Everything was going smoothly at the family dinner. That is, until uncle-know-it-all started blasting you for your “fad” vegan diet.
“But where do you get your protein from!?” he demands, spittle exploding in all directions.
“How can you get calcium without cow's milk?” he sniggers.
Everyone goes quiet and they turn to you. You feel yourself go red.
And it’s at this point that you’re going to be thankful you read this. Because instead of shouting back “animal murderers!” and bursting into tears, you can calmly recall this list of vegan health benefits, without even working up a sweat.
Hell, you might just convince your niece that this vegan thing might be worth a shot.
So here goes, our top nine health counter arguments that every vegan should know.
1. Myth: The Vegan Diet Isn’t Healthy
Ergh, where do you begin to answer such a maddening statement.
Let’s start with The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Vegan diets are usually higher in dietary fiber, magnesium, folic acid, vitamins C and E, iron, and phytochemicals... In general, vegetarians typically enjoy a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.”
The report goes on to say that even compared to our vegetarian cousins, “vegans are thinner, have lower total and LDL cholesterol and modestly lower blood pressure”.
In other words, vegans have a lower risk of the largest causes of death in the U.S., heart disease and cancer. If that doesn’t pass as healthy then we’re not sure what does.
2. Myth: The Vegan Diet Doesn't Get Enough Protein
The classic omnivore “aha-I-got-you” moment. The protein argument.
Until you spin around and smugly let slip that “actually, on average vegans get 70% more protein than they need, everyday”.
In fact 97% of Americans get an adequate supply of protein.
Then, with a chuckle, you can point out that there is a nutrient that 97% of Americans are deficient in, and that’s fibre. Fibre deficiency has been associated with a risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and various cancers and it’s only found in plants.
However, there’s a group that do make the minimum recommended 30 grams per day, and that’s both vegetarians, averaging 37.5 grams per day, and vegans, who average 46.7 grams per day.
3. Myth: You Need Cows Milk to Get Calcium
The first thing to point out with this myth is that cows get their calcium from plants. Calcium is a mineral, found in the soil and absorbed by plants, which is then consumed by cows. So a vegan diet rich in fruit and vegetables has more than enough calcium.
However, if you want to take things further, you can point out that omnivores actually require more calcium than vegans, because of their “rate of excretion”. In fact one study found that vegans require roughly half as much calcium as omnivores.
The final nail in the calcium coffin came with this study, which found that “although vegans had lower dietary calcium and protein intakes than omnivores, veganism did not have adverse effects on bone mineral density and did not alter body composition.”
4. Myth: You Need to Eat Fish to Get Omega-3
Much like the calcium question, our fishy friends get their Omega-3 from plants, specifically algae.
There are a range of vegan friendly foods that are high in Omega-3, which include chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts.
However, while it’s a myth that you need to eat fish to get Omega-3, vegans do tend to have lower levels of Omega-3, which is why taking an algae-derived Omega-3 supplement can be beneficial.
5. Myth: Vegans Don’t Get Enough Iron
Let’s iron out the facts here. While it’s true that iron absorption from meat tends to be higher than from plant foods, the risk of iron deficiency anemia are similar for vegans compared with omnivores.
That’s because vegans typically consume large amounts of vitamin c-rich foods, which helps improve the absorption of iron from plants.
6. Myth: Athletes Can’t Be Vegan
Oh really, tell that to vegan UFC fighter Nate Diaz when he kicked Conor McGregor's ass. Or say Carl Lewis, one of the greatest sprinters of all time who said “a person does not need protein from meat to be a successful athlete”.
Or how about Rich Roll who ran five ironman-distance triathlons across 5 Hawaiian islands in under a week.
Better yet, just keep a folded-up picture of vegan bodybuilder Torre Washington in your pocket as the counter-argument. It might make for a slightly awkward explanation with your significant other but as they say, a picture says a thousand words.
7. Myth: You’ll Always Be Hungry
People on a vegan diet consume more fibre than any other group and it’s fibre that keeps us fuller for longer.
It’s only been more recently though that scientists have discovered exactly why fibre keeps us full and that’s an anti-appetite molecule called “acetate”. As TIME health reported, “Acetate, the researchers discovered, is naturally released when fiber is digested in the gut, and when it’s released, it is taken to the brain where it signals us to stop eating.”
8. Myth: Being Vegan Makes You Tired
When former president Bill Clinton was asked about his new vegan diet, he said “All my blood tests are good, and my vital signs are good, and I feel good, and I also have, believe it or not, more energy". It’s hardly surprising he felt like he had more energy, seeing as his new diet had helped him drop 20 pounds.
For a more scientific counter argument though, you can reference Dr. Michael Greger. He writes: ‘In a study looking at how an inflammation-reducing diet could affect persons with depression, a group of overweight or diabetic individuals were placed on a plant-based diet for five and a half months. At the end of that period, they reported increased energy, along with improved digestion, better sleep, better work productivity, and an increase in physical functioning, general health, vitality, and mental health.’
9. Myth: Children Shouldn’t Eat a Vegan Diet
For this one you might want to keep another piece of paper with the following statement tucked away:
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
The statement goes on to mention the benefits of the diet, including lower levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, hypertension and obesity. We rest our case.
The Final Blow
By this time everyone at the table has quietly pushed away their sausages and taken a large helping of broccoli.
It’s then that you shift from the defencive position to the offencive, when you casually reference the World Health Organization's decision in 2015 to categorize processed meats, which include bacon, ham and sausages as a cause of cancer, and red meats, which include beef, pork and lamb, as a probable cause of cancer.
“Yes, I was shocked too”, you say, “twenty-two experts from 10 countries reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions. They found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. That’s the equivalent of about 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog. For red meat, there was evidence of increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.”