Vegan nutrition - facts over myths

I In a vegan diet, animal foods are completely dispensed with. Convinced vegans argue, among other things, with health benefits. However, these should be viewed critically. From an ethical and ecological perspective, however, it is advantageous to reduce animal foods somewhat. Those who follow a vegan diet for these reasons should take a few things into account, because the risk of nutrient deficiencies is relatively high. However, those who consciously deal with this can also live well without animal foods. For small children and babies, however, this form of nutrition should not be considered under any circumstances.


What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet is a form of nutrition in which one completely renounces animal-produced foods: Meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and even honey are taboo here. Instead, one focuses on eating plants.

In our society, the dietary trend towards vegan or vegetarianism is increasing significantly. For ecological, ethical and health reasons, more and more people want to partially or completely eliminate animal products from their diet.


Is a vegan diet healthy?

It is a myth that consuming animal foods is bad and unhealthy per se and that a vegan diet solves all problems. Studies are often cited to prove that meat, for example, promotes cancer and makes people sick. Unfortunately, these studies do not differentiate, because there is a difference between eating cheap meat from factory farming and processed sausages and eating beef from species-appropriate pasture farming.

The same applies vice versa for a purely plant-based lifestyle: Those who make more use of natural and fresh organic foods naturally have many health benefits. However, vegan meat substitutes and all other industrially processed foods are pro-inflammatory.

Among other things because they contain far too much omega-6 fatty acids as well as trans fats and lack the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. 


Does this make a vegan diet unhealthy?

However, a vegan diet can be healthy if you take certain factors into account. On the one hand, it depends on the individual genetics and microbiome. Someone with Nordic roots is usually more made for a diet of animal protein (fish, meat, eggs), whereas people with ancestors closer to the equator can also cope relatively well with a more plant-based diet.


Can a vegan diet cause nutrient deficiencies?

This question can be clearly answered with "yes". The main problem is the intake of sufficient vitamin B12, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Although there are plant foods, such as cereal bran, that have a high iron and vitamin B12 content, such plants also contain antinutrients that simultaneously prevent the absorption or binding of these micronutrients in the human intestine.

This means that little of these nutrients reach the body. Vitamin D3 is also found more in animal foods. However, this vitamin is most efficiently absorbed through a daily stay in the sun (1h lightly clothed) anyway, so the vegan diet is not a limiting factor here.

The omega-3 fatty acids are actually also rather difficult to absorb in sufficient form. Linseed oil, walnut oil and hemp oil are recommendable sources, but their bioavailability is not as good as that of fish oil, for example.

Above all, essential amino acids are also important because these are primarily found in high doses in protein-rich meat. Quinoa, for example, has an excellent amino acid profile and some nuts also contain good proteins. The problem, however, is that if you want to get the same net amount of protein as, say, 100g of steak, you have to eat enough of it to consume 2-4 times as many calories. This makes things not so easy.


Advantages of a vegan diet

Switching to a vegan diet can have many benefits, especially if you have been eating more processed meats and vegetables. By eating more plants, you can easily increase your intake of fibre, fruit, and vegetables. Most importantly, a vegan diet has benefits for the environment and also for wildlife. Because animals suffer from factory farming, of course. From an ecological perspective, this also has a very negative effect. It can also be good for the intestines to consume more plant-based foods, at least for a limited period of time, as these can also support the intestinal mucosa, as long as it is not gluten-containing cereals or an excess of legumes.


Disadvantages of the vegan diet

The disadvantages of a vegan diet are largely related to the topic mentioned above: macro- and micronutrient deficiencies can be the result of a vegan diet that is not targeted enough. For example, there is a lack of vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, bioavailable protein or amino acids and, accordingly, the release of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and dopamine. The protein collagen, which is responsible for healthy bones, tissue, hair, nails and muscles, can hardly be obtained from a purely plant-based diet.

As an adult, however, these things can be addressed with the right approach. This includes, among other things, a regular visit to the doctor to check the important micronutrients that have been mentioned. If these are too low, the doctor or an alternative practitioner can offer solutions for this without having to go back to eating meat.


Vegan diet during pregnancy?

It is not advisable to live vegan during pregnancy. Especially here, the above-mentioned micronutrients, fatty acids and amino acids are very essential for the development of the unborn child. In any case, a doctor should be consulted who is familiar with the subject and can give recommendations and, if necessary, the supplementation of such nutrients or even infusions. Iron deficiency in particular is a common side effect during pregnancy.

Feeding a newborn or small child a vegan diet is not a promising idea. The B vitamins and other nutrients contained in animal foods are essential for brain development.

There have been enough cases of irreversible brain damage in young children because they were fed a vegan diet from the beginning. Veganism is therefore not for small children because a vitamin B12 deficiency is dangerous! Here, too, a doctor should be consulted.


Losing weight by eating a vegan?

