There are many reasons why people choose to follow a vegan diet which include both health and ethical issues and the popularity of this way of eating continues to rise. Over the past few years there has been much reported in the media regarding the popularity of this diet amongst male sportspeople who have adopted a vegan diet to help improve their performance. Such sportspeople include Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic, Jermain Defoe and David Hayes who all span a range of different sports. However, surveys on the topic of veganism consistently show that this diet remains more popular amongst women than men.
What are the benefits for men going vegan?
Studies have shown associations between meat-free eating and a lower incidence of obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. These are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease which is the leading cause of premature death amongst men.
A well-balanced vegan diet is also more likely to contain a greater quantity of wholegrain foods, pulses and vegetables which are high in fibre. According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey only 12% of men manage to achieve the recommended daily fibre intake of 30g. A diet rich in fibre has been shown to help reduce the risk of high cholesterol, heart disease and colorectal cancer while also helping to assist with weight loss.
It’s also been shown that vegans are more likely to exceed the daily recommended fruit and vegetable intake, which means gleaning a greater quantity of certain key vitamins and phytonutrients that help to protect the body from disease.
What are the considerations for men going vegan?
There may be many reasons why less men decide to go vegan than women. These may include misjudged preconceptions of the vegan diet or simply that fact that they don’t view a meal to be complete without meat and dislike eating foods such as legumes and vegetables.
There may be some specific considerations for men looking to go vegan. This diet can be quite calorie restrictive, which means careful planning for men trying to maintain their body weight or those with a high-energy fitness regime that may also require higher levels of energy and nutrients such as protein. Certain nutrients are also more important for men’s health such as zinc, which is typically found in meat and seafood and can be tricky to achieve on a vegan diet.
There is of course no reason why anyone can’t glean everything they need on a vegan diet regardless of their sex or how active they are. The bottom line is that if you are thinking of going vegan you need to be prepared to put a little more thought into what you are going to eat on a daily basis.
What should you expect and where should you start?
You may find yourself feeling more hungry once you switch to a vegan diet so you need to be prepared to include a couple of snacks during the day and think about including certain foods in your meals. Switching to eating solely plants means you are eating a larger volume of food but fewer calories so it’s important to make sure you’re eating more, and eating more often.
It’s essential to include foods such as nut butters, avocados, oils, nuts and seeds to your diet to maintain adequate energy levels. Try and make your meals up of a protein (see below), grain, and healthy fat (nut, seed, oil, tahini, avocado, nut or seed). Explore dressings and sauces to accompany your meals. If you do get hungry then fill the gap with dips (bean or veggie based), nuts, seeds, soya yoghurt with toppings, smoothies (try adding oats for extra protein) or breads (topped with nut butter, avocado or banana).
You may find a greater burden on cooking and preparing meals so work out your go-to meals to make things a little easier. This might be a tofu or vegan Quorn stir-fry or one pot dishes such as a bean-based chilli that can be batch cooked and frozen for future meals. There are also a wide range of ready-made meal options available if you’re strapped for time or inspiration.
You may experience bloating and gas when you make the switch to eating more beans, pulses and other high fibre foods. This will pass as your body adapts to this way of eating.
There is no reason you can’t get everything you need from plants and the key is to include a source of vegan protein with every meal. The richest sources are tofu, beans, lentils, pulses and vegan Quorn but other sources include quinoa, nuts, nut butters and seeds. You can also get a little protein from other foods such as breads, pasta and rice. Try to include a range of proteins across the day.
Zinc is an important part of many enzymes and has a role to play in immunity, processing carbohydrates, fats and proteins from foods and wound healing. The recommended daily intake for zinc is set higher for men as it plays a key role in maintaining prostate health, testosterone levels and overall reproductive health.
There are plenty zinc-rich vegan foods to choose from including spinach, nuts, seeds, cocoa powder, mushrooms, beans, breads, oats, tofu and cereal products. Zinc may be less well absorbed from plant foods so try to include plenty of them in your diet on a daily basis.
Vitamin B12 is mostly found in foods of animal origin so vegans must turn to fortified products such as plant milks, breakfast cereals and yeast extract in order to absorb suitable levels of the vitamin. Contrary to popular belief, spirulina and other algae products are not reliable sources of this vitamin
Low intakes of iron can lead to tiredness, fatigue and low mood as this mineral is required to make red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. The type of iron found in meat is more easily absorbed by the body and present in high amounts, but less so in plant-based sources. Good sources include pulses, nuts, seeds, fortified breakfast cereals, tofu, tempeh, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, molasses and dried spices. You can increase the uptake of iron from plant foods by eating with a source of vitamin C such as fruit juice with your breakfast cereals. Avoiding tea with meals can also help maximise the absorption of iron from your food
Calcium is essential for the good health of your bones and is involved in muscle and nerve function. Although dairy is often (falsely) thought to be one of the only sources of this mineral other good sources include tofu, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, tahini and fortified plant-milks. Try eating two or three servings of calcium-rich foods on a daily basis.
Omega 3 fatty acids cannot be made in the body. The two most important are called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexeanoic acid (DHA) and are found predominantly in oily fish. There is another Omega 3 called alphalinolenic acid (ALA), which can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, walnuts and chia seed oil. This Omega 3 (ALA) can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but the conversion rate is poor so vegans may want to supplement their diet with a vegan Omega 3 supplement (sourced from algae).
There is no reason why men can’t get everything they need from a vegan diet. They key is planning and understanding how to create quick and easy vegan meals to reduce the burden of cooking. If you are concerned about your nutrient intake to begin with you may want to invest in a multivitamin and mineral supplement.