Vegan myths: the most common misconceptions about the diet 3 months ago

Vegan myths: the most common misconceptions about the diet

Busted.

These days, there's a lot of vegans out there.

And for every vegan, there's a vegan myth.

For years, there has been an abundance of misconceptions about the diet.

Everything from 'you'll be malnourished' to 'vegans will always tell you when they're a vegan' has been spouted from the mouths of those who enjoy basking in miseducation, or those who are simply naive.

So, as Oprah once posited: what is the truth?

Are all vegans really missing out on nutrients? Are supplements enough? Is being vegan simply too difficult and nobody should bother?

According to vegans - and non-vegans alike - the most common misconception is that somebody following a vegan diet simply cannot access all the vitamins and nutrients that we need to survive.

And although we absolutely don't need a professional to tell us this - just look at all of the entirely healthy vegans there are around us - we found one anyway.

Dietician Maeve Hanan from Orla Walsh Nutrition says that although documentaries like Netflix's Game Changers make it look like everybody needs an entire team around them to be a healthy fit vegan, it's really all about making sure that you've got balance in your diet.

"What you need is a good variety of plant based foods, especially lots of different types of plant based proteins so you’re getting all of the essential ammonia acids that your body needs," she says.

“Another really important thing is the supplements. Anybody living in Ireland should be considering taking vitamin D around this time of year anyway - we just don’t get the sunshine here - so we should be taking about 10 mcg.

"Women of childbearing age should also be considering 400 mcg of folic acid supplement. Again, that’s whether you’re vegan or not. The most important ones to supplement for vegans are vitamin B12, iodine, and omega 3."

Bronwyn Slater, founder of information website The Irish Vegan, says that she finds much of the confusion around nutrients in a vegan diet comes from the assumption that vegans are missing out on all of the good stuff that meat-eaters aren't.

However, a lot of the time, this simply is not the case.

"In fact, a lot of meat eaters also need to take a B12 supplement because they don't get enough from their diet," she says.

"For meat eaters, B12 comes from animals who ingest the B12 directly from the soil. Because we wash all our vegetables nowadays we remove any soil that might contain B12, hence the need for supplementation.

Another myth about veganism is that anyone who follows the diet struggles to get enough protein when, in actual fact, most people in Ireland are already getting more than enough of the stuff.

"All plants contain some protein," says Bronwyn. "Foods that are high in protein include tofu (made from soya beans), seitan (made from wheat gluten), lentils, chickpeas, beans, soya milk, nuts, and many more."

But it's not just the science that people are misled on. There also seems to be a lot of confusion around the use of the words: 'plant based' and 'vegan.'

While the word 'vegan' means a diet that avoids the use of any animal products, 'plant based' (although sometimes used as a synonym), actually means something else entirely.

Dietician Maeve says that despite what a lot of people think, there is actually "no single definition of what a plant based diet is."

"It’s this really broad spectrum of anything from someone having a few meat-free meals during the week to someone who is completely vegan," she says.

"I think the flexitarian approach, where you have lots of plants in the diet, is a really healthy way of living where you don’t need to exclude food groups or put a strict label on it. That works for a lot of people."

And although the label might be strict, it's also incredibly common.

Walk into any supermarket in Ireland and you'll be sure to find a selection of products actively marked as vegan friendly. Following the diet is, contrary to what many people still believe, not half as difficult as it used to be.

Sam Pearson, owner of Vegan Sandwich Co, can attest to that. Having been a vegan for three years - and a chef of vegan food for almost as long - he knows first hand the incredible increase of varied vegan options over the past few years.

"You can walk into any restaurant and any shop and find a vegan option," he says.

"What I’m doing and what other vegan businesses are doing is trying to make these options as delicious as their meat and dairy counterparts."

And what about the the, ahem, joke that 'vegans will always tell you when they're vegan'? Sam says that at his stall, it's actually the opposite.

"You’ll know a meat eater at the stall because they’ll tell you," he says. "They’re like: I’m not vegan, just so you know… but this food is nice."

You can read more of Her's in-depth look at veganism in Ireland here.