Veg-Curious? Don’t Be Fooled by These 7 Myths About a Vegetarian Diet

A lot of the emails that I get from readers begin this way:

Hi Matt! Love your site. First I should tell you that I’m not a vegetarian…

I can’t figure out why people need to get this off their chest right away … in the future, you can skip it!

I actually think many, many readers of this site are non-vegetarians who lean towards eating mostly plants, so you’re far from alone. No shame in just being curious; we all started out that way.

And so it occurred to me the other day when I was talking to someone who called himself “veg-curious” that I should write more posts for the veg-curious. (This occurred to me because he said, “You should write more posts for the veg-curious.”)

Today’s veg-curious-friendly topic: things you hear about vegetarianism that are just plain wrong.

Myth #1: You can’t get enough protein as a vegetarian.

Ah, the daddy of them all. To most people, meat = protein, so without one you can’t have the other.

This isn’t right. Meat is a rich source of protein, sure, but beans, grains, nuts, and green vegetables (and dairy, if you’re not vegan) provide plenty of protein to get what you need.

Rather than stress about protein, what has worked for me is to simply be mindful to include one of decent protein source in every meal or snack — just something with a little bit of protein to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of eating nothing but carbohydrates when you stop eating meat.

Protein powder in a smoothie, nuts on a salad, hummus on a bagel, lentils or white beans in a whole-grain pasta dish … you get the idea.

Myth #2: You can’t be a serious athlete and be vegetarian.

However you define serious, this one is seriously wrong.

For me, “serious” meant improving my marathon time and qualifying for Boston. And the belief that if I stopped eating meat, I’d get slower is what kept me from going vegetarian for the first few years that I felt the pull to do it.

The funny thing is that it wasn’t until I went vegetarian that I took the final 10 minutes off my time and qualified, just six months later.

There are great athletes who are vegetarian or vegan in every sport. Brendan Brazier, Scott Jurek, Mac Danzig, Robert Cheeke, Carl Lewis, Prince Fielder, Mike Zigomanis … the list goes on and on.

My point isn’t that being vegetarian is an advantage. Some say it is, others strongly disagree. Rather, my point is that if people can excel as vegetarians in the extremely competitive realm of competitive sports, where diet plays an enormous role in performance, then it’s ridiculous to let this myth hold you back if you’ve got the desire to stop eating meat.

Myth #3: Vegetarians mainly eat salads and tofu.

They say there’s a little truth in every stereotype, and yes, plenty of vegetarians do eat this way. But if tofu and salads were what it meant to be vegetarian, I’d have failed at this long ago.

A boring diet like this results from the combination of poor planning and unwillingness to cook your own food.

Make the effort to find healthy vegetarian recipes, shop for ingredients in advance, and be willing to spend some time preparing food that nourishes you. You’ll get that time back in the form of health and energy.

Myth #4: Being vegetarian will make you healthy and help you lose weight.

Plenty of people who preach vegetarianism will tell you that this is true. I will tell you it is not.

Being vegetarian can make you healthy. It can help you lose weight. But you can be healthy with a Paleo diet too, and with many other kinds of diets for that matter.

And on the flip side, you can be extremely unhealthy as vegetarian if you think any old thing that doesn’t have meat in it passes the “should I eat it?” test. There are plenty of vegetarians who do this and are fat as a result.

The primary health benefit I’ve noticed from being vegetarian, honestly, is that it limits my choices for eating out, so I end up making more of my food than I used to. Fast food is no longer an option for the occasional splurge when I’m in the car, so if I’ve got a long drive I need to bring some fruit or nuts to stay full. Same with going out to dinner or to a party where I know there won’t be much for me to eat.

Invariably, this causes you to make better choices, and shifts the focus of the evening from what you’re eating to whom you’re spending time with.

Myth #5: Going vegetarian involves “taking away” from your plate.

I remember when I used to envision what it would be like if I took the plunge and “gave up” meat: I saw my normal dinner plate, only with the side dishes expanded to fill the hole that meat left.

It turns out that nothing could be further from the truth. When you stop eating meat, you’re forced to be more adventuresome in your cooking and eating.

You discover Indian and Thai Food. You go to farmers markets and plan your meals around what’s in season. You check out the weird vegetables in the produce section that you used to breeze by in the grocery store without noticing. Instead of eating fewer foods, you eat more.

Myth #6: Vegetarian cooking involves a lot of fake meats and weird health foods.

Fake meats have their place — I like them for transitioning and for events one usually associates with eating meat, like cookouts. But for the most part, I don’t think about “replacing” meat, so I don’t eat these much.

And as for the “health foods” — I’m talking about things like wheatgrass, goji berries, chlorella, etc. — they’re fun to try, but they don’t make up a large part of a vegetarian diet any more than they do an omnivorous one.

You know how I eat, mostly? It’s described in Born to Run as “eating like a poor-person.” (And I don’t mean McDonald’s, although as Brendan Brazier points out in Thrive, that’s where you now get the most caloric bang for your buck.)

I’m talking about rice, lentils and beans, pasta, bulk nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Occasionally, more expensive things like quinoa, tempeh, and every once in a while the fake meats and the health foods.

