- What is a Vegan Diet?
- Vegetarianism/ Veganism Pros and Cons
- Pros and Cons of Vegetarianism
- Other Pros and Cons of Veganism
- Common Nutrient Deficiencies on a Vegan Diet/Vegetarian Diet
- What Are the Different Types of Vegetarian Diets?
- Is veganism right for me?
- Take-home messages:
- Can you get enough protein on a vegetarian diet?
- What is the main problem with veganism?
- Can you be vegan and healthy?
- What are the risks of a plant-based diet?
- Can you be strong without eating meat?
- Is a plant-based diet healthier?
- How to build muscle on a vegan/vegetarian diet?
- Is vegetarianism better than veganism?
- How common is a calcium deficiency in vegans and vegetarians?
- Do vegetarians face iodine deficiency problems?
What is a Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet is a plant-based lifestyle that prohibits the consumption of all animal products, with many people adopting a vegan diet for health, environmental and strong ethical beliefs concerning animal welfare.
Strict vegans will also avoid using any products that have been tested on animals or wear leather or wool. So is a vegan diet healthy? What are the vegan diet pros and cons? Let’s find out in this comprehensive guide!
Also read: What is the best diet for good health?
Vegetarianism/ Veganism Pros and Cons
Vegetarian & vegan diets are more popular than ever, particularly for athletes in an attempt to maximize performance.
There are many benefits of a plant-based diet, and they are claimed to be the healthiest diet to follow because they prioritise naturally sourced plant-based foods (fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains).
This is great and exactly how all diets should be but are there any downsides to a plant-based diet? Just to be clear, I am in no way against a vegan diet plan. I just want to outline any potential risks and help all athletes who choose to adopt a plant-based diet to get the best results.
Pros and Cons of Vegetarianism
Obtain a variety of vegetables and fruits each day
Vegan diets can be low in protein and fat
Useful diet for weight loss
Being a vegetarian can have common nutrient deficiencies
Increased feelings of satiety (high food volume, low energy intake)
Vegans have more trouble achieving protein needs without using protein supplements
High intake of fibre
When dieting, especially in athletes, higher protein intakes are advised to promote muscle retention & recovery, combat hunger, and enhance mood
Non-vegans will have no issues meeting daily protein requirements
Vegans, therefore, need more protein as the protein quality of diet is lower compared to vegetarian & meat-eaters
Naturally high carbohydrate diets to support endurance training
Other Pros and Cons of Veganism
Apart from the above-discussed pros and cons of veganism, there are some other significant benefits and drawbacks of being vegan. Let’s find them out:
Pros Of Being Vegan
Helps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular and heart disease: One of the significant contributing elements to heart disease is your diet. The vegan diet prioritises a wealth of natural, nutrient-dense plant-based foods that promote heart health. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc., all have excellent health properties.
The research of 126 omnivorous men and 170 vegetarians showed that those who adopted a vegetarian diet had lower blood pressure and a lower probability of coronary heart disease.
Helps to improve blood sugar levels: Type 2 diabetes is a global health issue. However, some studies show that a vegan diet plays a specific role in improving blood sugar levels. It typically reduces the intake of poor-quality processed foods overconsumed in typical Western diets and contributes to type 2 diabetes.
Other Disadvantages Of Vegan Diet
Potential Nutritional Deficiency: A vegan diet may lack some of the critical nutrients required for the body, such as protein, vitamin B-12, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and Iron.
Following a vegan diet requires knowing about the key foods that should be combined together and prioritised to sufficiently meet these nutrient intakes, and analysing your diet (with the help of a registered dietitian/nutritionist), to see if you require any additional supplements to prevent any nutrient deficiencies if you struggle to obtain these nutrients through food alone.
On the Fence: Neither Pros or Cons of Vegetarianism:
This means that the vegan diet pros and cons balance each other out. Well-designed vegetarian and vegan diet recipes neither hinder nor aid performance compared to an already well-structured diet that includes animal products.
Common Nutrient Deficiencies on a Vegan Diet/Vegetarian Diet
Vegetarian and Vegan diets are undoubtedly beneficial for your health, but completely cutting off animal products from your diet might result in some common nutritional deficiencies.
The most common nutritional deficiencies in vegan and vegetarian diets include:
- Vit B12 (both should supplement)
- Vit D3 (EVERYONE should supplement)
- Calcium (plant sources may limit absorption, the only issue for non-dairy consumers)
- Iron (High in Iron, but absorption may be the issue, include Vitamin C foods with meals and/or supplements (all non-red meat eaters; female vegan endurance athletes at high risk of anemia)
- Zinc (a potential problem for vegans)
- Iodine (potential issue for non-seafood/dairy/egg eaters)
- Omega-3 (non-fish eaters will need to supplement – algae-based EPA/DHA)
Let us now find out vegan sources for the above-mentioned deficiencies:
Vegan sources of Calcium
- Dark leafy green vegetables, e.g. broccoli, kale, and cabbage.
