10 Questions I get most often as a Vegan Dietitian

Yvonne O'Halloran

We all have our reasons for being vegan – everything from animal welfare, environmental reasons, and healthier living. For those not eating a vegan lifestyle, I have found their reasons are based on four foundations:

  • Culture
  • Habit
  • Convenience
  • False Information/misconceptions

This list I hope helps set the record straight in a non-judgmental way so at the very least those that are curious will ask more.

1) I need my meat; without it, I can’t get enough protein.

I get asked this question every – single – day. It’s a big misconception I think in part, because of heavily advertised campaigns of red meat being necessary for protein and building muscle. The thing that people don’t understand or know is that protein is in many plant foods, not just meat. For example, there is plenty of protein found in all soy foods, nuts and seeds, legumes and vegetables, particularly peas, broccoli, sweetcorn, soybeans, potatoes, asparagus and Brussel sprouts. I have met many vegans over the years, and not one was deficient in protein!

We have become protein obsessed, and most people are consuming way too much.  An average adult weighing 70kg would require 56g of protein a day. Many Americans consume anywhere between 100g- 140g of protein per day, predominately from animal sources. If you eat a well-balanced vegan lifestyle, there are absolutely no issues in getting adequate intakes of protein. 

2) Humans are meant to eat meat; our teeth and our digestive system are designed for it.

No, we aren’t. Humans can digest meat, but we are not carnivorous animals: our guts are longer allowing us to digest plant material and our teeth aren’t designed to slice and tear flesh. 

Humans don’t eat raw meat as carnivorous animals do. Why do we have sharp teeth? Gorillas are herbivores (they eat vegetation, fruit and snack on termites, ants and termite larvae) as are almost all primates – and yet have far longer and sharper canine teeth than human beings.

Those are just a few reasons.

3) Okay sure, but I like eating meat and isn’t it alright to eat animals if they’ve had a good life.

The meat industry has created all sorts of terms to make us think animals are happy until the very last moment before slaughter. But what do we mean by a ‘good’ life? Most farm animals used in food don’t have a long life. Many are killed as babies or kept in small pens with no freedom of movement at all. 

I encourage people, both vegans and meat-eaters, to learn and understand where their food comes from and how it’s raised before we consume it. There is no such a thing as ‘ethical slaughter’, all animals deserve to live, just like us.

4) But how do I eat if I don’t have meat, there are so few choices, and everything will taste like a salad.

Amazingly a whole new world of tasty foods opens once you go vegan and there are so many choices and recipes to try. Anything you enjoyed as an omnivore (lasagne, spaghetti, burritos, soups, shepherd’s pie, burgers, casseroles, curries) can all be replicated into a vegan version; There are so many great recipes online.

I suggest you try out 10 to 20 recipes and then choose your favourites and rotate them week to week. As you get more confident in cooking like this, you will naturally want to learn more, particularly if you like being in the kitchen. Everything doesn’t taste like a salad, however in saying that, I think vegans can put together incredible and delicious salads too!

5) Okay, but I am into fitness and want to be strong. Won’t a vegan diet limit me from building muscle mass?

If you are eating the correct calories and macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates), a vegan diet will not limit you from building muscle mass. Consume lots of nuts and seeds, calories dense smoothies and creamy based sauces and dressings (using tofu, tahini or coconut milk) especially if you need more calories in your diet.

Most people’s protein requirements are 0.8g/kg of body weight. For someone trying to build lean muscle or compete, the protein requirements vary from 1.2g-1.7g/kg body weight. Once you are consuming lots of whole foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, soy, whole grains and fruit and vegetables, a vegan diet will not hinder muscle gains. Vegetable protein has been found in studies to reduce inflammation, decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease and preserve muscle mass. Of course, this will all depend on how hard you are working at the gym too! 

Click here to read – 6 World Class Athletes that are Vegan

6) If we all ate vegetables, we would need more pesticides?

I believe it is as simple as this – If more people went vegan, we would use fewer pesticides because we would grow fewer crops.

Currently, animals bred for beef or dairy consume a huge amount of crops. A farmed animal, on average eats 10kg (22 pounds) of plant protein (often GM crops) to make 1kg (2.2 Pounds) of meat. The same land could be used to grow crops for human, which would be ten times more productive.

7) Okay, I understand why you don’t like meat, but what’s wrong with dairy and eggs, can’t this be harvested humanely?

Well, think of it this way. Chickens are supposed to lay about 10-15 eggs a year. Today, they are forced and genetically manipulated to lay 250-300 eggs a year which is physically taxing on their small bodies. Male chickens are not wanted in the egg industry as they cannot lay eggs and so are ground up in giant macerators or thrown into large garbage bags and suffocated. Aside from this, some say that backyard chickens’ eggs are more humane, and the chickens do not need to lay as many eggs as in factory farming as much as this is a better life for the chicken, it’s still not vegan. To be vegan means to abstain from taking anything from animals for food.

It’s a similar scenario with dairy. Male calves are generally taken from their mothers when they are born and placed in tiny little pens until they are ready to be sent for slaughter. This is known as Veal. Female calves will have the same fate as their mothers; a life spent hooked up to milking machines and impregnated over and over so they continue to lactate so their milk can be taken and sold. When they are taken from their mothers, the cows are known to cry and wail for their babies for days. As a mother, this breaks my heart.

Whichever way you look at it, if you consume dairy-based chocolate, cheese, dairy milk, dairy-based ice cream or yoghurt etc., you are keeping this industry going. The great news is that there are so many non-dairy options that you won’t feel you are missing out.

8) I love cheese; I don’t think I could ever give it up!

Cheese is particularly difficult to give up because dairy milk contains casomorphins, which is a mild opiate-like compound that attaches to the same brain receptors that addictive drugs do. The casein and fat in the milk are concentrated approximately ten times in the production of hard and some semi-hard cheeses. This intake of casomorphins causes our brain to release dopamine leading to a sense of pleasure, hence why many have struggled to give up cheese.

Casomorphins ensures that calves want to continue to feed from their mothers, but for us humans, it can lead to overeating and potential health implications due to high levels of calories, saturated fats and cholesterol. Many kinds of cheese contain up to 70% fat! Nowadays, though it’s not health food, there are plenty of plant-based cheeses to choose from. 

9) There is an economic question, isn’t a vegan diet more expensive.

Only if you buy fancy, packaged vegan foods as your staple diet. Eating vegan is inexpensive and not that hard to prepare on your own.

Things like brown rice, pasta, oatmeal, lentils, beans, bread and potatoes are all vegan and very cheap. If you cannot afford fresh vegetables and fruits, you can always buy frozen and in bulk. Plant-based milk may cost 50c more than dairy milk but the alternative here to make your own.

Almond milk or oat milk can be made at home by combining oats or almonds with water and date for sweetness then simply strain once blended. The only supplement you need to worry about taking is B12 (and vitamin D if not exposed to the sun daily).

10) If I were to go vegan, how would I start? And know what to do?

Sign up to Living Vegan and start learning about how to transition. Don’t be too hard on yourself, just make small changes to start (or if you are like me you might prefer to go cold turkey-pardon the pun).  Learn what foods you can eat and create a shopping list. Try to get support from vegan friends and watch some YouTube videos for inspiration. I can always help with meal planning if you need, just message us on our Facebook Page.


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