Vegan Diets & Foods

There are various challenges for anyone who chooses to eat a vegan or vegetarian diet.  One of the biggest issues concerns getting sufficient protein in the diet – this is particularly crucial if you are an athlete, or engage in any sports where it crucial to build and maintain a large muscle mass, such as rugby, American Football or bodybuilding.


As you move through the different forms of vegetarianism and vegans, you find some vegetarians who eat will fish or chicken and only avoid red meat, others who eat no animal flesh (that is, no red meat, chicken or fish) but are okay with eggs or dairy.  Finally there are true vegans, who will not eat any food derived from animal source foods, excluding even honey from their diet.


As you move though these forms of vegetarianism, it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain sufficient protein.  In addition, getting enough iron, B12 and zinc (which are all found in high quantities in red meat) can be problematic.


Of course, vegetarians and vegans will point to the both the ethical and the health advantages to their diet choice – these can include lower levels of dietary fat, and reduced risk of various common western illnesses.


If you need to keep your protein intake high, then including chicken and fish will make things much easier for you.  Even for those who exclude meat, but still allow themselves to eat eggs and dairy, it shouldn't be too hard to get enough protein on a regular basis, and any shortages can be easily remedied by using whey protein, which is considered the best refined source of protein.


However, for serious vegans, getting sufficient protein for everyday needs, let alone the higher needs of athletes, can be come highly problematic.  The only solution appears to be the use of non-animal based protein powders such as soy protein isolate or pea protein powder.


There are numerous other challenges for vegans.  Other common problems include:


  • Risk of nutrition deficiencies including vitamin B-12, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, iron, and essential amino acids such as lysine and methionine.
  • Risk of calorie deficiency, particularly in children.
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis from lack of calcium in the diet
  • Higher incidence of rickets in children due to a lack of vitamin D
  • Iron-Deficiency Anemia due to low iron intake
  • Macrocytic Anemia due to vitamin B-12 deficiency, often found in breast-fed infants of vegan mothers


On the plus side, vegans have a lower incidence of many common diseases including:


  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Cholesterol
  • Colon Cancer
  • Diabetes


As with any diet, variety is the key.  Vegans who are aware of these issues and take active steps to address them can maintain good health while sticking to the principles that are important to them.