But mostly it’s cheap, whole food. And I think that’s the healthiest kind.

Myth #7: As long as you’re getting enough protein, you don’t need to worry about anything else.

Global warming, financial crises, what to wear … all these concerns just melt away as long as you’re getting enough protein.

Seriously, as we said earlier, getting enough protein isn’t the hard part. (In fact, I’ve heard that there’s never been a case of protein deficiency that wasn’t a result of overall caloric deficiency — although maybe that in itself is a myth.)

But this isn’t to say you don’t need to think about any nutrients, vitamins or minerals.

Iron is a big one, and Vitamin B12 is another if you’re vegan. It’s easy to be deficient in these if you don’t take care to include good sources in your diet or supplement (and there’s some argument over whether any whole food, non-animal sources of B12 are sufficient — some say you need to supplement to get it).

It’s not hard … you just shouldn’t ignore these issues. Too many vegetarians are so gung-ho about not needing to worry about what they eat (probably in response to all the questions about protein) that they end up being poor examples of vegetarian health.

What other myths are out there? The ones here are based mostly on my own experience prior to being vegetarian, so I’m sure there are others. Add to this list with a comment!

PS — Half Marathon Roadmap “Quick Edition” is now available on Kindle (for dirt cheap!)

51qkOeygSzL. BO2204203200 PIsitb sticker arrow clickTopRight35 76 AA278 PIkin4BottomRight 4922 AA300 SH20 OU01 I’m doing a little experiment to see how Kindle publishing works (I’m working on a new ebook), so for the time being I’ve put a condensed version of the Half Marathon Roadmap in the Kindle store for only $2.99.

What’s funny is that the book did really well over the weekend, and hit #1 in the Kindle Sports -> Training category bestsellers list for a little while! (It’s #2 as I’m writing this post.) Thanks to everyone who has downloaded the book, left a review, and helped make that happen!

Anyway, this Quick Edition doesn’t come with the audio interviews, recipes, or some of the extras that make the full version more expensive, but I think it’s a pretty great value if you just want to get started quickly. Check it out here if you’re interested!

 

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Comments

  1. Some people just asked me the protein question earlier today. Thanks for putting this out there to direct the curious.

  2. Myth #4 has really been bothering me lately. It seems like there are all of these books and interviews now with “gurus” claiming that becoming vegetarian/vegan will magically make you lose weight and you’ll be this physically gorgeous person. That’s so far from the truth and I really dislike veganism being spun as a weight loss diet. At the end of the day if it helps more animals I guess I can’t complain too much, but still, it grinds my gears.

    • i do think there is some truth to the argument that vegetarian and vegan style diets promote weight loss or weight maitenance (i.e. it is harder to gain weight). A number of cross-sectional, epidemiological studies (such as the EPIC and Adventist health study) show that on average, there are far fewer fat or obese vegetarians and vagans than meat eaters. In the adventist health study, the only group where the average BMIs were in the normal healthy range was in the vegan group (compared to meat eaters, pesco vegetarians, lacto over vegetarians or occaisional meat eaters). As an aside, what was most interesting about that study was that of those vegans who were obese, only half had diabetes compared to the obese meat eaters… in the EPIC study, only 2% of vegans were obese. Having said that, you are correct, it is possible to be fat and vegan (you just have to work at it a bit harder) and it is possible to lose weight and eat meat. At the end of the day, eat to be healthy is the primary message (at least that is why i am vegan) but sometimes, the hook is that it can help with weight loss.

      • It makes sense that there would be fewer overweight vegetarians and vegans than omnivores on average, so I’m not surprised by that. I think you understood my point in including that one though — there are some people who get on a diet like this (and treat it as a “diet”) and are disappointed when they don’t lose a bunch of weight right away. It’s not automatic, by any means.

      • Barbara Saunders says:

        I think a lot of people have the experience of having gone on a vegetarian diet and gained weight. It happens in one of two ways. First: you directly substitute cheese protein for meat protein. The cheese has more fat, especially if you were already eating lower-fat meats or were one of those people who moved to vegetarianism “gradually” by cutting out the red meat first. Second: you substitute starches like lentils and pasta without adding back enough fat. So you’re hungry a lot and eat more calories.

        I rarely hear from people that they believe vegetarians and vegans are fat. I hear often from people the actuality that THEY gained weight when they switched diets at some time in the past. It’s a nutritional issue with a nutrition education solution.

  3. This article is great!! When I tell people I’m a vegetarian it seems like I get a question about almost every one of these! Now I have a good answer for them! Thanks!

  4. Yeah, #4 drives me nuts. I went to a vegan potluck yesterday and no one there was particularly thin. That didn’t drive me nuts, but what did was that I was the only person who actually brought “real” food (quinoa – chickpea – 2 mushroom medley!) – everyone else brought dessert, fake food or junk. PLENTY of junk food is vegan!! Eating it will not magically make you thin and beautiful!

  5. Michelle Novak says:

    succinct and to the point! wish i had the cahonies to pass this list out at the gym, in the meantime i tell my veg curious friends to check out your site! thanks!

