Vegan Robocop: Vegan Myth Buster
All vegans are asked to answer questions on a fairly regular basis about many different aspects of their life choice. Usually these questions are predictable, but not every vegan may know the answers off-hand, or may not have a complete understanding of all the information involved.
Although I don't believe in trying to 'convert' anyone to veganism (in fact I prefer not even telling anyone I'm vegan in the first place), I have found that the only positive impact people can have on those around them is by leading by example. If you are the type of vegan who wants to walk the walk AND talk the talk, then you'd better be able to answer all of these vegan myths without breaking a sweat.
If, on the other hand, you aren't a vegan and just know one, are considering becoming one, or are just curious, then the answers to these myths should help you get some clarity on the "How do vegans...?" and "Where do you get your...?" type of questions.
I'm also going to be dealing with some assumptions that many non-vegans have about the way vegans view the world, animals, and other people. Ok, let's dive in with Myth #1.
Myth #1: Protein
Ok, this is such a popular myth that I almost feel like society has been brainwashed in some way to keep asking it. Just last week a buddy of mine asked me where I get protein in my diet, so it certainly is still the #1 question people ask of vegetarians/vegans.
I'll just start off with the big guns here:
1) Muscle tissue is created from protein (protein is certainly not limited to only this function).
2) Not counting insects, the two strongest pound-for-pound land animals on the planet are the Elephant and the Gorilla.
3) Elephants and Gorillas are both vegan.
Those are facts that should make it obvious that meat and/or dairy are not necessary for muscle tissue, one of the main things people think about when they think of 'getting enough protein.' Although this is a fairly simplistic view of protein considering how useful it is to so many of our bodily processes and functions, it still illustrates very quickly just how wrong it is to think that protein is hard to get.
Protein is in fact about the easiest thing to get on Earth, assuming you have a diet that includes ANY natural foods (ie- veggies, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, or grains in their natural state). Now it's time to bust out the even BIGGER guns:
- Broccoli is 49% protein
- Collard greens are 48% protein
- Kale is 60% protein
- Lettuce ranges from 12-42% protein depending on variety
- Parsley is 36% protein
- Spinach is 49% protein
- Cucumbers are 10% protein
- Alfalfa sprouts are 40% protein
- Asparagus is 25% protein
Ok, seeing a pattern here? I didn't list a single nut, legume, or grain and yet there's a ton of protein sitting up there ^. As odd as it may seem, green vegetable matter actually contains far more protein than nuts, seeds, and beans. The elephants and gorillas have the right idea, I guess--they went to the best source of protein on the planet--green vegetables.
Many vegetarians and vegans think that they need to eat lots of beans, nuts, seeds, and grains to get enough protein. As it turns out, there isn't anywhere near as much protein in most of those foods as there is in a green salad.
Now, there are so many other protein-related myths concerning vegetarianism/veganism that I could probably write 30 pages about them off the top of my head and dispel them one-by-one. Don't worry, I'm not going to do that, but I am going to give a quick summary of the big ones.
1) Non-meat foods need to be combined in order to get complete proteins.
As most people know, or at least learned in high school, proteins are made up of amino acids. All of these amino acids must be present in order to form a complete protein. What many people don't know is that our bodies are able to store and save amino acids for quite a while as they wait for the other necessary amino acids to complete protein production. If you eat a healthy plant-based diet, your body will be able to make plenty of protein over the course of a day without any food combining necessary.
By the way--food combining was an idea of author Frances Moore Lappe who admitted years after publishing "Diet for a Small Planet" that she had fabricated the entire food combining concept and that it wasn't necessary at all. For some reason people still often bring up this subject.
2) Meat provides more 'usable,' 'efficient,' or 'bioavailable' protein than vegetable matter.
First of all, our bodies are only 7% protein. Although critical to health, it's not a huge part of what counts percentage-wise. Nutritional experts say that humans only need about 20-30 grams of protein a day--the amount contained in one small serving of meat or a large salad with plenty of greens in it. No one is hurting for protein unless they are doing something very very wrong.
It's true that meat contains all of the amino acids at once, so it is a complete source of protein all at once. The obvious reason for this is that meat is the muscle tissue of another (once-living) animal--so of course it's complete protein! Just keep in mind that even the protein in a carnivorous animal comes originally from plants. Carnivores like lions and tigers eat animals that live on plants like zebras and gazelles. So although some animals and people may get their protein from meat, the source of all dietary protein on our planet is actually plants. Another interesting fact is that avocados also contain all of the essential amino acids. This makes avocados a complete protein just like meat.
