Debunking the Five Greatest Myths of a Plant-based Diet

December, 2023 by Dr.Pritesh Mutha, MD, DipABLM, MPH
Despite the fact that most people have heard of a plant-based diet, many of them have never tried this diet and lifestyle because of several widespread misconceptions.

Myth 1

A plant-based diet is insufficient in protein.

People believe that they must get their protein from animals or animal-derived foods like dairy and eggs to meet their daily protein requirement as plants do not have enough protein. Consider this: Where did cows, hens, and other animals get their protein from? Plants!  Cow got enough protein from the grass to become a muscular 450 lbs, deliver a 50 lbs baby calf and give enough protein to its baby calf in the form of milk on daily basis. There is protein in every food made from plants.

The best way to consume protein is straight from the source. Even athletes with high protein requirements can easily meet their protein needs with a whole foods plant-based diet. Many world-class athletes are now eating entirely plant-based diets. Many of them believe that their performance has improved after switching to plant-based diets.  Consider watching “The Gamechangers” documentary.

Studies have shown that intake of animal protein can increase the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, kidney disease, and bone disorder. There are multiple peer-reviewed research articles that clearly show whole foods plant-based protein food sources help reverse various chronic diseases.

Myth 2

A plant-based diet is deficient in calcium and leads to weak bones.

It’s believed that you need to consume dairy for stronger bones, but multiple studies on the consumption of dairy and osteoporosis (a disease in which the bones become weak) showed that post-menopausal women from countries that consumed higher amounts of dairy had an even higher rate of fractures suggesting that dairy actually leads to weak bones!.

It’s completely paradoxical to what we’ve always been taught about getting calcium or having strong bones from dairy consumption.

Plant-based diets provide an easy way to meet calcium requirements. Plant-based foods are rich in calcium. Green vegetables and seeds, in particular, can be excellent calcium sources. Moreover, 10-20 minutes of direct sunlight every day without any sunscreen will provide the vitamin D necessary for excellent bone health and multiple other essential bodily functions. For those who do not get enough sunlight, a vegan vitamin D supplement can help strengthen bones.

On the other hand, despite eating primarily animal products, more than 40% of Americans are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D insufficiency can be detected with a simple blood test.

Additionally, regular exercise makes your bones denser and stronger decreasing the risk of osteoporosis.

Myth 3

A plant-based diet does not provide adequate vitamin B12.

B12 deficiency is not uncommon. Even people who consume animal products frequently have a B12 deficiency. B12 is produced by bacteria in the soil, and not by animals. Because fewer animals are given grass, the B12 they pass on may be quite low. Vitamin B12 supplements are given to many dairy farm animals.

If you spend time in nature (hiking, kids playing outside in dirt, visiting organic farms, etc.) with enriched pesticide-free soil, you can replenish your healthy B12-producing gut bacteria.

A vegan B12 vitamin supplement can help maintain a healthy nervous system as well as the formation of red blood cells and DNA.

Myth 4

Gas and bloating are side effects of a plant-based diet.

One might have gas and bloating for around two weeks while your body adjusts to a plant-based diet, but this will improve as soon as beneficial bacteria began to proliferate in the gut.

Constipation, which can cause bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and gastrointestinal issues, is a common condition caused by a diet low in fiber.

In addition to lowering cholesterol, fiber gives roughage for regular bowel motions. More is preferable! Furthermore, it serves as a means for your body to eliminate extra harmful hormones and toxins.

The typical American diet of processed foods and animal products lacks in fiber, in contrast to a plant-based diet.

It falls short of the minimum recommended fiber intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men per day. Just 3% of Americans meet their daily fiber needs.

Supplemental fiber is not as beneficial as dietary fiber derived from whole foods for a healthier gut and fewer gastrointestinal problems.

Additionally, healthy (good) gut bacteria thrive on dietary fiber which is essential for healthy gut lining and overall health. New research has clearly shown that majority of our diseases are linked to bad (harmful)  bacteria in our gut. Chemicals (preservatives), processed foods and animal products increase the number of harmful bacteria in your gut which leads to poor gut health and multiple diseases.

Myth 5

Iron deficiency occurs in plant-based diets.

The heme and non-heme fractions of iron are the two forms found in food. Red meat is the main source of heme iron. Plants, particularly whole grains, legumes, and certain vegetables, are the primary source of non-heme. People who follow a whole-foods-based, plant-based diet can meet their daily iron requirements.

Compared to meat, plant-based diets can offer enough iron in a healthy way.

Heme iron is absorbed by the body more quickly, but too much of it may raise the risk of cancer in two ways: It can produce two harmful compounds: 1) free radicals, which can harm your DNA; and 2) N-nitroso compounds, which can cause cancer.

Our body is able to regulate the absorption of iron from plant sources more effectively than from animal sources, which helps prevent the negative effects of iron excess. Meats also don’t have phytonutrients, which neutralize the effects of damaging free radicals that cause cancer and other diseases.

Vitamin C can aid the body in absorbing non-heme iron, which is safer, especially when it comes from citrus fruits and cruciferous vegetables. On the other hand, eggs, coffee, wine, and dairy – all block the absorption of iron.

About Author

Dr. Pritesh Mutha is an accomplished physician and educator specializing in interventional gastroenterology. As the Director of the Third Space Endoscopy program for the Center for Interventional Gastroenterology (iGUT) at UTHealth Houston, he offers advanced endoscopic treatment for gastrointestinal disorders. He is also an associate professor at UTHealth Houston, dedicated to educating future doctors.

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Chakra Restaurant NYC Team
5 months ago

Our team was delighted to come across your article. The issue around myths of a plant-based diet has been forever prevalent in society. It’s reassuring to see professionals like yourself laying out facts and making the argument for the validity of a plant-based or vegan diet.

We also appreciate that you did not omit the fact that certain vitamins are difficult to obtain such as B12, but as you noted it’s still difficult to obtain at consistent levels even for those who eat animal products as well. As you mentioned, supplements are the one convenient method for obtaining adequate amounts of B12 if needed.

The bloating issue is really multi-faceted and could be the topic of an entire article of its own. It should be mentioned that the type of plant-based ingredients one eats, in which combinations, and whether or not it’s cooked, is the main contributing factor rather than the general consumption of plant material.

We look forward to reading more of your articles in the future!