1) Where do you get your protein?
Protein is an essential nutrition – there’s no doubt about that. However, we actually don’t need that much of it! We need to consume just enough protein to replace the amount that is excreted by out bodies. This is around 4-5% of total calories. Since 1943, the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) has recommended 8-10% of calories to come from protein to make sure people get enough. Plants, fruits and vegetables do contain protein and amino acids! The idea of plant proteins being ‘incomplete’ is old news and scientists now know that plants do contain all the essential amino acids. If you’re eating a whole foods plant-based diet with a large variety of foods then you WILL get enough protein. There aren’t any nutrients in animal-based foods that are necessary because you can find everything you need in plants.
2) How do you get enough calcium without cow’s milk?
Our bodies actually don’t absorb the calcium from milk. Animal protein (including milk) makes an acidic environment in our bodies and to neutralize things, our bodies end up pulling the calcium from our bones (the best alkaline material it can find) to keep things neutral. This is why consuming milk contributes to the cause of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease only present in affluent countries (e.g. Western countries) where most people consume a lot of milk and animal protein. Poorer countries, where they don’t consume much animal protein and milk, don’t have this disease. Surprising right? Also, about 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant simply because our bodies don’t have the enzyme needed to digest milk. Cow milk is made to grow baby calves from 90 lbs to 2000 lbs…so it doesn’t surprise me that consuming too much dairy contributes to obesity. Humans aren’t made to drink cow’s milk!
3) What about potassium overload from eating too many bananas?
No, adults need about 4.7g or 4700mg per day. A banana has about 400mg of potassium. The lethal amount of potassium is about 2.5g/kg. So for someone who is around 125 lbs or 57 kg, they would have to consume about 356 bananas to reach this amount. You would also have to eat them very quickly in order to be poisoned because the bananas would be digested as we eat more. So it’s highly unlikely that this will happen. An exception would be someone who has kidney/renal issues, but most of the population doesn’t have to worry about this.
4) Don’t we need healthy fats?
Like protein, we actually don’t need that much fat. Any type of fat is still fat and too much of it can have adverse effects on your health. What’s important is to have a balanced ratios of omega 3 to omega 6. Omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory and omega 6 fats are pro-inflammatory. A good ratio is 1:1 or up to 3:1. Fats also slow down the digestive system which can lead to bloating if over consumed. Even ‘healthy’ fatty fish can cause an increase in your cholesterol similar to beef or pork. Fish also don’t create their own omega 3 or 6 fats, they get it from the foods they eat, including seaweed and algae. Therefore, I choose to go to the plant sources to get the fat instead of getting them through fish. We only need about 10% of our calories to come from fat to be healthy.
5) What about vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 isn’t just a vegan issue, many meat-eaters are actually deficient in B12 as well. Vitamin B12 is made by microorganisms in soil and in the intestines of animals (which is why it’s popular for doctors to recommend more red meat for B12). However, it is shown that if plants are grown in health soil with a good concentration of B12 then we will absorb this vitamin from eating those plants. Since nowadays we don’t usually know the quality of soil that our plants are grown in so if you’re concerned about your B12 levels, you can always get annual checkups to see if your levels are healthy. Supplementation is entirely up to you.
6) Won’t you gain weight from eating all those carbs?
No, our bodies rarely store the healthy carbs from whole sources like fruits and vegetables as fat as they are easily digested. Our brain and body need carbohydrates to function. Eating an adequate amount of carbs will eliminate cravings! I’ve experienced this myself as I used to do low-carb diets and those totally messed me up. Not consuming enough carbs can lead you to binge on unhealthy foods which in turn can cause more fat gain! Excess starch does not turn into body fat. If we eat more than we need, we will burn if off as body heat or through physical movement. I get about 80% of my daily calories from carbs. Call me fat, I dare you!
7) How come I’m gaining weight on a vegan diet?
Some weight gain when you start consuming more healthy whole foods is normal. This could be because you’re consuming more water and fiber from all the plants. Remember that weight gain isn’t always synonymous with fat gain. In the long run you will lose fat! You also really gotta check yourself. Are you a junk food vegan? Are you eating too much fat? (including healthy fats like avocado, nuts and seeds) Packaged vegan foods (like soy products) can be fake and full of fat-storing chemicals. Stick to whole fruits and vegetables!
