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Veganuary Mythbusting With Fiona O’Donnell

Going Vegan? Before you get caught up in the hype around #veganuary, make sure you have all the facts! 

Everywhere we look these days, it seems the vegan influence is taking over.

The GameChangers movie on our televisions. #veganuary on our Insta feeds. Beyond Burgers on our supermarket shelves.

There is no denying it, the trend of ‘Eat less meat, eat more plants’ is rampant.

It is absolutely amazing to see so many people taking steps to live a healthier lifestyle. And kudos to those who are trying to save the planet.

However.

There’s no doubt that lots of people are jumping on this ‘trend’ without observing the nutrition element seriously. If you are making the switch, it is important to do it for the right reasons. It’s also important to know the risks.

Please don’t follow the advice from a series of Netflix documentaries based around very flawed studies. 

Time for some vegan verity my friends… Let the mythbusting begin!

1. The Myth; I will save the planet if I go vegan.

There is a gross misconception that cows are to blame for the declining health of our planet. Of course, animal farming contributes to carbon emissions. But cars, industry, our spiralling use of plastics and the rate at which we consume, is doing far more to damage our planet than cows. 

THE REAL FACTS: As a society, we over consume. We buy more than we need. In Ireland, we waste over 1 million tonnes of food a year. Of course this waste isn’t all meat, but if we were a little more careful about what we buy, we could save on a whole mountain of waste annually. If you really want to help the environment, try taking the steps outlined in this blog instead.

2. The Myth; I’ll lose weight if I go vegan

You might lose weight, or you might put on 2 stone! You might also lose or gain weight if you do the soup diet, the steak diet or ‘go keto’. Weight loss is not determined by what you choose to eat. It is all down to whether you consume more energy than you expend. 

THE REAL FACTS: If you are losing weight, it usually means that you are in negative energy balance. You may lose weight if you remove meat from your diet and don’t replace it with another source of energy. What you will also be losing (if you don’t replace the protein) is an essential source of nutrients that your body needs to survive. 

3. The Myth; I will be healthier if I am vegan.

Calling yourself a vegan does not make you healthier than a non vegan. Plenty of vegans live on pasta and french fries and are not aware of the importance of obtaining a good balance of nutrients in their diet. (plus, FYI, vegan junk food is still junk food).

THE REAL FACTS: What actually makes you healthier, is eating a balanced diet with a wide selection of food. Protein can be one of the most neglected macronutrients in any diet, especially so in the vegetarian or vegan diet. It is important to ensure you are sourcing your protein from a selection of pulses, soya products such as tofu or tempeh and grains. Depending on your lifestyle, a minimum of 0.8g/kg of bodyweight is required – that’s 56g of protein for a 70kg person. 

4. The Myth; Giving up meat will improve my performance.

This is not a given. Again, labelling yourself as a vegetarian/vegan does not mean that you eat a balanced diet with sufficient calories or nutrients to meat your requirements. 

THE REAL FACTS: Being in positive energy balance is essential to optimising performance. Think of it like this – when your electric toothbrush starts to run low on battery, does it clean your teeth as well or does performance start to diminish? The same is true for your body. If your energy intake is lower than your energy output, your performance will suffer. Your body also needs a good balance of a wide range of vitamins and minerals to operate optimally. Plenty of veggies & fruit, a range of grains and protein sources will keep your body at the top of its game. Diversity on your plate is a great way to optimise your health. 

5. The Myth; There is as much protein in broccoli as there is in steak. 

You would have to eat approximately 1kg of broccoli in order to achieve the same protein intake as you would achieve eating a 100g fillet steak. Protein is an essential component of the human diet. It is required to maintain the health of our nervous system, build cells, maintain muscle mass and support our hormones (amongst many other functions). The other issue here is that we get most of our B12 intake from meat. It is only available from animal produce. And, we don’t make B12 ourselves. So, if we don’t know to supplement, we will become deficient. This can have serious repercussions for our health. 

THE REAL FACTS: Broccoli and other vegetables are packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals and will contribute very positively to your overall health. The greatest benefit the vegetarian diet can provide is to encourage you to increase your nutrient diversity by increasing the range of foods you eat. 

There is no doubt that we eat more meat than we need. The WHO have recommended that we need to significantly reduce the amount of processed meat we consume.

Fiona O’Donnell is a nutritionist and works with busy women empowering lifestyle change. With a background working as a cardiac physiologist, her focus has always been on health. In 2017, Fiona underwent a kidney transplant thanks to an altruistic donation from a close friend. Since then, she has slowly returned to competing in triathlon and open water swimming. Fiona has a blog where she frequently posts recipes and fitness articles.

For more advice on increasing the diversity of your food choices, increasing your vegetable intake, switching to a vegetarian diet or optimising your health through nutrition, check out www.fionaodonnell.ie

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