Plant-based diets make you feel great and improve your performance yet many of us have reservations about them. It’s normal to be apprehensive about the unknown. Common misconceptions only feed this uncertainty, making people less willing to try. Here we look at some of the biggest plant-based diet myths to help you overcome any obstacles that may be standing in your plant-based way.
1. It’s hard to get enough protein from plants only
Probably one of the most common myths about plant-based diets! Anyone who has ever tried reducing their animal product intake has heard it. “Where do you get your protein?” It only shows how vague our nutrition knowledge is. Even doctors are not any wiser – they only receive minimal nutrition education!
To set the record straight – a plant-based diet providing enough calories per day also provides more than adequate amounts of protein. All plants contain all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) and eating a variety of plant-based foods ensures an excellent protein intake.
So where does the myth come from? In short, lack of knowledge and misconceptions. Plants contain all the essential amino acids. Many plant foods have all of them in perfect proportions but some contain slightly less of one or two amino acids than would be ideal. This is not an issue unless you only ever eat one plant all day and every day. A normal diet, including a variety of plant foods, naturally contains all amino acids in adequate amounts. There’s absolutely no need to stress about it!
As a recent scientific review summarised (1): “We point out that protein-rich foods, such as traditional legumes, nuts and seeds, are sufficient to achieve full protein adequacy in adults consuming vegetarian/vegan diets, while the question of any amino acid deficiency has been substantially overstated… Accordingly, we found that when replacing animal protein with a mix of protein-rich plant foods (namely legumes, nuts and seeds), a transition toward 100% plant protein could be considered to involve virtually no risk of an insufficient intake of protein, including amino acids such as lysine.”
The best plant sources of protein are legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas/garbanzo, soy and products made from them, such as tofu, tempeh, beanburgers, falafels, hummus), nuts and seeds (and nut butters too), and wholegrains (oats, quinoa, wholewheat bread and pasta). It’s perfectly possible to rely on these foods only for protein but if you have higher protein requirements – eg are a bodybuilder or your training is long and demanding – you can make use of plant protein powders. There’s a wide variety – hemp, pea, rice, soy, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc. and many blends combining them. See the world record-holding Strongman Patrik Baboumian going on a tour of his grocery store, getting his protein.
2. Plant-based diets have too many carbs
Carbs, the old scarecrow… Not all carbs were created equal and recognizing the distinction is the key to a healthy diet. Sugars, refined grains (white bread, flour, white rice, cornflakes) and sweets are not healthy and no one truly needs them. On the other hand, we do need unrefined, complex carbs very much and your health will suffer without them. That’s why the Skill Yoga Supercharged Ten has complex carbs (from oats, brown rice, wholewheat bread and pasta, buckwheat, quinoa, sweet potatoes, corn, legumes, fruit and vegetables) in more than one category.
You can’t beat a plant-based diet centered around these healthy carbs. It’ll fuel your performance in the best possible way, help your body utilize protein, keep your digestion on track, and blood sugar and cholesterol in check. Low-carb diets may work in the short-term but have detrimental long-term effects, including high blood pressure, cholesterol and heart problems, constipation, kidney fatigue, headaches, bad breath and even higher risk of cancer and premature death (2, 3, 4). On top of that, they can also have a detrimental effect on your athletic performance because they make your body work in an unnatural way (2, 5).
A healthy diet with plenty of complex carbs will make you perform better, and you don’t have to worry about gaining fat. Quite the opposite, plant-based diets based around the ‘good carbs’ can help you lose some of it (6, 7) – thanks to their beneficial effect on your metabolism, lower fat and higher fiber content. Choose good carbs and you can’t go wrong!
3. Soy is unhealthy and affects your hormones
Soy – one of the most divisive foods in history. It’s got excellent protein content, healthy fats, fibre, B vitamins, iron and antioxidants – so why the fuss? Soy contains natural compounds called phytoestrogens – molecules that look similar to the human hormone estrogen. Some people think that it can influence your hormone levels. Can it? The type of phytoestrogens found in soy, called isoflavones, are about 10,000 times weaker than actual estrogen. They have either no effect whatsoever or only a negligible one. The safety of soy consumption and its many health benefits have been shown by a number of studies, absolutely reassuring in their positive conclusions (6).
