Busting the Top Ten Vegetarian Diet Myths

woman holding goblet statue

Falsehoods About Being an Herbivore, and Why They’re Wrong

1. Vegetarians don’t get enough protein.

False – Protein is easy to get – it is abundant in both plant and animal foods. In fact, most people eat more than double the amount of protein per day than they need. Vegetarians and vegans who eat a balanced diet – like beans, vegetables, grains, fruit, nuts and seeds – have no problem getting enough protein in their diets.

And no, combining proteins from different foods (like rice and beans) is not necessary, as long as you eat a variety of foods over time.

2. Vegetarian diets aren’t good enough for athletes.

False – vegetarian and vegan diets are just as capable of sustaining elite-level athletes as omnivorous diets. Athletes can burn thousands of calories more than average exercisers and it may be difficult for them to eat enough food and get enough nutrients, vegetarian or not. But UFC Fighter Mac Danzig and a host of other vegetarian bodybuilders, tri-athletes and competitors prove than a meatless diet is fuel enough for success.

3. Vegetarianism makes you skinny.

False – some people do become vegetarian or vegan to lose weight. Those who overindulge in meat and dairy products may shed pounds when they stop eating those foods, but sticking to a vegetarian diet long-term is difficult if weight loss is your only motivation.

Careful planning is required for vegetarian – and especially vegan – diets. Simply taking meat and milk products out of the diet is reckless, unless a balanced and healthy plant-based diet is eaten.

4. Vegetarian diets are just not healthy.

False – vegetarian diets can be appropriate for every age and stage of life – even during pregnancy and infancy (see below). Just like a diet that contains meat, meatless diets should be balanced and planned according to each person’s needs.

5. Vegetarianism is okay most of the time – but not during pregnancy.

False – vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy during every age and stage of life, including during pregnancy. Vegan women who are planning to become pregnant may wish to contact a Registered Dietitian or doctor to ensure an adequate diet is planned and their needs are supported.

6. Vegetarians need to eat fish – and they do eat fish.

There are two parts to the vegetarian-fish myth.

First, vegetarians do not eat fish. People who eat fish but are otherwise vegetarian are called pescatarians (pesco = fish).

Second, the buzz around omega-3s may make it seem that everybody has to eat fish to be healthy. While it’s true that we all need omega-3s, these essential fats are also found in plants. Read more about how vegetarians can get omega-3s.

7. Vegetarian diets aren’t natural – humans are meant to eat meat.

False – humans are omnivores. We are capable of surviving on animal- or plant-based diets. The variety of diets around the world show that it is possible for people to subsist on only plants, while others survive on milk or meat. Culture, tradition, and food availability all help to dictate our diets.

8. Vegetables aren’t filling enough.

False – most vegetables are lower in calories than meat and cheese products, so you may have to eat a higher volume (more!) of them to be full. But thanks to a balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber, meatless diets can be rich and satisfying too. Not convinced? Try chicken wing (Buffalo Wings) sauce on crispy fried tofu, or a hot bowl of vegetarian chili topped with sour cream, cheese, and sliced avocado.

9. Vegetarian and vegan diets are boring.

False – vegetarian and vegan diets can be diverse and interesting. Western cuisine uses meat as a main dish. Vegetarian dishes can follow the same plan, using tempeh or other meat substitutes. Or, they can be exotic – Indian cuisine is largely vegetarian, for example. Branch out and try one-dish meals, soups, stews and stir-fries instead of having meat at the centre of the plate.

10. Vegetarianism is only for hippies.

False – a remnant from the 1970’s, some people disregard vegetarianism as only for “granola-crunching hippies”. But vegetarianism has become popular with people of all ages and lifestyles.

The dry, beany soy beverages and chalky tofu of early days have been improved, too. With more and more people turning to vegetarianism for environmental, health and ethical reasons, there are more vegetarian foods, cookbooks and resources than ever.