On top of that, meat varies from 20-25% protein (unless you want to eat your meat raw and still living like a predator does), and as you've already seen, vegetables often score far higher than that on the protein content index. As for how 'usable' protein from different sources is, refer again to elephants and gorillas. They seem to be using veggie protein just fine, don't they? Well so do we. It's a long-established scientific fact that if you're getting the proper amino acids in the proper amounts, your body can make protein--regardless of the source of amino acids. So, no--veggies are not inferior to meat, dairy, or eggs when it comes to protein. In fact, green veggies are literally THE best source of protein on Earth.
Note: One thing I'd like to add is that dietary cholesterol is 0% for vegans. All vegan protein sources contain no dietary cholesterol, so even on top of eating the most efficient, abundant sources of protein on the planet, vegans are also getting the most pure and unadulterated protein. Don't even get me started on all of the fats, chemicals, additives, hormones, fecal matter, urine, etc. that is in meat as well. Let's just say that veggies are the cleanest choice of protein by every standard possible.
Myth #2: Calcium?!!?! Where do vegans get it?
Calcium shmalcium, that's what I say. Not because it isn't important, but because like protein, it's soooooo easy to get enough of it on a vegan diet. In fact, if you're eating dairy products I have some bad news for you. You are not only not getting very much calcium from those dairy products (even if they're fortified), you are actually forcing your body to leach calcium from your bones in order to buffer the extreme acid-inducing effect of the dairy within your body.
I'm going to be writing an entire article explaining the science behind that process in the future, but for now feel free to think I'm crazy and that of course dairy products are good for you. I mean, the billions spent by the dairy industry to convince you that milk is good for you has to be right, doesn't it? Money grubbing evil bastards would never try to convince you that something terrible is ok just to make money would they? Not counting alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, etc. of course. Oh, and all of those prescription drugs they recall every year for killing people. And microwaves. And fluoride in your drinking water. Yeah, other than that and about 1000 other things they've got a decent track record.
But back to calcium. From a vegan standpoint, it's easy to get calcium. On top of that, vegans don't need to buffer their body's pH anywhere near as much as people who eat dairy and meat products, so the demand for calcium within their bodies is much lower. The extremely acid-forming diet of most people forces their body into a cycle of demanding more and more calcium in order to buffer the massive doses of acid assaulting their bodies daily. When that huge increased demand for calcium isn't met, the only place for the body to get more calcium is to acutally steal it from the person's very own bones. Vegans who eat healthy don't have that problem, and as a consequence, they have much lower needs for calcium and the bonus is--they actually use the calcium to build their bones. What a great idea, huh?
Did you know that cinnamon, that awesome spice that makes everything taste delicious, is actually a fantastic source of calcium? How about broccoli? Well they both are. In fact, calcium is pretty hard to avoid on a plant-based diet, and with the lowered demand for calcium that vegans enjoy, it's a snap really. Assuming that you're not a junk food vegan. You're not one of those, are you? Naughty naughty! (For the record, I spent about 5 years as a mostly junk food vegan and I'll be writing an article about that shortly.) When viewing the list below, keep in mind that vegans generally need 500mg of calcium a day or less depending on who you talk to. Even if that low number isn't met by diet, taking calcium supplements is inexpensive and easy.
So without further ado, here's a short list of some of the most calcium-rich plant foods and their calcium content in mg/ 100 gram serving (keep in mind that although sesame seeds and cinnamon are very high in calcium content, they are eaten in small quantities usually so are not as good of a regular source of calcium as they might seem at first from the numbers):
- Sesame seeds 1,160mg
- Cinnamon 1002mg
- Agar seaweed 567mg
- Collard greens 250mg
- Turnip greens 246mg
- Kale 249mg
- Almonds 234mg
- Parsley 203mg
- Broccoli 103mg
Now just for the record, the same serving of whole milk contains 113mg of calcium. So even if you want to stay in denial about milk leaching calcium from your bones, the numbers alone show that milk is actually not much more calcium-rich than broccoli, and nowhere near as good as every other food on the list above.
So case closed. Calcium is easy for vegans to get and on top of that they have a lowered demand for it anyway which makes it even easier to meet dietary requirements for maximum health.
Ok, probably the most asked question about vegan nutrition after protein and calcium is b12. First of all, b12 doesn't come from animal products--meat eaters are not getting b12 from meat; it actually comes from bacteria. The meat is full of bacteria that contain b12 and so if you eat the 'contaminated' meat, you get the b12 as well.
Those same bacteria are easy enough to get if cleanliness isn't a huge concern for you--simply grow your own vegetable garden and don't wash anything before you eat it (Do not do this if you use manure, bone meal, blood meal, fish meal, or other animal products for your garden). You'll get plenty of b12-containing bacteria--although some of the other microbes you didn't wash off might just cause an imbalance that could make you sick or even kill you. Not my top choice.
So vegans are left with 2 options for getting b12:
1) Take b12 supplements. There are countless types and as long as a vegan gets the most bioavailable source of b12 (methylcobalamin) and take it regularly, b12 is easy to get. I use a sublingual spray about 3-5 days a week.