8) What about gluten?
‘Gluten-free’ has been all the craze in the last while and don’t worry, I also was caught up in this phase. But we have to remember that the term ‘gluten-free’ doesn’t necessary mean it’s healthy. Anything that’s packaged or made with processed sugars and flours aren’t good for you. EVEN if it’s gluten free! So what’s the deal? Well, about 1 in 133 people have celiac disease meaning they can’t digest any gluten at all, which is less than 1% of the population. For the rest of us, gluten isn’t necessary a bad thing. Healthy forms of gluten include wheat (the real kind, not conventional whole wheat breads with tons of added ingredients), rye and barley. But people rarely eat gluten in it’s natural clean form. Usually we feel sick after eating gluten in pastries, cookies, donuts, processed breads, pastas, noodles which contain a lot of other stuff that can cause the ‘gluten intolerant’ symptoms as well. My tip is to stay away from the processed junk and include some whole grains in your diet. If you’re worried that you’re celiac, check with your doctor.
9) Isn’t eating too much fruit and/or carbs dangerous for diabetes?
Fat inhibits the performance of insulin which can cause your blood sugars to rise and contribute to diabetes. So if you’re eating a lot of fat AND fruit/other sugars then you may be at risk for diabetes. You won’t have this risk if you’re eating high carb and low fat. Your body thrives off carbs! A plant-based diet has been shown to reverse diabetes! However, if you do have diabetes, make sure you consult with a plant-based nutritionist/doctor to help you transition your diet and wean off your medication.
10) Why do I feel dizzy/get headaches after eating so much fruit?
Usually this is because you still have a lot of fat in your system. As mentioned above, fat inhibits insulin causing your body to over release (a blood sugar spike). This fluctuation in blood sugar can cause dizziness and headaches. You could also be experiencing a withdrawal from refined sugars and/or caffeine if you recently cut those out.
11) What about athletes? Won’t they lose strength/endurance on a plant-based diet?
Many studies have shown that plant-based athletes do not lose their strength or endurance. Athletes, themselves, have also spoken about this too. In fact, they experience faster recovery rates and are able to train harder for longer. Animal-based protein may contribute to gaining muscle mass quicker, however it can also contribute to the growth of tumours and other diseases. Animal-based protein is also very acidic and hard on our digestive system so eating a lot of it can slow down recovery after exercise.
12) Why do I feel bloated on a plant-based diet?
Are you combining the right foods? Sometimes I’ll feel bloated when I mix a fast digesting food with a slower digesting food. See my post on food combining guidelines here. You may also feel bloated if you increased your fiber intake too much too quick and your digestive system isn’t used to it. Fiber is like a workout for your intestines. As an analogy, you wouldn’t go to the gym and lift 300 pounds if you’ve hardly ever lifted in your life. Same thing for your intestines, gradually increase your fiber intake until your system can handle more. Drinking lots of water and some ginger tea can help with bloating. Don’t worry, the bloating will go away!
13) Do I need to supplement on a plant-based diet?
There is no need to supplement as we can find all necessary nutrients in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, starches and other plants (with the possible exception of B12 as mentioned above).
14) Why didn’t I know any of this before??
Well, meat and diary are huge money making industries. They’re gonna do whatever they can to make you keep buying their products. They also fund a lot of their own studies – for example, dairy companies have funded their own research to prove that milk is good for you. A lot of the members on health and nutrition committees also have conflicting interests and ties with big companies in the industry, so the decisions they make aren’t in the best interest of the public.
As always, don’t always believe everything from one source, including me! Do your own research and test things out with your own body. I’m just here to present to you my experience and science findings. Your lifestyle choices are up to you! I would say that even if you make a conscious attempt to eat LESS meat and dairy (not cut it out completely) you’re headed down a good path. Here are some doctors and books that can likely answer all of your questions:
T. Colin Campbell, MD
John A. McDougall, MD
Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., MD
Michael Greger, MD
The China Study
The Starch Solution
How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease
Dr. Neal Bernard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes
Forks over Knives