Going Vegan: Nutrient, Physical, Social and Economic Challenges

It has been estimated that about 3% of American adults, roughly about 7.5 million people, eat a vegetarian diet, and about 30% of them (1 million people) are strict vegans, who aim to eat no animal products at all.

This means eating no meat, milk, fish, eggs, cheese or even honey and vitamins derived from animal extracts.

It can be an extreme challenge as many vegans are unaware that the pill capsules used for many medicines are derived from gelatine - a product produced from animal bones and hooves (See: Vegans Beware! Most Drugs Contain Animal Product Derivatives).

The number of people have tried vegetarian or vegan diets and failed is anyone's guess.

Many people may also adopted the myriad of variants that allow various food items to be included and these numbers are also unknown. Being an absolutely strict vegan means no animal products whatsoever.

This can be a hard campaign on several fronts. This article discusses the range of challenges facing someone going vegan and how to beat them.

  • Knowledge
  • Nutrients - getting enough protein and avoiding vitamin and nutrient deficiencies
  • Physical Challenges
  • Heath Issues
  • Social Issues - Eating Out
  • Economic Challenges

As countless aspiring vegans are finding out the hard way, the switch from meat-eater to strict herbivore is a path strewn with many challenges. Favorite foods like butter, cheese and milk products can be made more difficult by family and friends who complain that you won't eat the lovely food they have prepared because of a teaspoon of butter used to fry the mushrooms. Alternatives such as rice and almond milk take a lot of getting used to. Vegan special foods can be very hard to find and may cost two to three times what the standard foods cost. People who have just started on vegan diets may struggle as everything on the shelves, even in the vegetarian section has hidden traces of animal products.

For many long-term vegetarians who want to make the switching to a strict vegan diet the toughest past is giving up cheese and yogurt. Vegan cheese alternative are not very appealing and are hard to find.

Major Health Issues for Vegans

Medical research studies have shown that vegetarian diets include relatively large amounts of nuts, fruits cereals, pulses and vegetables.

In terms of vitamins and nutrients, vegetarian and vegan diets are usually rich in:

  • carbohydrates
  • n-6 fatty acids
  • folic acid
  • vitamin C
  • dietary fibre
  • carotenoids
  • vitamin E
  • Magnesium

But vegetarian diets are relatively poor in:

  • protein
  • saturated fat
  • retinol
  • long-chain n-3 fatty acids
  • Zinc
  • calcium (particularly for Vegans because dairy products excluded)
  • vitamin B(12) (particularly for Vegans)

Comparative studies of vegans and vegetarians have shown that they have a relatively low BMI (low weights) and a low plasma cholesterol concentration. Vegetarians show similar death rates for general mortality causes to health-conscious non-vegetarian people from the same population. Studies of the comparable risks of cancer have not shown clear differences between non-vegetarians and vegetarians. Overall, the data suggest that the health of vegetarians in western societies is good and comparable to that of non-vegetarians.

Compared with other vegetarians, vegans are thinner, have modestly lower blood pressure and lower total and LDL cholesterol.

Physical Challenges for Vegans - Lifting Weighta anf Heavy Gym Workouts

Many people claim that going vegan will leave you tired and the lack of protein will lead to muscle wasting - after all many weight lifters eat huge servings of meat. However there are a growing number of vegan body builders who compete very successfully with the meat eaters. There is no official information on the number of competitive bodybuilders who are vegan, but the Website includes than 5,500 registered users and the number of members who participate in competitions has increased over the last 10 years.

Extra Financial Costs of Going Vegan

There is a lot of debate about this with many claiming the eliminating meat and diary products from the shopping list will save money because these items are expensive. However many of the specialist vegan products, foods with added nutrients and the many supplements that some vegans take can be expensive. Vegans concerned about where their vitamin B12 supplements are derived from may have to pay a premium prices for animal-free supplements. The same applies to gelatin capsules used for many drugs - the vegetable-derived alternatives may also be expensive. Vegans also miss out on many of the fast food special deals and foods such as veggie burgers are generally more expensive than the meat versions.

Milk substitutes such as almond milk and rice milk can cost 2-3 times that of their dairy equivalents. Vegans also may incur extra costs in having to shop around to eliminate all the foods in supermarkets that have hidden animal ingredients. Depending on where you live fresh fruit and vegetables can be very expensive especially if its organic.

