Vegetarian Myths and Facts

Vegetarianism is fast becoming a more popular dietary option, apart from it becoming fashionable with Hollywood getting its fair share of vegetarian celebrities.  Dietary reasons and iconic status aside, vegetarianism has been around for a long time.  In this day and age, the choice to munch on asparagus tips rather than chips and dips is most likely driven by health benefits, environmental activism, and animal rights protection.  But long before vegan became vogue, vegetarianism has already taken roots in Oriental religion, philosophy and way of life.  In fact, by way of evolution, humans have developed digestive capacities that work best with fiber.  Anything less than that means diverticular diseases that arise from too little fiber sitting in the colon.

A lot of information floats around that support the benefits of going vegetarian. But because vegetarian and non-vegetarian literature often collide, misconceptions are inevitable.  Some of the more common are listed below:

Myth:  Vegetarians only eat plant-based foods.

Fact:  There are various gradations within the vegetarian movement.  The most logical culminating point to being a vegetarian is to become a vegan, but few make the transition to an all-plant diet. To wit:

  • Flexitarians are mainly plant eaters, but occasionally lapse to eating animal sources of food;
  • Pollo-vegetarians include fowl like chicken and turkey in their diet but exclude red meat or pork (so they still enjoy a proper Thanksgiving dinner without substitutions);
  • Pesce-vegetarians get most of their protein requirements from fish and sea foods, and exclude all other forms of animal-sourced protein;
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products on top of all the fiber;
  • Lacto vegetarians drink milk or enjoy a slice of cottage cheese but not sunny side-up;
  • Fruitarians subsist mainly on fruits, seeds, nuts and other plant components that can be harvested without harming the plant (vegetable salad is genocide);
  • Vegans are herbivores through and through, avoiding all animal products and by-products, including honey.  Additionally, they are anti-fur and anti-leather, and are opposed to all forms of inhumane treatment of animals.

Myth:  Vegetarians don’t get enough protein and calcium.  For many transitioning vegetarians, the overriding question is always, “How do I get enough protein and calcium?”

Fact:  Plant-sources of protein and calcium abound.  Plant-based protein can be found in the following:

  • Whole grains like brown rice, barley, wheat, oatmeal and wheat germ.  Quinoa is highly recommended;
  • Beans, lentils and legumes like garbanzo, kidney beans and lima beans;
  • Soy products;
  • Fruits like apples, oranges, bananas, cantaloupes, grapes, grape fruits, melons and papayas;
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews, hemp seeds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and black walnuts.
  • Leafy greens like spinach and other vegetables like okra and curly kale are brimming with calcium.  Most of the seeds and nuts are also rich in calcium, so fruitarians are not left holding the short end of the calcium stick.

Myth:  Vegetarian food is rabbit food – it’s bland and lacks fullness of flavor and texture.

Fact:  Where dressings are essential, vegetarian dishes generally taste lighter because of absence of animal fat.  To compensate, soy products come in various textures and thickness to add a fuller dimension to an otherwise boring combination of leaves, stems, seeds, roots and fruits. With the vegetarian movement gathering steam, proponents have developed crafty menus that are both chock-full of flavor and nutrition.  Vegetarian cuisine in this day and age is anything but bland and monotonous.

Myth:  Vegetarians are mostly anemic, weak and sickly.  Their lack of sufficient protein and calcium nourishment leads to deficiencies in muscle mass and bone density.

Fact:  While vegetarians are generally leaner and thinner, they are nothing of the sickly sort.  Vegetarians are waving shrub to quash the notion that protein and calcium can only be derived from belching cows and gobbling turkeys.  As previously mentioned, plants are replete with both minerals, so vegetarians are amply covered.  After all, cows eat grass.