  6. On Myth #6, this is precisely why I like living where I do now – fast food is more expensive than buying at the local grocery stores (especially the Turkish and Asian ones, where spices and veggies are also inexpensive).

    Also, it really bothers me that people think vegetarianism is a way to be healthy. I often encounter what Sharon did: people loading up on junk food and calling it healthy because there’s no meat. Sorry, but diet coke and doritos are always terrible. All those chemicals in the heavily processed foods… yuck.

  7. Sorry – I meant to say, the way to lose weight. Of course vegetarianism is a way to encourage and learn how to be healthy if you eat lots of veggies, whole grains, etc!

  8. Seriously, not to get too ranty, but I asked one guy what he brought and he said, “chips and salsa – I don’t cook” and laughed! How can you be vegan and NOT cook?! Just a little bit?

    All of that did not stop me from eating about 6 vegan cupcakes, of course! :D

  9. You’re spot on, Matt. But I reckon most people are reluctant to go veggie because they DO NOT want to give up meat so they make all sorts of excuses. It is a known fact that a veggie diet is healthy, nutritious, economical, environmentally friendly, compassionate and it will eradicate world hunger if even one third of the world population go veggie.

  10. I agree with everyone else about #4 – there are so many things wrong with promoting plant-based diets as weight-loss diets I don’t even know where to start. It’s flat-out false, it perpetuates incorrect notions of being healthy versus being skinny, it minimizes veganism as a diet rather than an ethical commitment, and on and on…

    Matt, this is maybe the best “veg myths” debunking I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of them!). I’m off to share it with everyone I know. Thank you for posting this!

  11. What a great post, and so true. Hear, hear!

  12. I once wrote a comment to a post at Huffingtonpost.com where I said that someday humans will look back and shudder that we raised, butchered and ate meat.

    I was excoriated.

    I didn’t declare this prognostication from some holier-than-thou place. I eat meat. Not red meat, but chicken, free range. And some fish, particularly salmon. Also yoghurt and eggs.

    But a part of me cringes when I do so. Unless extremely hungry, I would not be willing to butcher an animal, but I’m willing to let others do it for me.

    I am willing, however, to grow, harvest, buy and eat fruits and vegetables, and these — along with nuts and legumes — are the mainstay of my diet.

    Protein, though, is a challenge.

    Despite the declaration that it’s a myth that vegetarians get insufficient protein from their diet, I find that it’s very difficult for me to maintain my eating regimen without eggs and protein powder.

    That’s because I endeavor to ingest 30 grams of protein within the first 1/2 hour of awakening.

    Studies show that those — like me — who do rigorous resistance training and seek to increase their lean body mass can effectively achieve this by eating a heavily-loaded protein breakfast.

    Protein in the morning feeds the “broken down” muscle and satiates you so you eat less during the day.

    Just try to get 30 grams without eggs and protein powder. I eat two eggs (12 grams), two servings of whey protein (14 grams) and one serving (1/3 can) of some sorta bean (7 grams) for a total of 33 grams at a body weight of 212 pounds.

    According to some studies, given my resistance training, I need about .75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight. Let’s say I have 15% body fat. This means I need to eat between 135 to 180 grams of protein per day.

    Whew!

    I almost never get that much protein in me, and wouldn’t even be in the ball park if I were strictly vegetarian.

    My 2 cents.

    • There are some great protein options that would get you there without eggs. Hemp protein is a great option, and when mixed with soy milk in a smoothie can get you 20 grams of protein (7g for the cup of soymilk and 13 from 3T of hemp hearts). Turning to options like Quinoa, paired with the beans you already eat, will help you raise the protein, too.

      It’s all about choices, really, and what works for you. I mainly wanted to respond to say that there are options and many body builders are vegan and get plenty of protein. But, like Matt says, it takes planning and attention to what options are out there.

      • Thanks for your input, Angel and Kayla!

        I am familiar with the different veggie-based proteins and have used some. Didn’t over consume these powders, not to mention how quickly the price adds up.

        But your points are well taken, and I thank you for taking the time to share them with me.

        Yep.

    • Dude, I drink a vegan protein shake first thing every morning with more than 30g protein in it. Get a good vegan protein powder blend – whey is not your only option! Hemp, brown rice, pea, and soy are all great choices (SunWarrior Warrior Blend is pretty awesome). If you get a good blend, the amino acid profile is actually more balanced and better for muscle building than straight-up whey. Mix up 2 scoops (there’s 34g already!) with some soy/almond milk, peanut butter, and fresh berries, and you’re golden. Right now, I’m snacking on a PureFit bar, which has 18g protein. For lunch, I’ll have a salad with chickpeas, quinoa and tahini; an afternoon snack of soy yogurt with Kashi GoLean; and a dinner of Mongolian BBQ seitan with broccoli & brown rice. That’s almost 100g of protein, on a 1600-1800 cal/day diet, and I’m not even really trying.

      Your protein requirements sound reasonable for someone who’s lifting heavily; when I’m in a building phase, I eat similar amounts (slightly less b/c I’m a bit smaller than you are and am a lady with somewhat higher body fat %). It’s totally possible and not all that difficult to get that much protein on a vegan diet, if you want to.

