Plant-Based Eating: Debunking 3 Common Myths

Published on : 2/19/24
  • Here’s the thing. Shifting to a plant-based diet is a powerful way to improve our health and reduce our environmental impact. And people are starting to catch on. 

    According to the December 2023 results of our Sustainable Food Barometer, nearly 9 out of 10 Canadians recognize the urgency of adopting a sustainable lifestyle. Despite an increase in awareness, there are still many myths surrounding plant-based diets that prevent more people from adopting them.

    The belief that such diets are tasteless, expensive and require an all-or-nothing commitment has proven resilient. Yet, the data paints a different picture: Canadians are ready to make changes, though the desired shifts were more about reduction or adjustments than drastic transformations. According to the Barometer, most hesitate to give up traditional sources of animal-based proteins like meat, fish, and dairy. 

    But it doesn't have to be an all-encompassing shift – small adjustments can yield significant benefits for both individuals and the environment. Indeed, another study shows that a shift to a low-meat diet — limiting beef intake to once a week — could result in substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions AND could help address chronic illnesses influenced by dietary patterns.

    The global food system is responsible for 27% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Replacing 30% of the expected ruminant meat consumption in 2050 with plant-based protein would close half of the GHG mitigation gap and almost all the land gaps. The impact is huge.

    So, let’s debunk some common misconceptions that may affect someone’s interest in adopting a plant-based or plant-forward diet.

    Myth #1: Plant-Based Foods are Bland and Boring

    sodexo recipe tofu butter chicken plateIf you think plant-based diets are dull and unexciting, you are not the only one. But this is far from the truth. Plant-based cuisine can be filled with flavours that transcend traditional meat-centric palates… if you open your mind to it.

    The truth is, adopting a plant-based diet doesn't have to mean compromising on familiar, comforting flavours. One of the most exciting aspects of embracing a plant-based diet is the opportunity for culinary experimentation. It opens doors to a multitude of flavours, from umami-seasoned dishes to the pleasure of crafting homemade broths from scratch. The notion that plant-based eating is confined to salads is debunked as plant-based cuisine extends far beyond, offering savoury meat alternatives and culturally diverse flavours that cater to a wide audience. 

    Transitioning to a plant-based or plant-forward diet may require an adjustment period, especially if you’ve been eating animal products like meat and dairy your whole life. However, your taste buds will evolve and adapt to the flavours of newly discovered foods over time. 

    The key is to prioritize whole plant foods and to savour the nutritional richness they provide. It's not just about the ingredients; it's an opportunity to experiment with the wide range of colourful and versatile plant foods that may have been overlooked in traditional diets. Given the extensive variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and spices available, the possibilities for creating delicious plant-based meals are endless.

    For some recipe ideas, take a look at Humane Society International’s Forward Food program. Our partnership has supported the plant-based culinary training of over 90 of our chefs across the country since 2020.

    Myth #2: Following a Plant-Based Diet is Expensive 

    Increasingly, Canadians are expressing a willingness to reduce their meat and dairy consumption, indicating a growing openness to plant-based choices. But, when it comes to grocery shopping, 91% of Canadians prioritize price, proving that cost plays a pivotal role in dietary decisions. 

    A common misconception about plant-based diets is that it is expensive and complex to follow. However, this is not always the case. While some plant-based products may cost more than their animal-based alternatives — processed alternative meats come to mind. But most whole plant foods are on the lower end of the grocery bill.

    Often, the perceived expense is associated with the visual appeal and familiarity of certain products, such as meat or cheese. A shift in awareness about the affordability of plant-based proteins such as beans and lentils can be a game-changer.

    Consider a week's menu. Replacing just one meat-centric meal with a flavorful plant-based curry filled with familiar alternatives like chickpeas or lentils can be both affordable and nutritionally rich. By cutting the need for an expensive meat component, the savings are pretty clear.

    Some Practical Tips for an Affordable Plant-Based Diet 

    1. Stick to the basics. A plant-based diet doesn't mean an exclusive consumption of organic or specialty items. Basic plant foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains are often budget-friendly and can form the backbone of a healthy plant-based diet. These staples can be bought when they are in season, in bulk, canned or even frozen. Yes! Frozen fruits and vegetables keep their nutritional value since they are frozen when they are ripe and have the most nutrients.
    2. Skip or reduce the meat. Plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, tofu and tempeh are typically more affordable than animal proteins. Most of these options also provide added essential nutrients like fibre that aren’t found in meats. By including these proteins in your meals, you can maintain a balanced plant-based diet while saving money.
    3. Limit the processed foods. “The familiarity of plant-based processed foods can be useful when transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle,” says Emilie Bédard, our Nutrition and Menu Services Manager and Registered Dietitian. “However, not only are they pricy, but they are also less optimal from a nutritional standpoint.” 

    Transitioning to a plant-based diet doesn't mean cutting all animal products cold turkey — the pun is intended here. Gradually incorporating more plant-based meals into your diet can help you transition without straining your budget. Even minor changes, like including a few plant-based meals per week with vegetables and whole grains, can make a significant difference in your health and budget.

    Myth #3: You Must Go 100% Plant-Based or It’s Not Worth It

    Many believe you must commit completely to only eating plant-based foods for optimal health outcomes. However, research suggests you can still get many health benefits by slowly adding more plant foods to your diet. It's not all or nothing — small, gradual changes, such as going meatless on specific days or reducing dairy intake, can yield notable health benefits.

    For instance, meat consumption isn't necessarily a problem. The issue lies in the amount we consume, which can affect both our health and the environment. Shockingly, half of the global population consumes 50% more protein than necessary!

    Keeping this in mind, it’s important to have a good intake of protein scattered throughout your day for satiety, energy and muscle function. “Plant proteins can be as fulfilling as animal protein when included in meals and snacks. For example,” says Émilie, “adding nuts to your morning snack with a fruit or including chickpeas in a macaroni salad for lunch.

    However, research shows that optimal health isn't dependent on an entirely plant-based diet. Diets rich in plant-based foods can help protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and specific cancers, and also support immunity, and overall well-being. Instead of an all-or-nothing approach, we should focus on sustainable changes that align with individual lifestyles.

    We asked Jef L’Ecuyer, our Menu Planning Analyst and Registered Dietitian for her input on a successful shift. “To get started on your plant-based journey, pick easy win recipes where you can effortlessly swap part of the meat or poultry for a plant-based alternative. For example, replace half of the meat in your favourite chilli recipe for kidney beans or half of the chicken for tofu in a butter chicken recipe.”

    “Get your tailored inspiration from social media and cookbooks,” she continues. “You can discover new flavours and ways to prepare plant-based foods.” 

    Sodexo recipe plant-based Asian-Inspired rice bowl with mushrooms


    So, the idea is to aim for a balanced diet with a plant-centric core of vegetables, whole grains, plant proteins and fruits for optimal health.

    Should you choose to go all in, small gradual changes will make adopting a plant-based lifestyle more accessible and contribute not only to your well-being but also to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.

    Get more tips for gradually shifting to plant-based eating.