Dispelling myths about vegan eating
— By Casey Jones
For former pro hockey player Cory Urquhart, a plant-based diet is his key to optimal health, alertness, and happiness.
Urquhart, co-owner and operator of enVie vegan restaurant in Halifax’s north end, says that adopting a vegan diet seven years ago changed him for the better.
“I chose to start eating vegan when I first got a dog; it changed my whole perspective on how I look at animals. I decided to slowly start incorporating non-animal products in my diet.”
Concern for animal welfare is the reason that most people adopt a plant-based diet, suggests a 2016 survey of 726 Australians (1). However this decision for animal welfare is also a healthy one for their human counterparts. The health benefits of vegan eating are numerous: lower risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower cancer rates and often a lower BMI compared to non-vegans (2).
Despite all the health benefits of veganism, many people can be skeptical about this plant-based way of eating. Will I get enough protein? Will I have enough energy? What about going out to eat?
Cory dispelled some myths about vegan eating, and offered us some tips for those deciding to pursue a plant-based lifestyle.
Cory’s reasons to eat vegan:
1. You’ll be more alert and less fatigued
“I have always been a pretty energetic and happy guy, but the big thing I noticed was my alertness, and my fatigue levels went way down,” says Cory. “Once I got into a vegan diet, I never wanted to take naps, I never wanted to sleep in, I always needed to be moving and doing something, to the point where I’d have to stop myself sometimes and force myself to relax.”
On a vegan diet, unfavorable foodstuffs like excessive sugar, preservatives, and processed foods are eliminated. This means that vegans have ample consumption of vitamins, minerals, and fiber compared to some of us omnivores and those that don’t focus on whole food diets. What’s more is that plant-based protein sources are more easily digestible than those from animal meats, which your gut will thank you for.
What’s more is that a vegan or vegetarian diet may change the bacteria that live in your gut, shows a 2012 study (3). Increased amounts of fiber and veggies, and elimination of dairy products in a vegan diet may lead to having a happier gut and improved digestion.
“Now a lot of years later, my body is adapted to it because I don’t fuel myself with these things that make it work overtime to digest and break down, and when I wake up, I’m wide awake, not spending the first few hours like a lot of people do being a zombie and trying to get myself together.”
2. Being vegan doesn’t mean being perfect
Even though Cory is passionate about plant-based diets and animal welfare, he says it’s important to maintain a balance.
“Between running a restaurant and the daily vigorous exercise I do, I usually burn between 4,000-5,000 calories a day, so I’m constantly eating whatever I can get my hands on and drinking as much water as I can to keep me going. I will not say that I am a “perfect" vegan — social outings are hard. If I need to eat something, I will make small sacrifices simply because I know if I don’t eat something, it’s gonna do me more harm than good.”
3. Myth #1: Will I have low energy on a vegan diet?
No! The American Dietetic Association states that vegetarian and vegan diets are “healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases” (2).
Cory substantiates this by saying “I can promise you, energy is not a problem in my life and anyone I know who eats plant based. You take care of your body, you exercise everyday, you sleep right, and you force yourself mentally to believe you have energy, and you will find that energy. Our bodies are capable of things we never imagine are possible, but that’s because people don’t try them. Push your body to its limits, fuel it the right way, and those limits will keep increasing and you'll achieve more and more.”
4. Myth #2: Will I get enough protein on a vegan diet?
Yes! Eating a variety of plant foods over the course of a day can provide all of the essential amino acids needed in your diet (3). Cory says that this is the most common question that he gets.
“The average person needs around 0.4 grams of protein per pound, and anything a lot more than that is just doing you more harm than good cause your body simply doesn’t need it, unless you are a really high performance strength athlete. It’s all about that figuring out what works for your lifestyle whatever that may be.”
We touched on some of these things in our protein myths article, but Cory gives some great tips from a vegan point of view.
“Plant based proteins have less fat and a lot more fibre, and there’s enough studies and research now that have been done that the world is starting to realize this. Most of mine comes from nuts and beans. I eat a lot of cashews, and I eat an insane amount of tofu. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love tofu, I don’t care how it’s cooked, if it’s cold or hot, anything tofu, is far and away my favourite food. That sounds really cliche probably to someone who isn’t familiar to plant based eating, but it works for me and I will never get tired of it.”
5. It’s easier than you think to eat vegan!
Most of Cory’s time is spent at enVie, so he rarely gets out to do his own grocery shopping. His go-to staple is pasta with olive oil, chilies, and garlic; a carb and fat laden meal that helps energize his busy days.
Thinking about adopting a vegan diet? Cory’s tips are:
“Don’t be scared. Forget what your friends say, educate yourself first and foremost. Buy a simple cookbook if you like to cook at home. People are under this impression it’s harder, but it’s only harder because most people have never tried it, and are scared to step out of their comfort zone. Life is about new challenges and new things, and we all associate so much with eating and food, why not make the next thing you change in your life, the most important thing you do in your life? There’s too much research and proof out there now to think that plant based isn’t beneficial, and it’s the biggest change you can make in your life, and probably the most rewarding for yourself and also for our planet.”