      • Thanks for the link, and wow, your menu makes me salivate.

        • Glad to help if I can! I feel you about the price – as an alternative to fancy-shmancy protein blends, I often mimic the expensive brands by making my own custom blend at Truenutrition.com. I currently use a custom pea/rice/hemp blend that works beautifully, for about $10/lb. (Plus, I can use an unsweetened flavor so that nearly all the calories come from protein. Bonus!)

    • I eat Kashi GoLean cereal for breakfast. 1 cup of the cereal plus 1 cup of soy milk is 20 grams of protein. I bet if you added some vegan sausage you’d be right up to 30 without even thinking about it. That’s more protein than an egg and much more fiber too.
      Great article!

      • Surprised that the protein count is that high… thanks for the suggestion.

        I add beans to eggs instead of bread. More fiber, more protein, less simple carbs.

        • Joe! I’m an endurance athlete and also do a lot of strength training. I am also not using animal products to supplement. Vega, Brendan Braziers nutrition line, is really great for protien supplementation. His books offer a lot of info on making protien and nutrient dense foods for serious athletes.

      • I always wonder if the protein from vegan sausage should count… :) I think I block it out in my mind so that I don’t start thinking vegan sausage is a good thing to eat every day, because the kind I like (Field Roast) are almost entirely wheat gluten. But I do think I get 20-30 grams of protein most mornings between the smoothie with protein powder, almond butter, flaxseed, and whatever else I eat.

  13. Looks like I’m the only one here, but myth #4 was actually true for me personally. When I became vegetarian about five years ago, I went from a meat- and starch-based junk food diet to a plant-heavy diet. I made most of my meals myself instead of devouring frozen pizza and take-out. On the way, I also discovered and learned to love a large variety of vegetables and started to enjoy salads. And the pounds literally melted off of me!
    My point is, not everybody automatically loses a lot of weight and becomes stick thin by switching to a vegetarian diet, but replacing burgers with salads and veg-heavy meals might help you to reach a healthy weight.

  14. SallyGirl says:

    I told a friend a while ago that I was considering going vegan (after being vegetarian for several years) in the near future. She looked me up and down and quite worriedly replied, “Being vegetarian seems fine, but the only vegans I’ve seen look so skinny and sick and hardly seem to eat anything. I can spot them before they even tell me they’re vegans, because its clear they don’t get enough nutrition.” I just reminded her that that could be said about anyone with a poor diet or low calorie intake. Anyway, I think that may be another myth, not just about not being able to get enough nutrients but looking malnourished if you don’t consume animal products.

    • “Being vegetarian seems fine, but the only vegans I’ve seen look so skinny and sick and hardly seem to eat anything. I can spot them before they even tell me they’re vegans…” Wow, I hear this b.s. alot too :)

      • Argh! That’s so funny/silly/crazy! I worked at a vegetarian (mostly vegan) restaurant for over 5 years, and we all thought it was hilarious because all the vegans were perfectly healthy weight, clear skin, shiny hair, etc. The most overweight guy was a vegan (who lived mostly on vegan junk food! and the most skinny/pale guy was a meat-eater (who ate plenty and cooked lots, but was just that way genetically)! It’s about the quality and quantity of your diet generally not the amount of meat/dairy/eggs you eat! I’ve consistently had a higher iron count on blood tests than several meat-eating female relatives and I’ve been vegetarian for 20 years and vegan for 5; and I easily get 80-110g of protein per day without trying (when I only *need* 40-60).

  15. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Testify my Brother! I find I fall into cooking the same 4-5 vegan meals when I get lazy but at least they are well balanced. I agree that now I too stop to look and buy some of the funny looking stuff int he produce section I used to never notice. I looove Indian food. The place near us does many dishes with vegan option. Keep up the good work.

  16. When the question of where do I get my protein gets asked I simply reply the same place cows chickens and even elephants get it.

  17. I get the protein one a lot. Which, after asking it and hearing my answer, they quickly say, with wide eyes,”I could never give up meat!” Why do people feel the need to tell me this? I don’t sit there, watch them eat a hamburger and declare all my reasons for not eating meat.

  18. Sabina :) says:

    Wow ! I recently changed my way of eating to a vegi diet and lots of people wore telling me that i am going to have energy dezease , i am not going to perform in my international carrier of figure skating ! But acctually I feel a lot more better and I do feel more ealthier . And what is amazing about being vegan or vegetarian is that you cook a lot more because you take the time of trying full of new things !! Anyways , your new add is really tought full and I like it because it does really represent the reality ! Anyways , thank you for shearing all your ideas with us !!
    Sabina

  19. Great post! I’ve recently found this blog, and just finished Born to Run and now I’m getting it all together. I’ve been a vegetarian for a while now (I was a bad veggie for a while and totally busted Myth #4 in the process), but I’ve gotten my cooking chops together. Being vegetarian has forced me to think about what I eat, and more importantly, where my food comes from. Eating locally and being more adventurous comes quite naturally when being vegetarian. Great Post and I enjoy the blog!! (p.s. – I’m downloading the ebook too!)

