Plant-based diets have been steadily gaining popularity for some time now, and it’s expected this trend will continue in the immediate future.
Part of this is due to research which shows that eating a lot of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grain) may[1,2,3,4]:
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes
- Support blood sugar regulation
- Improve cholesterol profile
- Aid body composition
- Promote a healthy insulin response
- Support a healthy body weight
Despite the growth in popularity and increasing amounts of research noting the benefits of a plant-based diet, many misconceptions still abound regarding this way of eating.
Today, we discuss the top 6 biggest myths about plant-based diets.
6 Myths About Plant-Based Diets
#1 “Plant-Based” Means Vegan
Somewhere over the course of the past year or two, the terms “plant-based” and vegan have come to mean the same thing.
In actuality, they are NOT.
A diet that is “plant-based” or “plant-strong” can include a wide variety of diets. All it really means is that there is a focus (or copious consumption) of plant foods -- fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
Vegan diets exclude all animal products from the diet – even dairy and eggs.
Another way to look at it is that all vegan diets are plant-based, but not every plant-based diet is necessarily vegan... or even vegetarian.
It is entirely possible to eat eggs, meat, and dairy while still consuming a lot of plants.
You can eat meat and dairy every day and still follow a plant-based diet.
There is no formalized, technical definition of what qualifies as a “plant-based” diet, at least in the scientific literature, but if you poll enough nutrition experts (or use some critical thinking), “plant-based” usually means that at least half of your meal consists of plant foods.
As a result, there is no one “right” or “optimal” plant-based diet. You can still eat beef, chicken, pork, turkey, eggs, or even whey protein powder, and still be eating “plant-based.”
#2 You Can’t Get Enough Protein on a Plant-Based Diet
Quite possibly the biggest misconception about plant-based diets is that it’s a struggle to eat enough protein each day. Now, some research does indicate that individuals following a vegan or vegetarian diet tend to not consume enough protein each day compared to individuals who include animal proteins in their diet.
Current recommendations for those looking to build muscle, lose fat, and improve body composition are to consume between 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, which approximates to 0.8-1 gram per pound of body weight.
As we mentioned above, just because you’re following a plant-based diet doesn’t inherently mean you’re not eating animal products, which in that case hitting your protein needs each day should be pretty easy.
However, if you’re following a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet, consuming enough total protein and amino acids may be a challenge, but it’s not impossible.
One thing to be aware of is that plant protein isn’t as bioavailable as animal proteins tend to be on account of various compounds in plants that reduce their bioavailability. Individual plant proteins also tend to be “incomplete” meaning they’re deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids, such as leucine, lysine, or methionine.
This can be circumvented by eating a variety of plant foods (rice and beans, nut butters and bread, etc) with each plant food filling in the gaps in the other food’s amino acid profile.
Additionally, a few plant proteins, such as pea protein and soy, are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids, in sufficient amounts, to support protein synthesis.
Two other options for those looking to consume adequate protein and essential amino acids while following a plant-based or vegan diet are to supplement with a plant-based / vegan protein powder, such as 1UP Organic Vegan Protein, which delivers 24 grams of high quality plant protein per serving.
It may also be helpful to supplement your other meals throughout the day with additional essential amino acids to ensure that you’re supplying your body with enough “raw materials” to support muscle recovery and growth. 1UP Natural Vegan BCAA provides 7 grams of vegan-sourced essential amino acids (including 5 grams of BCAAs) to support recovery, growth, and immune function.
#3 All Plant-Based Foods are “Healthy”
A common misconception or fallacy is that because something is “natural” it must inherently be healthy.
That’s not always the case.
For example, arsenic and cyanide are both naturally occurring, but even small amounts can be lethal.
Now that example may be a bit extreme, but it serves to drive home a point -- just because a food is classified as “plant-based” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy, or even safe.
A cookie that’s made from plant based ingredients is still a cookie, meaning it’s likely void of protein and fiber while being high in sugar and fat. Moreover, vegan cakes, pretzels, french fries, etc. may only contain non-animal foods, but they’re still void of micronutrients, protein, and fiber, making them sources of empty calories that do little to further your fitness and physique goals.
As with any diet, whether it be paleo, plant-based, vegan, carnivore, IIFYM, etc., the majority of your food intake should come from minimally processed foods. A little bit of junk food is fine, just make sure the majority of your meals are composed of healthy foods.
#4 You’ll Lose Muscle on a Plant-Based Diet
This plant-based diet myth builds of points #1 and #2 discussed above.
