Demystifying The Myths of a Plant Based Diet

“Aren't plant proteins incomplete?” “Don't you need to add oil on vegetables to access their nutrients?” “Isn't eating healthy and plant-based really expensive?” “Won't all those carbs make me fat?”

If you're considering a plant-based diet, or you're new to the plant-based lifestyle, you may have questions. The plant-based diet is different in many ways from most other diets and lifestyles, and anytime something is different, myths and confusion about it can crop up from fear, ignorance, or misinformation.

In my book, The Happy Herbivore Guide to the Plant-Based Diet (which is out in paperback with enhanced features May 5!) I debunk common myths and objections about the vegan lifestyle and plant-based diet. Here's a cursory overview of some of the more common myths – and the facts.

Myth of “Incomplete Proteins”

All plant foods –including fruits and vegetables– contain protein, some even have more protein than meat. For example, spinach and kale have nearly twice as much protein as beef, calorie for calorie.

Plant proteins also aren't “incomplete” or missing amino acids. Nor do you need to bind or pair various plant foods together to achieve “complete” proteins because your body pulls all the necessary building blocks (amino acids) it needs from all the foods you eat, even if you don't eat them at the same time or the same meal.

Myth of “Healthy Oils"

All plant foods –including lettuce and rice– contain fat so you get plenty of dietary fat without adding high-fat sources like nuts or processed, highly condensed sources like oil. “The reality is that oils are extremely low in terms of nutritive value. The contain no fiber, no minerals, and are 100-percent fat calories. And above all, they contain saturated fat, which immediately injures the endothelial lining of the arteries when eaten”1 explains Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr. of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic and author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

Myths About Carbs

Complex carbohydrates are the bodies preferred fuel and excess starch does not turn into body fat. Carbohydrates consumed in excess of our need are stored (invisibly) as glycogen in the muscles and liver, or are burned off as heat (a processed called facultative dietary thermogenesis) if glycogen stores are already full.

It's the company carbohydrates keep that make you fat. For example, it's not the potato in the potato chip or French fry that's the problem, it's the oil the potato was fried in. Utilizing the words Dr. John McDougall, a physician and nutrition expert, “The fat you eat is the fat you wear . . . Fats (and oils) are the metabolic dollar stored for the day when food is no longer available. Even ‘healthy oils’ are moved from the spoon to the flesh with such efficiency that you should assume every drop you eat makes that journey.”2

Myth: Plant-Based is Expensive

Eating plant-based can be deliciously affordable if you stick to the basics and steer clear of packaged, processed foods. Sure, some premium foods like vegan ice cream are pricey, but the cost is comparable to premium dairy ice cream—and this isn’t something you should be buying regularly.

Even in health food stores you’ll find that most of the expensive items are prepared foods (so you’re paying for the preparation, just as you pay for the wait service at a nice restaurant).

Healthy, whole plant foods are fairly reasonably priced, especially if you buy in season and/or locally. Most people who adopt a plant-based diet often find they spend less on groceries each week. My 7-Day Meal Plan users, for example, spend as little as $30 to $50 per person a week on groceries—for all twenty-one of their meals plus seven snacks and seven desserts!

Nondairy milk (e.g., soy milk, almond milk) is usually cheaper than dairy milk. Beans, lentils, and grains like rice cost a fraction of what you’d pay for even the cheapest slabs of meat. Frozen vegetables are a bargain (my local store sells ten bags for $10!) and you can’t beat seasonal fruits on sale. And don’t worry if you can’t afford organic—a conventional apple is still healthier than an organic potato chip, and conventional spinach is better than no spinach at all.

For more information check out The Happy Herbivore Guide to the Plant-Based Diet.

Lindsay S. Nixon is the bestselling author of the Happy Herbivore Cookbook Series. Since 2011, Nixon has sold more than 250,000 books. Her work has been featured on The Food Network, Dr. Oz, in the New York Times, Vegetarian Times Magazine, Shape Magazine, Fitness Magazine, Women's Health and WebMD, among others. A rising star in the culinary world, Nixon is praised for her ability to use everyday ingredients to create healthy, low fat recipes that make eating well easy, affordable, realistic and delicious. Learn more about Nixon and try some of her recipes on her award-winning blog

1 Q&A with Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD, website of Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., accessed March 23, 2014
2 “When Friends Ask: ‘Why Do You Avoid Adding Vegetable Oils?’,” The McDougall Newsletter 6, no. 8 (August 2007)

See also:
Veganish: How Plant-Based Foods Can Work for Everyone
Cooking with Coconut Oil