    • Hi Richard,

      Glad you liked the post! What you mentioned — that it makes you think about what you choose to eat and where it comes from — is one of my very favorite things about this whole experience.

      Thanks for reading NMA and downloading the ebook!

  20. Matt,

    I have been going back and forth on this topic myself for the last several months and very much appreciate this well written post. I was very close to becoming 100% vegitarian a couple months ago when I had the chance to speak one-on-one with a well known distance coach and former olympic medalist in the marathon who strongly discouraged me from doing so, and actually encouraged me not even to give up red meat (which I did last year) because of the importance not only of the protiens but also the amino acids in lean meats that our bodies, particularly those of athletes, need. His line of thinking was that while it is possible to maintain a healthy disposition as a vegitarian and a distance runner it is very difficult, and that most people don’t have the time or resources to devote to a “proper” vegitarian or vegan diet and get all the nutrients the body needs.

    I am very concerned about both the environmental and physiological consequences of the “typical American diet” (see: Food, Inc.). I would say I am probably 75% vegitarian now and trying each day to move more toward 100% but I am a little concerned about making that jump. Your website, along with the example of current athletes who live this lifestyle, are very reassuring.

    • Hey Chris,

      Interesting comment. I often tell people that of course you can get everything you need from a vegan diet, but you need to be willing to put forth more effort. (And when you do put forth that effort, I think you’re often better off for it.)
      I think this goes for athletes as well as non-athletes.

      But it sounds like you’re pretty serious as an athlete, and in that case, it probably requires even more effort. But some people (Brendan Brazier, Scott Jurek) have said that they found they recovered and performed better on plant foods than animal products. I’m sure other people have had the opposite experience, so I guess what I’d suggest is giving it a try. See how you feel, how hard the effort feels, and how you perform. And then make a decision based on that experience, rather than speculating about what’s best.

    • Hey Chris,
      I am an endurance runner and have been vegetarian my whole life. I had coaches tell me to START eating meat by I always held my bottom line. I stayed vegetarian. In fact, I am mostly vegan. I don’t drink milk or use many milk products. I just don’t avoid them if someone makes a dish at a party or something. All I can say is it is completely possible to be vegetarian and a competitive athlete. There are a lot of great books on the subject! :) good luck in exploring your options!

  21. Hey! Two things:
    1) I bought the half marathon Kindle book. So far so lovin it.
    2) Today while I was driving through a parking garage at San Jose State University I saw a girl wearing one of your shirts and I stopped and told her it was awesome! I’m transferring there next year so I was really pumped to see a No Meat Athlete walking around :D

    • Mindy,

      1) Thanks! You rock. Let me know if you have any questions about it.
      2) Awesome. You rock again. I love when people who both know about NMA meet. Whenever my nose itches, I tell myself that’s the reason.

  22. I really love this article. I have found that when answering #1 with people I have found it easier to help them understand why I want to move toward a less or no meat diet, by explaining how a variety of fruits and veggies (greens especially) have all the building blocks you need. Where do you think wild grazing animals get it? When we eat them we are eating protein alright. But the animal had to eat those building blocks to make it. Then when you eat the animal your body has to tear it all down and get rid of all the waste product you can’t use and rebuild the protein. It takes more energy. And I for one would rather get mine first hand… still working on that though.:) And as far as #4 goes… yeah… sugar is probably worse for me than meat. Wish I could kick that habit then I’d be a skinny runner instead of a chunky one!

    • I laughed so hard about your comment about the sugar. I have been a vegetarian for 1 1/2 years and getting rid of meat was easy but for some reason I can’t get rid of the sugar either. Good Luck!

    • This point is related to the argument for vegetarianism/veganism from an environmental perspective; I think I first read it in Brendan Brazier’s Thrive. The point he makes (and I’m sure others have as well) is that there’s a tremendous loss involved in taking nutrients from plants and putting them into an animal before they reach people’s plates. The animal, of course, moves around and does all sorts of other things that require energy, and that could be bypassed by just eating the plant directly. I admit that I don’t know much at all about environmental issues or the validity of this argument, but it’s an appealing one to me.

      • I’ve read and written much about sugar, so I’m here to say that it’s worth minimizing or substituting, perhaps with stevia or xylitol.

        Do not use artificial sweeteners!

        Here are a few articles for you to consider reading:

        “How Artificial Sweeteners Ruin Your Life and Make You Fat!” http://wp.me/pA04z-wx

        Here’s CNN’s Sanjay Gupta interviewing other doctors about sugar’s toxicity: http://wp.me/pA04z-XT

        “Are You Getting Fat and Sick from Sugar?”
        http://wp.me/pA04z-qy

  23. Great post! My wife and I made the decision to go vegetarian about four years ago. Having a partner to help ease the transition makes things a lot easier. We’ve each lost nearly 100 lbs during those four years without ever feeling like we’ve been denied something. I know for a fact we eat more flavorful, unique, and exciting foods than anyone else I know. Best of all, the energy from the combination of weight loss AND the nutrients that are just part of our everyday reality have taken us both from “Meat No Athlete” to completing our first half-marathon earlier this month and looking forward to a summer of endurance activities that weren’t even possible four years ago.

