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Healthy Eating: Don't Be Myth-Led
Press release: May 1998

MYTH VS. REALITY

Today more and more people are cutting back on meat and eating more plant foods. The evidence supporting a shift toward a vegetarian diet has been well publicized. People eating vegetarian diets have less heart disease and colon cancer, lower blood pressure and a lower risk of gallstones, kidney stones and gout. But since many of us were raised on meat and dairy, it can be hard to believe that a diet can be balanced without these foods. Despite the evidence, myths about plant-based diets abound.

Myth: You need to be careful to get enough protein and combine proteins on vegetarian diets.

According to the American Dietetic Association, a diet from a variety of plant sources can provide adequate levels of all amino acids, the building blocks of protein. You also don’t need to worry about when you eat what - as long as your diet includes a variety of grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and nuts.

Myth: Calcium from plant foods isn’t absorbed well

It’s true that some plant foods - like Swiss chard and beet greens are high in compounds called oxolates, making the calcium from these foods not readily available to the body. But, laboratory studies show that the calcium from many plant foods is very well absorbed. Calcium-rich plant foods - like broccoli, kale, or many other green leafy vegetables are a good and healthful way to boost calcium intake.

Myth: Vegetarian diets put you at risk for iron-deficiency anemia

Studies show that people eating vegetarian diets are no more likely to be iron deficient than people who eat meat. People eating vegetarian diets do have lower iron stores. This could be a benefit for men since high body iron may be linked to risk of heart disease. Women and children are most at risk for iron deficiency overall - whether they eat meat or not.

Myth: Children need animal protein

Research shows that children who consume well-balanced vegetarian diets grow and develop normally. The American Dietetic Association’s latest position paper on vegetarian diets states clearly that plant-based diets are suitable at all stages of the life cycle. As with all children, a variety of foods and adequate calories are essential. And children eating no animal products need a vitamin B12 supplement.