- Calcium-fortified cereals, milk, and bread.
- Dried fruits.
- Sesame seeds/hummus.
Vegan sources of Vitamin D
- Direct sunlight to skin.
- Fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals, and unsweetened soya drinks.
- Vitamin D3 supplements.
Vegan sources of Iron
- Wholemeal bread and flour.
- Breakfast cereals are fortified with Iron. Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli, and spring
- Dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes, and figs.
Vegan sources of Vitamin B12
- Breakfast cereals fortified with B12.
- Unsweetened soy drinks fortified with vitamin B12.
- Yeast extract, such as Marmite, is fortified with vitamin B12.
Vegan sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Walnuts & flaxseeds.
- Vegan Omega 3 supplement.
What Are the Different Types of Vegetarian Diets?
The main types of plant-based diets are:
- Vegan – no animal products
- Vegetarian/Lacto-Ovo vegetarian – includes dairy and eggs
- Ovo vegetarian – no dairy
- Lacto vegetarian – no eggs
- Pescatarian – includes fish, dairy and eggs
- Flexitarian – includes small amounts of all animal products.
What’s the difference between a vegan diet and a plant-based diet?
Vegan diets will eliminate all animal products and by-products, whereas plant-based or vegetarian diets may often include dairy sources, eggs, and small portions of white meat and fish.
Is veganism right for me?
Veganism is only right for you if you adopt it for the right reasons to support environmental and ethical beliefs and find it sustainable as part of your lifestyle and food preferences.
1. Protein intake considerations – combine different plant-based protein foods to complement their amino acid profiles for more complete proteins.
2. May limit food options on social occasions.
3. Vegan/plant-based diets can significantly increase the nutritional quality of a person’s diet, mainly those who have swapped from a highly processed, westernised diet with little amounts of fruit and veg.
4. Many health benefits to a plant-based diet for weight loss, health and athletic performance and recovery.
5. Be wary of nutrient deficiencies & supplements where needed.
6. Female athletes (esp vegans) should be checked for Iron-deficiency anemia.
Related: Fresh, Frozen and Canned Vegetables
Can you get enough protein on a vegetarian diet?
Yes, you can get enough protein in a vegetarian diet. Dairy and eggs are a convenient protein source for vegetarians, together with meals that combine higher protein sources like tofu, lentils, mixed beans, nuts, and seeds, is the best approach.
What is the main problem with veganism?
Not everyone has the capability to follow a vegan diet and you must follow it for the right reasons, not just to lose weight. Some packaged foods will have ingredients unsuitable for vegans, but adopting a diet that focuses on natural and fresh produce makes it much easier to control.
Can you be vegan and healthy?
Yes, you can be vegan and healthy. But, there needs to be proper planning and implementation when you are on a vegan diet to avoid any nutrient deficiencies which may require supplementing.
What are the risks of a plant-based diet?
There is a risk of inadequate protein, vitamin, and mineral intake when you are on a vegan diet. But, you can overcome this risk with proper planning by choosing the right food to eat and any necessary supplements, such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, and iodine.
Can you be strong without eating meat?
Yes, you can avoid meat and still be strong. To be strong, you need protein together with regular exercise. There are plenty of foods to get your protein from like tofu, beans, and lentils.
Is a plant-based diet healthier?
If following a plant-based diet helps you eat a more balanced range of high-quality foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, whilst avoiding nutrient deficiencies, then yes it would be healthier for you. Following this approach and including smaller portions of meat and fish would also be very healthy.
How to build muscle on a vegan/vegetarian diet?
Here are some tips for building muscle on a vegan/vegetarian diet:
1) Do regular strength training
2) Eat high protein plant foods
3) Include these foods with every meal and snack
4) Sleep for a minimum of 7-8 hours each night
5) Include a soy or pea protein supplement to increase your protein intake
6) Supplement with creatine monohydrate
Is vegetarianism better than veganism?
Vegetarian diets have a greater range of foods they can eat making it easier to enjoy a variety of foods to get enough protein and prevent nutrient deficiencies. Vegan diets are not necessarily healthier than vegetarian diets because of their limited food options, but one person’s vegan diet may be healthier than another person’s vegetarian diet if they are eating more fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and preventing nutrient deficiencies.
How common is a calcium deficiency in vegans and vegetarians?
Calcium deficiency is common among vegans. Most vegans lack enough calcium because they struggle to replace dairy foods in their diet, and therefore need to take a calcium supplement to prevent osteoporosis later in their life. Since vegetarians eat dairy products, they should have no problem with calcium deficiency
Do vegetarians face iodine deficiency problems?
Iodine intake for vegetarians is low as they don’t eat fish, but they can get it from dairy sources like yogurt and milk. Seaweed is high in iodine which is suitable for vegans and vegetarians, otherwise, a supplement may be required.