Nutrition Guide: Vegetarian & Vegan Diet Pros and Cons

Vegetarian & Vegan Diets Pros & Cons

Vegetarian & vegan style diets are very popular nowadays, including athletes. There are many benefits of veganism and vegetarianism. They are claimed to be the healthiest diet to follow because they prioritise naturally sourced plant based foods (fruits and vegetables). This is great and probably how all diets should be, but is this the only benefit and are there any dangers of vegan diet & vegetarian diet? Just to be clear, I am in no way against vegetarian/vegan diets. I just want to outline vegan diet pros and cons and help people who choose to adopt these diets to get the best results, whatever your intentions for it are…

Types of plant-based diets:

Pescatarian – includes chicken and fish

Lacto-ovo vegetarian – Also eats eggs and/or dairy

Vegan – avoid all animal products

Now, let’s look at the benefits and risks of vegan diet and vegetarian diet.

Benefits of Being Vegan or Vegetarian:

like Obtain a variety of fruits and vegetables each day
like Useful diet for weight loss
like Increased feelings of satiety (high food volume, low energy intake)
like High intake of fibre
like Will have no issues meeting daily protein requirements ( this is one of benefits of vegetarian diet but not vegan diet ) 
like Naturally high carbohydrate diets to support endurance training

On the fence: Neither pros or cons of vegan diet & vegetarian diet:

Hi Well-designed vegetarian and vegan diets neither hinder nor aid performance. This means that the pros and cons of vegan diet/vegetarian diet balance each other out.
Hi Not enough data on effects of body composition changes (muscle mass/fat mass)
like Mixed results on soy protein & effects on male hormone levels

Disadvantages of Being Vegan or Vegetarian: ( Vegetarian / Vegan Health Risks )

dislike Vegan diets can be low in protein and fat
dislike Common nutrient deficiencies
dislike Vegans have more trouble achieving protein needs without using protein supplements
dislike When dieting, especially in athletes, higher protein intakes are advised to promote muscle retention & recovery, combat hunger and enhance mood
dislike Vegans therefore need more protein as protein quality of diet is lower compared to vegetarian & meat eaters

Common Nutrient Deficiencies on a Vegan Diet/Vegetarian Diet 

 – Vit B12 (both should supplement)

– Vit D (EVERYONE should supplement)
– Calcium (plant sources may limit absorption, only issue for non-dairy consumers)
– Iron (High in iron but absorption may be the issue, include vit C foods with meals and/or supplement (all non-red meat eaters; female vegan endurance athletes at high risk of anaemia)
– Zinc (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)

 Take home messages

– Many health benefits of vegan diet & vegetarian diet for weight loss
– Be wary of nutrient deficiencies & supplement where needed
– Female athletes (esp vegans) should be checked for iron deficiency anaemia

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