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Plant-Based Diets Facts and Fiction


In our meat and potatoes or hamburger and fries American diet, there is often concerned about the health of those who eat mostly plant-based foods. The following will help separate the fiction from the facts.

Myth 1: All plant-based diets are about the same.

FACT: No. Vegetarians who eat milk or eggs are called "lacto-ovo-vegetarians". Those who eat no animal products are called "vegans", or strict or total vegetarians. There are many variations of these two main types of plant-based diets.

When someone declares himself/herself a "vegetarian" it is best to ask the person exactly which foods are eaten and which are avoided. Most likely, the person is a "lacto-ovo-vegetarian".

Myth 2: There are very few vegetarians.
FACT: Recently it is estimated that about 10% of the USA is vegetarian. Restaurants report that about 27% of the customers want a vegetarian option when they order.

Myth 3: A diet without meat is nutritionally deficient.
FACT: All vegetarian diets can provide all the essential nutrients to a person choosing from an abundant food supply. However, as a diet becomes more restrictive, it may be more difficult to get all the necessary nutrients. Following the guidelines outlined in the Vegetarian Food Pyramid provides most nutrients in adequate supply. Remember that the adequacy of any diet depends on the variety and the amount of foods that are included. Consult a registered dietitian for accurate diet instruction.

The nutrients of greatest concern in the vegan or macrobiotic-type diets are vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc. Nutrient needs are greatest during periods of growth.

Myth 4: One can't possibly get enough protein without meat and/or milk and eggs.
FACT: It is difficult not to get enough protein if one eats sufficient amounts and variety of food to maintain a healthful body weight. All foods, except sugar and oil, contain some protein. Plant-based diets get protein from legumes (dried peas and beans), seeds, nuts, whole grains, and for the lacto-ovo-vegetarian, also from milk and eggs.

Myth 5: Certain combinations of foods have to be eaten at the same meal to get the right amino acids (the building blocks of protein).
FACT: There is no need to combine foods at meals to get right proteins in the diet. If one follows the recommended amounts and number of servings of the Vegetarian Food Pyramid, one will be getting adequate amounts of the protein..

Myth 6: All vegetarian diets are low in fat.
FACT: Vegetarian diets may or may not be low in fat. It all depends upon the choices one makes. Some high fat foods commonly used by vegetarians are avocadoes, olives and olive oil, nuts, nut and soy based milk type beverages and seeds. These fats are moderate to low in saturated fats. They can also choose cheese, egg yolks and cream which are foods high in saturated fat.

Myth 7: Vegetarian diets are dull and boring.
FACT: A diet can become boring when one eats the same foods every day. With the abundance of foods to choose from and the variety of ways to prepare them, a diet without meat need not be either dull or boring.

Myth 8: Vegetarian diets can cure cancer and heart disease.
FACT: Because most lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets are nutritionally sound, higher in fiber, lower in cholesterol and contain more fruits and vegetables, this diet pattern can reduce a person's risk of many cancers and certain types of heart disease. However, even vegetarians must follow all the precautions physicians prescribe for decreasing the risk of these diseases.