You can eat a low cost vegan diet sticking with the basics such beans and rice, oatmeal, nut butters, fruits and vegetables but its the cost of the specialty items to avoid the nutrient deficiencies that can cost you more in the long run.

Social Issues of Going Vegan

Vegans can be their own worse enemies by being too zealous in promoting their 'beliefs' and not doing enough to avoid upsetting people they socialise with. Going to a dinner party can be a problem as your host may be aware that you don't eat meat and prepare vegetarian foods that may be cooked with butter or contain cheese and so be unacceptable. One sure fire way of avoiding 'situations' is to take an emergency meal in a container and eat that without making fuss with the other guests. You can also take a dish you prepare yourself that you can share at the meal.

There may be a certain stigma associated with being a vegan that many people have to cope with. Many vegans can be too promotional and talk at length about it when many people find it downright boring? The meat eaters don't go about extolling the virtues or eating meat for the same reason - this is a personal preference.

Risks of Vegetarianism

Balancing nutrition and food variety is vital to maintaining a healthy vegetarian diet. Vegans may be at risk of various vitamin and nutrition deficiencies such as vitamin B-12, calcium, iron, riboflavin, zinc and essential amino acids such as methionine and lysine (that the body can not make). Some vegetarians and vegans are also at risk of calorie deficiencies, particularly in children.Inadequate vegetarian diets may lead to the following complications:

  • Childhood Rickets cause by a lack of vitamin D
  • Osteoporosis caused by a lack of calcium and Vitamin D causing weakening of the boe and other diseases.
  • Iron-Deficiency - this make cause anemia and other problems. One research study found that about 5% of men and 25% of women who were lacto-ovo-vegetarians showed low ferritin levels in their blood (indicating iron storage)
  • Macrocytic - this is another type of anemia caused by deficiencies in vitamin B-12. This can occur in breast-fed infants whose mothers are strict vegetarians
  • Slow Growthand emaciation or in vegetarian infants and children
  • Various diseases associated with deficiencies in essential amino acids that are found in animal protein but are very restricted in vegetarians. Vegans particularly need to ensure that they get protein from a range of sources that contain these critical essential amino acids.

Protein and Essential Amino Acids

To get sufficient protein and a wide range of amino acids - variety is the key, as well as knowing what are the best sources of protein. The table below summaries some of the best sources ranked by the amount of protein in standard serves (mostly 1 cup). Vegans should combine grains and legumes. For example whole wheat bread spread with peanut butter is probably a complete protein. So are brown rice and beans or lentils on brown. Amino acid are maintained in a pool in your body for 17 hours, so provided you eat protein regularly and follow the vegan food pyramid (see Vegan Food Pyramid for Vegetarian Diets) there should not be many problems.

The Vegan Pyramid

List of Vegan Foods Rich in Protein

Food
Amount
Protein (gm)
Tempeh
1 cup
41
Almonds
1 cup
32
Seitan
3 oz
31
Soybeans, cooked
1 cup
29
Sunflower seeds
1 cup
24
Cashews
1 cup
20
Lentils, cooked
1 cup
18
Black beans, cooked
1 cup
15
Kidney beans, cooked
1 cup
13
Chickpeas, cooked
1 cup
12
Pinto beans, cooked
1 cup
12
Black-eyed peas, cooked
1 cup
11
Tofu, firm
4 oz
11
Lima beans, cooked
1 cup
10
Peas, cooked
1 cup
9
Quinoa, cooked
1 cup
9
Tofu, regular
4 oz
9
Peanut butter
2 tbsp
8
Soy milk
1 cup
7
Bulgar, cooked
1 cup
6
Soy yogurt, plain
6 oz
6
Almond butter
2 tbsp
5
Brown rice, cooked
1 cup
5
Spinach, cooked
1 cup
5
Whole wheat bread
Two slices
5
Broccoli, cooked
1 cup
4

Below are some of the most common nutrients that may be lacking in a vegetarian diet apart from essential amino acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids

To a some extent, your body can synthesise essential fatty acids from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is another essential fatty acid. ALA occurs in canola oil, flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, and tofu, ad particularly microalgae oil.