2) Make your own b12 utilizing the 'secret' b vitamin--b17. Vitamin b17 is highly controversial and not even considered to actually be a vitamin by the FDA (who in my opinion DO NOT have your health at the top of their priority list but could still be right about this). Supposedly, our bodies are capable of making b12 from b17 if we ingest enough b17 containing foods as part of a balanced and healthy diet. I've done a few hours of research on this subject and I really don't know whether I think the medical community's concern over b17 is valid or not. Do your own research if you want to travel down the path of b17.
Some foods containing b17 are: grasses such as wheat grass, millet, sorghum, lentils, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), maize, alfalfa sprouts, cashews, kidney, lima, mung, and black beans, macadamia nuts, spinach, water cress, sweet potatoes, and blackberry seeds. All of these foods are very healthy and safe to eat assuming you aren't allergic to them. B17 becomes much more of a debate when synthetic, extracted, or cyanide-containing natural foods (like apricot pits and apple seeds) are discussed. I find it much easier to just take b12 supplements directly, as do most vegans. If b17 exists, and is healthy--then it's a nice bonus because the list of b17 containing foods has got at least 7 or 8 foods that everyone should eat regularly anyway. If not, eating those foods certainly will still be good for you and do no harm.
So b12 is easy to get for everyone, and although I have a feeling many vegans aren't serious enough about finding a quality bioavaliable source of b12--it's really easy to do so.
Vegans Are ______
Ok, enough with the specific nutrients already. How about a vegan myth that has nothing to do with food; the "Vegans are _____" myth.
All vegans are not anything. Each vegan is an individual just like everyone else. Some vegans are ok with buying leather or other animal products and keep their veganism to food only. Others (I am one of these) avoid everything that has anything to do with animal products, including leather, wool, lanolin, bleached sugar (which is charmingly bleached with cow bones, yay!), honey (AKA bee vomit), eggs, dairy products, meats, etc. It's actually quite a long list, and you'd be surprised how many animal products make it into odd places (like dryer sheets). To some vegans, it's not about animals at all (in terms of their wellbeing)--I've met quite a few vegans that just think animals are 'disgusting' or 'gross' and want nothing to do with them. Others are huge into animal rights and activism and politcal stuff. There's no one standard definition of veganism.
So each vegan makes their own decisions on how they want to approach the whole vegan concept, and of course it's always a work in progress too--like everyone else vegans can change their minds. Lots of vegans start off slow and build up over time. Others go in the opposite direction. The idea here is that vegans are not all _____. Some of them are _____, some are _____, and (I have to admit) a lot of them seem to be total assh__es. But quite a few of them are super cool, too.
This leads to the next _____ that vegans are often accused of being: arrogant/high-and-mighty/morally superior/etc. I've found that this is often true, but then again there are tons of vegans that are quite the opposite. For some reason, raging psychotic people are often drawn towards veganism. They tend to be the loudest, most vocal, in-your-face vegans that give the rest of us a bad reputation. Apparently these people think that being a total jerk is ok as long as you don't eat animals. Maybe they missed the memo that people are animals too, who knows? An easy way to spot these delightful people is to simply keep your eyes peeled for "Meat is Murder" shirts and other slogan-oriented stuff like bumper stickers. I suggest leaving these people alone. There's a good chance that one day they'll grow up and move on to a more mature viewpoint about veganism, but in the meantime they're quite dogmatic and closed-minded so I wouldn't recommend trying to debate them. Debate is for the open-minded.
Now don't get me wrong here--some of the most charming, friendly, good-hearted people I've ever met in my life were/are vegans. There are some truly incredible people in the vegan world. I don't meet a lot of middle-of-the-road vegans out there. Usually they are either total arrogant jerks, or the nicest people on Earth. I can see that this is slowly changing as more and more people are becoming vegans nowadays. Veganism used to be something that made most people think you're 'crazy,' but it's becoming more and more socially acceptable to be vegan--and with that new level of acceptance--more and more 'normal' people are becoming vegan. It's both hilarious and deeply saddening to me to consider that it's considered 'crazy' to not want to torture and murder animals in order to eat a meal. I'm glad that this is changing.
As veganism becomes more and more mainstream, people are inventing more and more ways to be a vegan. I think that's great; variety is the spice of life. Each new vegan proves that all vegans are simply not _____. The only ______ that all vegans are is: unique (just like everybody else).
More to Come
Ok, I'm going to continue writing about the most common vegan myths soon. There are so many of them that this article would be way too long if I included them all, so I'll be back in a while with part 2. If you'd like me to include any vegan myths/questions that you think of, just leave me a comment about it and I'll do my best to include it in my next article.