    • Robert, your experience with vegetarianism sounds very similar to mine in the type of food you now eat and the energy you feel. And I also found it so helpful that my wife wanted to get on board at the same time I did. The only part I can’t relate to is the weight-loss (I try hard to keep the weight on!), but 100 lbs each is absolutely amazing. I’m sure you both inspire a lot of people. Good luck with whatever you’ve got planned for summer!

  24. I love the term veg-curious! So funny, I’m plant based too and now I know what to call my friends who want to know more about my diet! Great post de-bunking all they myths. I get asked those same questions all the time, especially the protein one!

  25. Excellent article! I remember going vegetarian several years and having my (overweight, chain smoking) father come up to me and say, “Hungry?” as I was preparing myself something to eat. Silly omnivores, lol.

  26. Myth #5…SO TRUE! I have always been an adventurous cook, but it was not until I moved into a vegetarian diet that my true talents exploded. Being vegetarian has forced me to think out side the styrofoam platter. My meals have been tantalizing, gorgeously colorful and most importantly, palate parties for the mouth! My non-veg husband is enjoying them so much that he now only eats meat when HE cooks it (which is close to never) or we’re out.
    Cooking is now exciting and challenging (in a good way)!

    BTW: Regarding Myth #3: I never eat tofu.

  27. Good article.

    Yeah, I don’t see how the argument for eating a slaughtered animal that has been proabably fed hormones, etc. holds any weight. And when the pro-meat naysayers reference the bible I just shake my head. If I was a cow I’d be mad too.

  28. Thank you for this post! I mentioned it in my post just yesterday but your blog was incredibly reassuring during my transition to a vegan diet while marathon training.

  29. I get the protein one of course, but my cycling coach is concerned in particular that I’m not getting ‘complete’ protein with all the amino acids in it. Is this another myth or am I getting totally confused? He also wanst me to eat more portein generally, which I’m happy to do (vegan, of course). Any one able to help me reassure him I’m ok?

    • Generally, it’s true that a single plant protein source doesn’t have as good a balance of all 9 essential amino acids as an animal byproduct. There are some notable exceptions to this, such as quinoa and soy. But in general, if you eat a wide variety of whole foods, you’ll get plenty of all the essential aminos; certain foods may be low in certain aminos, but other foods will be high in those. Beans and rice is the most well-known combination in which two “incomplete” proteins combine to provide a good balance of all essential amino acids. However, it’s completely unnecessary to eat a “complete” protein at every meal, whether from a single source or from a specific combination – your body doesn’t care whether all the amino acids get there at the same time. Variety is key to nutrient balance (for everyone actually, not just us veggies), whether we’re talking about amino acids or any other important nutrient. Eat a variety of different kinds of whole plant foods throughout the day, focus on meeting your total protein needs, and you’ll get a good, healthy balance of all the amino acids you need. Hope this helps! If your coach wants some more documentation of this concept, point him to this LiveStrong article: http://www.livestrong.com/article/382528-plant-based-sources-of-complete-protein-for-vegetarians/

      • You “should” have your own blog, Kayla.

        I’d read it.

        • Thanks so much! I do have one, actually – well, did, for awhile, but you can tell I’ve thoroughly neglected it over the last year. Grad school and whatnot. I’ve linked it here – disclaimer though, while it started off primarily as a recipe repository, more recently I started to write about whatever was on my mind at the time, which isn’t always veganism-related. Also, I curse like a sailor. :)

      • And like Kayla says, there’s no need to have all the amino acids in a single meal. If you use protein powder (like I do, in smoothies), you can get a complete amino acid profile by using several powders… namely hemp, rice, and pea. And while there’s no need to get them all at the same time, you can just mix them (or buy a blended powder) to make it easy.

  30. When I went vegan a few years ago I found that a consultation with a nutritionist was very helpful. She helped assess where my current diet deficiencies were, what nutrients I’d need to ensure I got enough of as a vegan and a list of foods to get those nutrients from. I chose to go vegan for health, sustainability and animal welfare purposes. For several years I maintained that lifestyle but found that I did have meat cravings – like turkey at thanksgiving. I held a lot of guilt about this, that I was a bad vegetarian and non-veggie friends would point out that I had ‘fell off the wagon’. I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, going vegetarian and giving up meat doesn’t have to be an either/or thing. I allowed myself to have a steak or bacon or turkey at thanksgiving if that was what felt right for me. I kind of did a deal with myself that I could have no more than one meat item per week and that I should feel guilt free regarding my high holiday meat cravings. The reality was I ate far less of it than I expected and average a meat item every 4-6 weeks, if that. I’ve found that has really worked for me, and let’s face it, for health, sustainability and animal welfare purposes, if everyone did that and just started out by reducing their amount of meat days to 1-2 days a week, and focused on a well balanced vegetarian diet for the rest, I think we’d see a huge increase in predominantly vegetarian lifestyles and a positive affect on these societal issues. A well known chef in the UK who was notoriously pro-snout to tail cookery, has recently come to the same conclusion and written an excellent recipe book which has renewed my excitement with veggie cookery and may be helpful in coaxing the veg-curious off the carnivore ledge – River Cottage Veg Everyday! by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I hope sharing my journey helps.