Solution:

· Use microalgae oil in vegan diets as a replacement for fatty fish consumption

· Use flaxseeds or flaxseed oil (ground or crushed) in your diet as a source of ALA. Don't heat the oil when using it and its destroyed by heat.

· Reduce on your intake of omega-6 fatty acids by replacing plant oils with olive oil or rapeseed oil.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is tied to the protein in animal foods and it is very hard to get it from vegetables without using supplements. To avoid any deficiency, vegans should frequently eat vitamin B-12–fortified foods, for example soy and rice beverages, breakfast cereals , yeast fortified with B-12, or take vitamin B-12 supplements daily. Fermented soy products, seaweed and leafy vegetables, are unreliable sources of active vitamin B-12 (the vegetable variety may be inactive). No unfortified plant food has enough active vitamin B-12 and supplements are the safety way to go.

Solution:

  • Consume vitamin B12 fortified food 2-3 times a day,
  • As a precaution take a B12 supplement especially for people with increased needs such as pregnant, and lactating women and the elderly
  • Cut down on excessive amounts of folate supplements, as this can hide a B12 deficiency
  • Have your doctor check your B12 level to ensure you are managing it.

Calcium

The best sources of dietary calcium is dairy foods, which are missing from vegan diets. The nondairy foods that are good sources of calcium are calcium-fortified tofu, fortified soy milk, some roots and legumes. Vegan need to ensure they get enough calcium in their diet to avoid bone disease and other issues associated with calcium deficiency. Bone health depends on more than just protein and calcium intakes. Research has shown that bone health is also influenced by nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium and by foods such as soy and fruit and vegetables. Vegan diets generally provide most of these substances. The link between vitamin D and calcium absorption is also important. Vitamin D enhances absorption, while phytic acid and oxalic acid block the absorption. Foods rich in oxalic acid and phytic acid are spinach, unleavened bread, nuts, seeds, rhubarb, sweet potatoes and raw beans.

Solution:

  • Vegans should consume calcium-fortified soy milk or juices on a daily basis, calcium-rich foods throughout the day, and consider taking a daily supplement.
  • Calcium intake should to be distributed throughout the day for optimal absorption.

Iron

Iron is essential for general health and carrying oxygen in the blood. Meat is rich in iron because its associated with haemoglobin in blood. Vegans need to be careful they get enough iron from vegetable sources. Iron deficiency causes fatigue and diminished immune function. There are two forms of dietary iron: nonheme and heme iron. Nonheme iron is found in plants whereas Heme iron, associated with haemoglobin, is found in animal foods.

Solution:

  • Consuming vitamin C (citrus juice and fruits, kiwi fruit, green and red peppers) at the same time that you consume foods with nonheme iron will increase iron absorption.
  • Calcium, phytates and tannins interfere with the absorption of iron. Tannins are found in coffee and tea. Phytates are found in legumes and whole grains. So these foods need to be avoided with eating calcium rich foods or taking supplements.

Vitamin D

Research studies have shown that vegans had the low intake level of vitamin D (0.88 gm per day), a value only 25% of the mean intake of omnivores. For a vegan, vitamin D intake depends on the intake of vitamin D-fortified foods and sun exposure. People living at high latitudes, dark-skinned people or those who spend long hours indoors should be careful to take adequate vitamin D in their food or in supplements. Various vegetables are rich sources of vitamin D.

Solution:

  • Vegans must regularly consume vitamin D–fortified foods such as soy milk, rice milk, orange juice, breakfast cereals, and margarines or supplements.

Zinc

Vegans should be aware of there need to maintain adequate levels of zinc intake in their diets and through supplements.

