Trust me. It tastes just like chicken!

“Trust me. It Tastes Just Like Chicken!” By Jessica Edmonds, BS, ACSM EP-C

We’ve all heard these less than convincing lines from our vegan friends. “You can’t even tell it’s vegan!” they’ll say as they offer spears of cauliflower smothered in buffalo wing sauce. Unfortunately, these experiences may have left some of us omnivores with an unfavorable bias when we hear the words “Do you have any vegan options” when at a restaurant. But why? Veganism has grown far beyond boring leafy greens and apple slices. It’s been proven healthy, sustainable, and convenient. Why not give it a shot?

Vegan Options Are Delicious

If your first assumption of a vegan meal is cold bland tofu cubes on a bed of lettuce with a side of celery, this assumption couldn’t be any further from reality. While a salad topped with fresh veggies, nuts, and beans is a delicious and balanced meal, there are plenty of hot, hearty, flavorful dishes guaranteed to satisfy every palate. You can find cumin, turmeric, chili powder, curry powder, garlic, coriander, onion, citrus fruits, and assortments of herbs in the kitchens of your average vegan. Chana masala, lentil and black bean burgers, seasoned quinoa-stuffed bell peppers, tabbouleh salad, stir-fries, chili, butternut squash soup, and even a vegan twist on a burrito bowl are some guaranteed crowd pleasers.

The Vegan Diet is High in Protein

The common counter-argument to vegan and vegetarian diets is that the average American couldn’t possibly satisfy their protein needs without eating meat and meat products. However, the average omnivore only consumes an average of 1-2 servings animal-based foods every day and still consumes often double the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein each day.

According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in order to maintain a healthy weight, sustain muscle mass, and support basic bodily functions (brain activity, bone health, cardiovascular function, renal function, etc.), the average adult only needs 0.7-1.2g/kg of body weight in protein each day. For example, a 160-lb person would weigh roughly 72 kilograms. This individual would only need to consume 43 grams of protein a day for a lifestyle with little physical activity (i.e. sedentary occupation and less than 2 30-minute bouts of exercise per week) and 87 grams of protein a day for an active lifestyle (i.e. laboring occupation and/or 5 30-minute bouts of exercise per week). In a study conducted by Dr. Michael Greger, nutrition profiles of 30,000 omnivores, 20,000 strict vegetarians, 5,000 strict vegans, 5,000 “flexitarians” and 5,000 pescetarians were compared. According to this study, 97% of the participants consumed more than their recommended daily value for protein, with vegetarians and vegans consuming 70% MORE protein than recommended and meat-eaters consuming 150% MORE protein than recommended. The 3% of participants not consuming adequate protein can be accounted for a small population of people on a rigid calorie-restricted diet. Based on this data, it’s safe to say that the myth of vegetarians being protein-deficient can be put to rest.

Veganism is Healthy

This argument may seem like a no-brainer. However, even in comparing the perfect “healthy” vegan to the perfect “healthy” omnivore (assuming both parties consume diets exclusive in real whole foods, excluding processed package foods and added sugars), the vegan is still more likely to consume less saturated fats, more unsaturated fats, more fiber, more water, and more vitamins and minerals. This assumption is due to the fact that plant-based proteins such as legumes, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and whole grains (such as raw oats and quinoa) have negligible amounts of saturated fat and are rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and essential fatty acids. Even the leanest meats still have higher amounts of saturated fats and hardly any fiber.

Veganism is Cheap

Going vegan doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Shopping in bulk at co-ops and storing fresh produce in the freezer are great ways to stretch your dollar. Root vegetables can be washed, chopped, and frozen for months until ready to be roasted with bell peppers and red onion. A one-pound bag of dry black beans costs less than $1.50 and yields 14-18 servings. For under $5.00, you could have a base for dozens of burgers, soups, and chilies. Purchasing raw cashews and white beans in bulk could provide months worth of a vegan stable for creamy dishes and sauces. Invest in a high quality blender and food processor for endless recipes that can yield more than a dozen servings.

Veganism is Convenient

Almost every restaurant nowadays has a vegan option outside of the usual side salad and pasta. Don’t be afraid to request the wait staff to have your veggies sautéed without butter. Being vegan no longer means inconveniencing friends and family when eating out with limited options. Have an occasional sweet tooth? Check out your local vegan bakery for gourmet donuts and macarons that could fool even your most stubborn meat-loving friends!

Still not convinced to completely jump ship and ditch cheeseburgers and chicken breast forever? That’s completely understandable! After all, lean meats do offer a host of nutritional benefits (such as easily absorbed b-vitamins and iron) and ease for many individuals or families. Feel free to adopt a “meatless Monday” or prepare and store some vegan options in the freezer for the days you feel you need a few more clean fruits and veggies and take a break from animal-sources for an entire day. As always consult your physician or a dietician before drastically changing your dietary needs to assure your preferred diet doesn’t conflict with any illness or medications. Bon appetit!