitamin D, because they believe it naturally occurs in dairy products. It doesn’t. It is fortified to it, exactly the same way as it can be fortified to plant milks and yoghurts and cheeses etc. To be honest, even when you drink three glasses of milk you won’t most likely have enough vitamin D. So what you can do? It’s simple – go outside. Ten minutes out in the sun per day and you’ll have enough vitamin D. Note > that doesn’t imply on people with diabetes, they might have problems with absorbing vitamin D. Ask your health care professional for more details.
Another one, people are worried about, is vitamin A. This one can be tricky to understand. It exists in two forms – retinols and 3-dehydroretins. In animal products Vitamin A (retinol) is transformed from ester (primarily retinyl palmitate). But it’s not the only source. Vitamin A is also made from provitamin A such as carotenoids and beta-carotene. You see where I’m going? Yes, even plant based food will provide your body with Vitamin A. You can find the right provitamins in carrots, kale, spinach, pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe. You don’t need to eat too much of it either. For example, it only takes 2 ounce of carrot juice OR ¾ cooked carrots OR 1 cup of spinach to cover the daily dosage. Vitamin A is dissolvable in fats so add a bit of olive oil or nuts next time you make a salad and you’ll be just fine.
Calcium. This one is terribly connected with drinking cow’s milk, I’m not really sure why though. Just compare a classic butter that contains 15mg of Calcium in 100g and for example pineapple which contains 16mg of Calcium in 100g. Absorbality and utility of calcium from cow’s milk isn’t great either. In fact, consumption of animal protein has negative impact on absorbing calcium due to sulfur-containing amino acids. Meat and eggs contain two to five more times of these sulfur-containing amino acids than are found in plant foods.
Iron – the last one, I promise! Let’s go quickly through some numbers. Beef contains 3mg of iron/100g, chicken and pork 1mg, from animal products the most of iron is in the liver – about 10mg. In plant foods the numbers are similar, for example sesame seeds have about 10mg/100g, beans or rolled oats about 7mg and cashews 6mg, however the absorbility and utility of iron from plant foods is lower. As a vegan who wants to have enough iron you should either increase the intake of food that contains more iron (like the foods mentioned above) and combine them, even within one dish, or supplement. And by the way there is a real hero between plant foods that contains a lot of iron – seaweed (53mg/100g). If you struggle to absorb iron, make sure you take some vitamin C with it. This will help to absorb it a lot easier.
Being on a vegan diet is not as difficult as it seems. Yes, you can count your nutrient intake, but you don’t have to. Just follow these three easy tips and you’ll be okay. These three by the way apply to all people, vegan or not.
Number one > Eat as much fresh food as possible. Or better yet, try to eat as little processed food as possible.
Number two > Balanced diet is everything. Make sure you don’t eat just veggies, or just fruits, or just legumes. Try new food you’ve never heard of before, combine different ingredients, make your meals from various foods and rotate the meals you’re eating every day.
Number three > Supplement vitamin B12. And in case you’re not sure you’re getting enough of other nutrients, supplement them too. There’s never enough carefulness when it comes to nutrition. Don’t overtake the daily doses though, or at least not too much. Best way to check is to get some blood work done.
- Breslau NA, Brinkley L, Hill KD, Pak CYC. Relationship of animal protein-rich diet to kidney stone formation and calcium metabolism. J Clin Endocrinol. 1988;66:140-146.