    • Jacqueline says:

      Yes, it is helpful! Thank you.

    • I know that many vegetarians and vegans frown on this approach, but I agree with you. I can’t eat meat and feel okay about doing so — but I know there are others who can occasionally “cheat” (for lack of a better word) without feeling badly about it. And if having meat on certain occasions or being “mostly” vegetarian is what it takes for them to significantly reduce the amount of meat they eat, then I’m in favor of it. I’d rather see 100 people be almost-vegetarians than 10 people be full-on.

  31. i am currently vegan and right now am reading ‘the vegetarian myth’ which argues that gaining food, clothing, shelter requires some negative impact on other beings. specifically the staples of a vegan diet require agriculture that impacts local ecologies and is energy intensive. if i buy bread from the grocery store it requires 1) taking land in kansas out of its natural state which takes away animal habitats, 2) lots of fossil fuels, and 3) investment in a variety of businesses and systems that treat people, animals, and the environment in ways that i cant control and that go against my vegan ethic. i agree with this argument and would suggest that the value of compassion and consideration for all beings present and future may sometimes be better expressed by consuming foods that arent vegan.

    • Todd, I’ve heard of that book a few other times now, and it sounds like an interesting read. I’ll check it out. Thanks!

    • I should start with a disclaimer that I think the people behind “The Vegetarian Myth” (Lierre Keith and the Weston A. Price foundation) are full of crap, so there’s my bias off the bat. That said, it’s not a question of whether being vegan requires harm of some kind to the earth or other beings. It does, unavoidably. The question is whether being vegan causes less harm than eating meat. It does, undeniably.

      Look at those three arguments you presented: what makes you think they apply to plant food systems but not animal food systems? Farming cows, for example, even free-range, takes tons of land away from other species’ natural habitats, uses huge amounts of fossil fuels and produces enormous amounts of greenhouse gasses, and is ridiculously profitable for some of the most unethical companies you can imagine. Yes, eat local when you can, grow and make your own food if you’re able, and purchase only from local, ethical companies if it’s possible.

      But regardless of whether you’re privileged enough to do any of those things, eating plants ALWAYS does less harm to animals, the environment, the community, and your body than eating animals. Always.

      • Amen! And really, how many factory farmed kales are there in circulation… vs. factory farmed beef, or eggs? Overall impact much much lower, we gots to eat something!

    • The reality is that the most eco friendly and sustainable way is to consume organic food off our own small-holding that has traveled little farther than a few feet. Beyond that a local farmer’s market allows us to cast the net wider. For many of us that would mean eating only seasonal foods and those indigenous to our local area – which means that 1) we’d kind of need to quit the day job to tend our farms and be too pooped to marathon, but 2) that we (in the Northern Hemisphere) would probably never see a banana again, which would be a sad day in my opinion. I think then we go with the plan to do what we can. We grow what we can, we buy local as much as we can (organic all the better), we eat less meat because it does add significantly more to our carbon footprint than veggie rearing does, we ensure we don’t waste the food we have, and we ensure our children understand the value of food and where it comes from. I have found that when children (us all for that matter) fully understand where food comes from and how it is grown in the ground or reared we have a far greater respect and appreciation for it – we often have a tendency to become more vegetarian (or at least a lot more discerning). My young one’s have all started a gradual path to vegetarianism after teaching them more about meat and where food comes from. They have been quite happy to do so and eat 95% veggie now, although bacon has been a struggle for them. The guilt was slightly eased by my 7 year old who started thanking the pig for his bacon and hoping he had a happy and fun life while he was here and an even happier one in heaven. It’s a start. :)

  32. I don’t get asked the protein question as much_ I am a muscular and strong 6’8 288lb runner. But milk/dairy are the most dangerous food to people and are often promoted to runners.

    • People are probably shocked you are vegan:) How long have you been one? I know what you mean about dairy, I use to always wonder why dairy was so bad if you ate non-fat yogurt but I’m learning about it more. I like reading Runner’s World but It’s hard when you see the nutritionist promote dairy. Just thought I would write and let you know what I thought of your reply.

  33. I think it’s hard for a lot of people living the traditional meat and potatoes lifestyle to visualize a meal as anything other than a homogeneous main (protein) a side (veggies) and a carb (processed).

    Why not have several different proteins plus a bunch of different plants cooked in different ways, and some whole grains or a small sinful bread-like carb for fun sometimes?

    Eating a variety foods in one meal rounds out the nutrient profile and is a little less ‘Soylent Green’ then trying to get it all in one perfect, dubiously conceived food source. :P

  34. Jacqueline says:

    I am 26 days vegan, and while I have not lost weight, and I have not jumped over buildings in a single bound, I do feel “different”. I think the difference is my relationship to food and my appreciation for how it sustains me. It is hard to explain but I think this article begins to touch on it a bit. For those who are curious, I say, try it for enough time to truly test how it may or may not work for you. 30 days was my “test” duration and I will keep going because I love how I feel eating plants.