© janderson99-HubPages

Summary of Key Nutrients likely to be a Problem for Vegans

Nutrient
Function
Non-Vegan Sources
Vegan Sources
Vitamin B12
Helps make DNA; Producing and maintaining new cells; helps maintain the nervous system
Mollusks, clams
Fortified foods
 
 
Beef liver
Breakfast cereals
 
 
Trout
Vegetable stock
 
 
Salmon
Vegetable and sunflower margarines
 
 
Beef
Veggie burgers
 
 
Yogurt
Textured vegetable protein
 
 
Haddock
Yeast extracts
 
 
Tuna
Soy milk
 
 
Milk
 
 
 
Eggs
 
Calcium
Contraction and expansion of blood vessels and muscles; Strong bones;send message to nervous system; secrete hormones and enzyme
Milk
Fortified soy milk
 
 
Cheese
Fortified juice
 
 
Cottage cheese
Tofu-made w/calcium sulfate
 
 
Salmon w/bones
Soybeans
 
 
Sardines w/bones
Soy nuts
 
 
Yogurt
Bok choy
 
 
 
Kale
 
 
 
Mustard greens
 
 
 
Blackstrap molasses
Iron
Regulation of cell growth and differentiation; Transport oxygen; integral part of many proteins and enzymes
Heme iron:
Non-heme iron:
 
 
Chicken liver
Chickpeas
 
 
Oysters
Lentils
 
 
Beef
Beans
 
 
Clams
Fortified cereal
 
 
Turkey
Fortified oatmeal
 
 
Chicken
Tofu
 
 
Tuna
Wheat
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Reduce triglyceride levels; protect against atherosclerosis; act as an antiinflammatory; possibly help with depression and other personality disorders; and possibly thin the blood
Fatty fish:
 
 
 
Anchovies
Microalgae oil
 
 
Bluefish
Source EPA:
 
 
Carp
Flaxseed oil
 
 
Catfish
Flaxseeds
 
 
Halibut
Rapeseed
 
 
Herring
 
 
 
Lake trout
 
 
 
Mackerel
 
 
 
Pompano
 
 
 
Salmon
 
 
 
Striped sea bass
 
 
 
Whitefish
 
 
 
White tuna (Albacore)
 

© 2012 Dr. John Anderson

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Comments 8 comments

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

A comprehensive and useful article.

In my opinion, vegans, if you'll excuse the malapropism, are nuts!

Not because of their diet, but because of the fanaticism. Everything has life, even rhubarb! And it has been proven incomplete nutrition.

But I don't care about that; it's the extremism. I suspect all kinds of extremists: religious hard-liners, those who swear by either violence of pacifism to solve the world's problems, and all the rest.

As an animal lover, I do have trouble with eating animal protein; that i eat 90% chicken or fish is because of problems with purines. Mankind has evolved on a varied diet, perhaps going from high protein in the hunter-gather epoch, to predominantly fruit and grains later.

Now we have a varied diet that contains most things available.

If you're a religious fundamentalist - or a vegan, good luck to you, don't bore me with the details!

Bob


rfox21 profile image

rfox21 4 years ago from Bethesda, Maryland

Great Hub. Diet and nutrition is so important to our health that we should understand the pros and cons of what we choose to eat.


rasta1 profile image

rasta1 3 years ago from Jamaica

Wow. You couldn't have broken down the information better. I am going to stop drinking coffee. I will just have a cup a green tea each day. I am going to have buy some tempeh. It sounds like the ultimate vegan food.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Great read. Well-written and professional. Voted up and away. Keep up the great work.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home

i am trying to go vegan but not easy since i am meat eater since young


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 20 months ago from Long Island, NY

I make most of my meals with all sorts of beans. Something different every night, depending on what I mix them with. I buy dry beans, nothing from cans.

I know the problems with staying plant-based and I make up for it by taking vit B-12, and calcium. As for the protein, I get that from brown rice.

Since I made this change, my cholesterol dropped from 201 to 178 and my triglycerides came down a lot too. Even my blood pressure came down. My doctor said it's all due to the diet change.

I found a lot of useful information from your hub that I need to remember, so I do everything right. I'll save it to refer back to it when necessary.


Buildreps profile image

Buildreps 18 months ago from Europe

Great Hub and very comprehensive on this issue. I'm a (nearly) vegan and do lots of sports and physical exercise. Never encountered real problems besides a limited choice in restaurants, so we mostly eat at home or go to special restaurants. The only animal food I eat are biological eggs and yoghurt. Animals give this voluntary:)


Kimberleyclarke profile image

Kimberleyclarke 5 months ago from England

A fantastic and detailed article, thank you. I started becoming a plant based eater 9 weeks ago. My main concern at the moment is my calcium intake. Apart from that, I feel great - full of energy.

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