Maintaining and building muscle boils down to consuming enough protein. As we discussed earlier, it is entirely possible to consume enough protein while following a plant-based diet, even a vegan diet for that matter.
You may have to get a bit creative with your food choices, or pay closer attention to which foods you’re eating. Or, you can supplement your protein intake with a plant-based protein powder or essential amino acids supplement like we mentioned earlier.
Either way, so long as you’re mindful of your protein intake each day, maintaining or building muscle shouldn’t be a concern.
It’s also important to remember that resistance training is just as important (if not more important) for building and maintaining muscle as consuming enough protein is.
#5 Plant-Based Diets Are Boring, Difficult, Inconvenient, Etc.
This point encompasses a number of gripes or myths commonly attributed to following a plant-based diet.
Depending on who you’re talking to, or which website you’re reading, you’ll hear that following a plant-based diet is:
These same adjectives could be used to describe just about any diet or nutrition plan on the planet.
The reality is that a diet is only as boring, complicated, restrictive, etc. as you make it.
In other words, if all you eat are bland, boiled beans and rice all day every day, then yes you could say that “plant-based diets are boring.” But, the simple truth of the matter is that you simply lack cooking skills and creativity.
You can make hundreds (if not thousands) of plant-based meals that are not only delicious, but budget friendly and easy to make. You’re only limited by your creativity and work ethic.
Given the surging popularity of plant-based diets in recent years, there are no shortage of blogs, cookbooks, forums, and social media posts providing tons of ideas on how to cook plant-based meals.
#6 Plant-based Diets Leave You Feeling Hungry
This myth (or misconception) stems from the idea that the only thing people following a plant-based diet eat are salads.
It’s true that most plant foods tend to be lower in calories than animal foods, but plant foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes) contain fiber — which helps to slow digestion, take up space in your stomach and leave you feeling fuller, for longer.
Additionally, there are calorie-dense plant foods you can incorporate into your meals, including:
- Olive oil
- Nuts (macadamia, almonds, pecans, cashews, etc.)
- Seeds (pumpkin, hemp, chia, etc.)
Furthermore, the typical American (Western diet) is woefully low in protein, while being high in hyper-processed foods contains lots of added sugar, fat, and salt. These foods pack a ton of calories, but do very little to actually make individuals feel full, which is part of the reason the world is facing ever-growing rates of obesity. In fact, it’s estimated that only around 5% of the population meets the recommended intake of fiber each day.
Not only does fiber keep you feeling fuller for longer, it also provides a steady release of energy into the bloodstream, which supports stable blood sugar levels. This helps avoid energy spikes and crashes as well as ravenous hunger cravings.
Plant based diets provide plenty of fiber in the diet (at least properly constructed ones do), and if you’re looking to supplement your fiber intake, you can check out 1UP Organic Vegan Greens & Reds formula, which supplies 2 grams of fiber alongside 19 organic fruits and vegetables that support the immune system, improves gut health, reduce bloating, and boost metabolism.
Plant-based diets can take several different forms.
Some individuals interpret plant-based diets as being strictly vegan while others consider it to be a diet built around plant foods, but still allows for the consumption of animal foods.
Regardless, plant-based diets can be delicious, highly nutritious, and budget friendly.
- Kim, H., Caulfield, L. E., Garcia‐Larsen, V., Steffen, L. M., Coresh, J., & Rebholz, C. M. (2019). Plant‐based diets are associated with a lower risk of incident cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, and all‐cause mortality in a general population of middle‐aged adults. Journal of the American Heart Association, 8(16).https://doi.org/10.1161/jaha.119.012865
- Chen Z, Zuurmond MG, van der Schaft N, et al. Plant versus animal based diets and insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes: the Rotterdam Study. Eur J Epidemiol. 2018;33(9):883-893. doi:10.1007/s10654-018-0414-8
- Utami DB, Findyartini A. Plant-based Diet for HbA1c Reduction in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: an Evidence-based Case Report. Acta Medica Indones. 2018;50(3):260-267.
- Ferdowsian HR, Barnard ND. Effects of plant-based diets on plasma lipids. Am J Cardiol. 2009 Oct 1;104(7):947-56. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2009.05.032. PMID: 19766762.
- Rosi A, Mena P, Pellegrini N, et al. Environmental impact of omnivorous, ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and vegan diet. Sci Rep. 2017;7. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-06466-8
- Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 10 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1
- Dahl WJ, Stewart ML. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Nov;115(11):1861-70. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.09.003. PMID: 26514720.