10 Facts that clear up common plant-based myths
Guest blog post: Jessica Wang, a Registered Dietician based in Vancouver and the North Shore. Connect with her here.
Fact #1: Soy food is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer
Isoflavones are a plant estrogen found in soy. There is a misconception that soy foods can lead to breast cancer, however, soy foods don’t contain high enough levels of isoflavones to increase the risk of breast cancer. So, you can rest assured that soy foods, like edamame, tempeh, tofu, and soy milk can have a place in your diet!
Fact #2: Calcium can be found in many dairy-free foods
There are so many plant-based foods that naturally contain calcium or are fortified with it. These include dark leafy greens like kale, collard greens, and spinach, as well as broccoli, oranges, almonds, fortified non-dairy milks and yogurts, and tofu that has been made with calcium.
Fact #3: Plant-based foods have plenty of protein
There is plenty of protein found in plant-based foods. Some examples of foods that contain 10 grams of protein each are: ½ cup of firm tofu, 3 tbsp of hemp hearts, and 2 slices of whole grain bread.
Protein is made up from amino acids, 9 of which are considered essential. This is because our bodies can’t create them so we have to get them from foods. Because of this, some plant-based foods are incomplete sources of protein. This doesn’t mean that incomplete proteins are less healthy than complete proteins, it simply means that although plant proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids, they are not all present in adequate amounts. This isn’t a problem though! By consuming a well-balanced diet with a variety of plant proteins like whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, you’ll be sure to get all the protein you need throughout your day.
Fact #4: Options for eating out are increasing
Here in Vancouver, we’re lucky to have access to countless vegan eateries, serving a wide range of foods from burgers and authentic Italian style pizza, to fresh rice bowls and satisfying dim sum. Even popular fast food chains are offering plant-based options as well, like A&W, KFC and Burger King. A great resource for finding plant-based eateries in your area is Happy Cow.net. This website and app allows you to search for a city, region, or postal code and instantly suggests vegetarian or vegan restaurants in the area, as well as establishments that have vegetarian and vegan options. You can also check out VHS’s shopping and eating out guide.
Fact #5: Eating plant-based can be budget-friendly
Unprocessed plant proteins such as beans, lentils, and tofu are usually less expensive than meat and fish. Ready to use vegan meat and cheese alternatives on the other hand tend to contribute to a higher grocery bill. While these products are great for providing the taste and feel of animal products, try opting for these occasionally to keep your diet more budget friendly.
Fact #6: A well-rounded plant-based diet can be healthy
Like with any way of eating, it comes down to what types of food you include most often in your day to day. Oreos and potato chips are vegan, but I bet we can all agree that a diet of only these foods won’t do us any good! When plant-based diets are made up of primarily unprocessed foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, they are healthy for our bodies, because these foods are rich in fiber, healthy fats, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. While ready to eat plant-based products are certainly convenient, try to enjoy them on occasion as they are more processed.
Fact #7: You don’t have to give up your favourite foods like wings and steak
Lucky for you, there are so many great tasting meat alternatives on the market! Companies have been able to produce plant-based meat alternatives using a base of a few different key ingredients, such as soy protein, pea protein, and wheat gluten. Here’s another video to help you “understand meat alternatives”. These more processed foods tend to be higher in sodium compared to whole unprocessed foods options, however, they can definitely satisfy cravings for meat, especially while transitioning to plant-based or if you’ve been plant-based for while and are just missing certain flavours and textures. There are also some creative recipes out there to make traditionally meat-based dishes with various plant-foods at home, like cauliflower wings or bean burgers!
Fact #8: Vegan diets can be safe for pregnant women, infants or children
Well planned plant-based diets are suitable for individuals at any stage of life. In 2016, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published their position on vegetarian and vegan diets, stating that they are “healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases,” when planned appropriately. Simply put, ‘planned appropriately’ means a balanced diet with a variety of foods including whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and nuts and seeds. It is important to be mindful of different nutrition needs at varying stages of life, like pregnancy where you might need to pay extra attention to your diet and/or introduce supplements. Make sure to meet with a Registered Dietitian to ensure you have no nutritional gaps.
Fact #9: There are plenty of plant-based options to get iron
Iron is important for delivering oxygen to our cells and plays a role in brain and nerve development. Plant-based iron isn’t as well absorbed by the body, so the recommendations for iron intake are 1.8 times higher for those on plant-based diets. Try to include a variety of sources, including legumes, like beans, peas, lentils; nuts and seeds like pistachios and pumpkin seeds; dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale; and iron-fortified cereals and pasta. To help increase the iron absorbed when you eat these foods, try pairing them with Vitamin C rich foods, like citrus fruits, strawberries, red bell pepper, or tomatoes. So when you’re cooking up lentils, cook them up in a tomato sauce; or when you’re having a spinach salad, add some sliced strawberries.
Fact #10: You can get your omega-3s from plant-based sources
Omega 3 fatty fats are important for eye, nerve, and brain development and also play an important role in reducing inflammation, and protecting against heart disease. Omega-3s are found in 3 main forms: ALA, EPA, and DHA. The key omega-3’s we need are EPA and DHA because our bodies can absorb it well. EPA and DHA are typically found in fish and algae. So, unless you’re a pescatarian who eats fish, or an algae-loving vegan, you’ll be relying mainly on ALA. You’ll find ALA in flaxseeds, flax oil, chia seeds, hemp hearts and walnuts. But the good thing is that our bodies can convert ALA to EPA and DHA. If you find that you tend not to include these foods in your daily diet, you may consider supplementing with an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
I hope I have helped you understand the facts about a plant-based diet! – It’s always important to consult a reputable healthcare professional like a doctor or dietitian when it comes to any health-related questions.
Check out the video library on our PlantU Platform for more educational content about the benefits of a plant-based diet.