    • Jacqueline, I started with a 10-day challenge and then a 30-day one after that. At that point, I was still eating fish a few times per week, but it was a big jump from eating chicken and turkey in essentially every meal. And just like you, after that I loved it, so I cut out the fish and never looked back!

  35. Do you have plans to release your book for Nook as well as Kindle?

  36. As a vegetarian and mostly vegan endurance runner, your list made me smile. You have no idea (well, maybe you do) how many people say these things to me and have my whole life. I was raised vegetarian and have raised three sons vegetarian. A lot of people are quick to judge my diet when they find out I’m an athlete. BUT… they come absolutely unglued when they find out my kids don’t drink milk or eat meat. I hear all about how you can’t “deprive” a child of these things. I actually had one parent tell me I was allowing my child to miss a childhood milestone… the Happy Meal. I just say we have three of those a day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nothing dead is on my plate and my family is wholly nourished. :) keep uP the good work!

  37. sorry if this has gotten off the veg for health aspect but on we go towards veg for ethics…..my reply about ‘lierre keith and vegetarian myth’……i thought strict veganism was the best diet for me to express values of consideration for other beings (people and animals, current and future) but I woke up one morning last week and grabbed a banana and the sticker said ‘ecuador’ and then I looked out back at our rescued chickens and decided their eggs though not technically a ‘vegan food’ were more in line with my ‘vegan values’. I am not afraid to explore further down this path (my values are steadfast and my balance on slippery slopes has been honed from snowboarding). if i dont join them, i will at least have a better understanding why people acquire food from local farms and through hunting and I definitely have a better understanding that a lot of the food I eat as a vegan has negative consequences for people, animals, and the environment. I hope others have the courage and compassion to trace their food and measure its impacts and adjust dietary choices accordingly.

  38. Great list!!
    I actually have a great book called “Becoming Vegetarian” which seems like a great transition guide (I went veg as a kid, so I never tried it but it has good info too).
    May I add one more myth on behalf of veg moms out there: Your kids will be damaged by not getting meat.
    I can’t believe how many people have balked at the idea of a mom not serving her kids meat – like it’s some form of child abuse…
    Veg kids absolutely CAN be perfectly healthy. You have to watch kids’ diets anyway – so actually veg kids’ diets really aren’t much more work.

  39. Myth number 5 struck a chord with me. I often hear: You’re a vegetarian? I could never do THAT – I’d starve!

    For many a meal consists of something like meat and 2 veg so they automatically assume I just take away the meat and eat only the veg. Yes you might starve if you only ate salads!

    I find this opinion to be very narrow minded. They don’t understand that successful vegetarianism requires expanding one’s culinary horizons.

  40. I eat a lot of salds and tofu. The thing is I have grown to like the boring diet.

  41. I have benn veg for about 3 decades and recently have gone more or less vegan, i eat my own free range chicken’s eggs. I never ever miss meat or fake meats, occasionslly i wil buy some fake meat, just for fun, but mostly i don’t. I check what i buy and where it comes, e.g. I will not buy chiquita bananas because chiquita bought off the local colombian drug lords. I try to buy eco if not organic bananas and i try to do the same thing with other foods. I try to buy local and seasonal, besides being better for the earth, seasonal food just tastes better, strawberries in december? I might as well eat redcolored blob of water, so why waste my money, esp when it’s citrus season…. It takes willingness to learn and an open mind about diffetent foods.

  42. Aaron Pedersen says:

    Loved the article. wanted to point out one name on your list of vegetarians that in fact is not. Prince Fielder declared (I found this out via Wikipedia) in 2012 that he was not vegetarian and actually only was for 3 months. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Fielder#Personal_life

    However, Ricky WIlliams, running back is a vegan

  43. lydia ruiz says:

    if we purchased the Getting ready for 1/2 marathon, do we also get the full marathin training guide?

  44. Great article, really helpful! Now I just need help convincing my parents to let me go vegetarian… Any ideas? Thanks!

  45. This was a great article!
    As a veg, I loathe being asked about proteins. I always respond with a yell “do you eat enough greens a-hole??”

    Anyway, I still wonder whether or not I need to take Vitamin B12 supplements. I’ve been veg going on 6 years now…. and I’ve only dabbled…. I’m feeling just fine.

    • @Crista: My two cents:

      Given that we keep learning more every year about the benefits of vitamin D, I asked my doctor to do a vitamin D blood level. (Long before I was even considering going vegan.) Obviously this removed any guess-work on whether I needed to tweak my diet or take a supplement. So when I told my doctor recently that I had just gone vegan, his response was, “A vegan diet certainly is conducive to good health. We should probably do a blood test for B12 at your next annual checkup.” (I love having open-minded doctors!)

  46. Can you write a post that addresses more in-depthly the B-12 myth? I want to know what foods (besides meat) produce B-12 and if there are studies that have tracked how effective or not eating only plant-based substitutes are? Meaning… can people really THRIVE while being a vegetarian without some chemically created supplement? Thanks.

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  1. [...] shortly after reading that article, I stumbled across this post, over at nomeatathlete, Veggie Myths , where the author takes on what a lot of vegetarians or vegans face each and every day.  The [...]

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