The scaremongering around soy comes largely from the meat and dairy industries whose profits are endangered by people consuming soy milk and yogurts, tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers and edamame.
One thing worth noting is the environmental impact of soy farming. You may have heard of vast soy plantations destroying rainforests and more. The sad irony of this is that almost all the soy grown in South America is not grown for people. People eat only about 6% of the global soy crop, whilst most of it is used to feed livestock (billions of farmed animals worldwide). As a comprehensive report on the subject puts it: “Increasing meat consumption is the main driver behind soy’s continuing expansion. Around three-quarters of soy worldwide is used for animal feed, especially for poultry and pigs.” The Growth of Soy: Impacts and Solutions
When you consume animal products, your indirect soy consumption is much greater than that of people who eat tofu and soy milk. It may sound surprising but if people switched from animal to plant floods exclusively, we’d still need to grow less soy than we do now!
If you buy organic soy products, you’re reducing your environmental impact even further and avoiding GM too (that’s one of the rules of organic labeling). Many of the farms cultivating soy for human consumption have higher standards and are much less environmentally problematic than the huge plantations. Much of the soy used for food in the US is grown there and likewise in Europe. As a result, eating a plant-based diet is a lot gentler on the planet. Call us Mythbusters because we are ready to bust all these myths about plant-based diets.
4. Plant-based diets are expensive
Another myth about plant-based diets that can stop so many people from even trying! Some people worry that plant-based diets are expensive and they can be if you buy exclusive products, but the truth is, they are usually much cheaper than meaty diets! All the basic foods – fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds – are not expensive. A pot of hummus, falafel wrap, a can of lentils, bean burrito, a chunk of tofu, or a handful of nuts will always be cheaper than a slab of meat! Buying bigger packs of essential foods (muesli/oats, brown rice, nuts, etc.) saves you money and so does frozen fruit and vegetables.
People tend to find they save money when they go plant-based, without even trying, but if you want to save extra, here’s a comprehensive list of tips.
5. You can’t eat out when you’re plant-based
Another myth about plant-based diets is that you’ll go hungry when eating out. So not true! You can eat out and it’s getting easier every day! Things have changed so dramatically over the last few years you may not even realize how many options are out there. Of course, cities tend to offer more than small towns but still, some of the best dishes are served in tiny places.
Restaurants, cafés, fast-foods, even pubs have plant-based options on the menu or you can ask for a small modification to a meal. Some places have separate menus for different dietary needs, all you have to do is ask and you may be pleasantly surprised. If you’re planning an outing, always check the menu online to rule out uncertainty.
A lot of Asian dishes are plant-based and you can make them healthier by asking for brown rice, wholewheat or soba noodles to go with your chickpea curry, lentil dhaal, mushroom dishes, tofu stir-fries, tofu in black bean or satay sauce, chow mein, Buddha bowls, pho soup, sushi, etc.
Mexican restaurants are great for veggie tacos, bean chilli, bean burritos, mushroom fajitas or dishes with the Mexican cactus, nopales. Italian places are also a good bet with many pasta options and you can ask for pizza without cheese but with lots of grilled vegetables, pine nuts and rocket/arugula.
Fast food and coffee shop chains are competing with each other in the number of plant-based options they offer, not just as main meals but desserts too! Rest assured, you won’t be left hungry when you go out to eat!
Plant-based diets are quickly becoming the new normal thanks to health, environmental and ethical concerns. More and more athletes are switching to plants to fuel their performance and reaping the benefits, leaving behind all these myths about plant-based diets. It may be a big step to go mostly or fully plant-based, but the biggest challenge is making the decision. Once you make it and start that new journey, things get easier with every step as you focus on all the great foods you’ll be eating and how much better you’ll feel. Chances are, you’ll be surprised by how much more stamina and how much less achiness you’ll experience as a plant-based athlete, and you’ll never look back.