Have you seen this meme that’s been circulating lately depicting an island of vegan products amidst a sea of empty supermarket shelves?
The takeaway: even as consumers are stock-piling toilet paper, chicken breasts and snack foods, they are shunning vegan foods. That’s how unappealing they are.
Humor aside, there are four reasons this meme misses the mark and we should all, in fact, be giving vegan food some love.
Plant-based Food Options are Rapidly Expanding
Snopes has debunked this meme. It’s an old photo. It originally appeared in 2017, soon after Hurricane Harvey caused a rush of shoppers to supermarkets. It seems that no such photo has emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps that’s because our dietary habits have evolved in the last three years. The plant-based food industry is exploding. Consumers have substantially changed their buying habits. In fact, vegan shelves are most definitely not being ignored.
Consider these facts from 2019. The plant-based food sector grew 11% while all foods only grew 2%. Refrigerated plant-based meats grew 63% while the conventional meat category only grew 23%. The non-dairy sector, including milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream, experienced extremely rapid growth while the equivalent dairy segments remained flat. (1) For this reason, you may be just as likely to encounter a shortage of tofu and oat milk at the supermarket as hamburger and dairy ice cream.
Vegan Food Can Be Nutritionally Adequate
We are bombarded with messages in the media that perpetuate the myths that animal products are required to obtain essential nutrients. It is not surprising if people wonder whether a plant-based diet is lacking.
As it happens, you can get all of the protein, calcium and iron you need from consuming adequate calories of a variety of grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Animal products are not required to obtain these nutrients. In fact, it is the position of the American Dietetic Association that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” (2)
As with all diets, some planning is prudent. Nutrients that deserve particular attention are:
B12 (sourced from supplements or fortified food)
Vitamin D (sourced from sun-exposure, supplements or fortified food)
and Omega-3 fatty acids (sourced from supplements or flax, chia, hemp, walnuts and sea vegetables).
The bottom line – No animal products are required to obtain all of the nutrients we need.
Vegan Food Is Satisfying and Delicious
In the past when people asked me what I eat, I responded – “I eat fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.” I soon realized that, for someone who eats the standard animal-product-based diet, that sounds pretty unsatisfying. I’ve since learned that describing the types of dishes I eat – vegan pancakes, muffins, stews, lasagnas, casseroles, burgers, stir-fries, salads, cakes, brownies and cookies – is a bit more illuminating.
The trick for many to feeling satisfied when eating plant-based meals is to include some of the following plant foods:
beans/legumes (chickpeas, soy beans, tofu, tempeh, black beans, kidney beans),
whole grains (whole wheat bread, rice, barley, millet, oats, quinoa*),
or starchy vegetables (squashes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn).
Consider this example: it wasn’t until I added crispy tofu to an Asian sweet and sour peanut stir-fry with cabbage, red pepper and carrots (tasty as it was), that my family considered the dish a highly satisfying meal. One of my favorite dishes is a baked potato with avocado, salsa, corn and black beans. Piled high with three particularly filling plant foods, it’s highly satiating and delicious…and a hit with family as well.
* Quinoa is actually a seed, but is usually considered to be a grain.
Vegan Food Is Health Promoting and Immunity Boosting
A whole foods, plant-based (minimally processed plant foods) diet can be disease risk minimizing and provide control over the strength of your body’s immune response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the research of pre-eminent Nutrition Scientist, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and others, Dr. Campbell is confident that, while not a panacea, “people can defend themselves against the worst effects of the COVID-19 infection, and help flatten the curve of hospitalizations, by strengthening their immune systems through their food choices.” (3)
As Dr Colin Campbell states in this commentary, avoiding animal based foods (meat, dairy, eggs and fish) and consuming a WFPB diet does not mean we won’t get infected by COVID-19, “but it should increase our defenses to avoid the worst effects from the infection. ” Even if you are suffering from one of the pre-existing diet related diseases that makes you particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, a diet change now may help you to minimize the severity of the virus should you become infected by it.
So next time you are in the supermarket, give the vegan foods section some love. It’s so full of health promoting goodness – it’s sure to love you right back.
Wishing you good health, comfort and safety,
(1) Retail Sales Data”, Plant-based Food Association, 2019, https://plantbasedfoods.org/marketplace/retail-sales-data/
(2) W Craig, AR Mangels, Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets.
J Am Diet Assoc. Jul;109(7):1266-82. 2009
(3) Campbell, T. C. & Campbell, T. M. I. The China Study, startling implications for diet, weight loss and long-term health. Expanded Version, pp. 290-291
451 (BenBella Books, Inc., 2005).