You can't lose weight on a vegan diet alone. Any diet is about eating the right things and the right amount of them. Even with veganism, you can consume an excess of calories via industrially processed foods, trans fats and sugar.

Overconsumption of sugar and wheat and processed fats combined with lack of exercise are the main causes of overweight and obesity.

All 4 points are not eliminated by a vegan diet. However, it is often seen that with the trend of veganism, respectively the change of diet, a more conscious lifestyle is developed and there are some people who eat more fresh vegetables and more natural food as a result. However, this is just as possible with a mixed diet.

So, you can lose weight through a vegan diet, but veganism is not the main factor for this. Rather, one should eat protein- and fibre-rich foods and eat a a lot of vegetables, natural fats and more complex carbohydrates. Avoiding cow's milk products, sugar, soy, processed foods, trans fats and gluten in general is also an important factor in losing weight - as is getting enough exercise.


Vegan diet and sport

As sufficient high-quality protein is crucial for muscle building, sport and veganism in combination is often challenging, but not impossible. You also have to find solutions for taking in more protein, additional shakes are unavoidable here.

In conclusion, the following can be said about veganism: a vegan diet is certainly possible, but it should be practised smartly, taking into account a few factors.

Ines Schulz
Ines Maria Schulz, geboren am 01.12.1992 in Basel, Schweiz hat auch dort den Master Of Education in Biologie und WAH abgeschlossen, womit sie den Grundstein für das Verständnis von Physiologie und Anatomie sowie Ernährungslehre gesetzt hat. Zudem ist sie ausgebildete Sportlehrerin für die Grundschule. Seit zwei Jahren ist sie Coach bei MTM Personal Training, dem erfolgreichsten Personal Training Studio in Berlin. Dort unterstützt sie täglich Kunden, die ihr maximales Potential bezüglich mentaler und physischer Gesundheit und ihrer Leistungsfähigkeit ausschöpfen möchten. In Kooperation mit Ärzten wie Dr. Dominik Nischwitz und einem Labor für Darmgesundheit sowie dem ständigen Austausch im Team kann sie ihre Kunden optimal über Training, Ernährung, Mikronährstoffe und Lifestyle beraten. Für MTM hat sie bereits ein Frühstücksbuch und einen grossen Teil eines Lifestyle Booklets verfasst. Zudem schreibt sie wöchentlich den Newsletter, in dem Ernährungstipps und von ihr kreierte Rezepte veröffentlicht werden. Ines hat bei verschiedensten erfolgreichen Coaches und Fachpersonen Seminare und Zertifikate absolviert und erweitert stetig ihre Kompetenz. Für Supz Nutrition ist die junge Trainerin seit Januar 2019 mit dem Verfassen von Blogartikeln aktiv.

Häufig gestellte Fragen

What do vegans eat?
What does the term "vegan" mean?
Vegan means that a food or product has no animal origin. Regarding vegan foods, this means that they are exclusively from plants or fungi, or fermentation of microorganisms is also permitted. The same applies to other products, such as cosmetics. Thus, beeswax, for example, is not vegan because bees (=animals) are involved in the production process.
What is the difference between vegan and vegetarian?
Vegetarian means abstaining from meat and fish (dead animals), but not from all animal-produced products. Vegetarians also eat dairy products, eggs and honey. Vegan, on the other hand, means doing without any products that are of any kind of animal origin. So vegans don't eat honey, dairy products, eggs and of course fish, gelatin collagen or meat.
Why is wine not vegan?
Because the fermentation process often uses aids (e.g. gelatine and egg white) that have an animal origin. However, there are also specially declared vegan wines which are produced with other auxiliary agents that do not have an animal origin.
How many vegans are there in Germany?
According to the Federal Statistical Office, there are 1.41 million people in Germany (as of the end of 2021) who describe themselves as living a vegan lifestyle.
What do smart vegans eat for breakfast?
Good fats, protein & vegetables of plant origin. For example, unsweetened coconut yoghurt with almond flour (=protein) stirred in with berries and nuts or gluten-free low-carb bread with avocado and raw vegetables added.
Why don't vegans eat honey?
Because honey is produced with the help of bees, so it is an animal product. Vegans do not eat animal products.
What is veganism?
Veganism is the umbrella term for the way of living vegan. This means doing without food and products of animal origin.
How many vegans are there in the world?
One billion is assumed, but it is relatively difficult to actually determine meaningful numbers.
How healthy is a vegan diet?
Those who make more use of natural and fresh organic food naturally have many health benefits. However, vegan meat substitutes and all other industrially processed foods are pro-inflammatory. A vegan diet can be healthy if certain factors are taken into account. It depends on individual genetics and microbiome, among other things. Someone with Nordic roots is usually more suited to a diet of animal protein (fish, meat, eggs), whereas people with ancestors closer to the equator can do quite well on a more plant-based diet.

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