What makes a vegan diet less appealing to men? Dietitian Andy De Santis explores this hot topic
The plant-based food movement is real, tangible and
growing with each passing day. In fact, if you’ve spent any time at all on
social media (especially Instagram), you’d probably think a good portion of the
world was vegan.
And why not? There are a plethora of spiritual,
ethical, economic, and environmental and benefits that come with an exclusive
plant-based eating style.
The increasing presence of unique and delicious
vegan recipes, the notoriety of vegan athletes and powerful documentaries like Cowspiracy are all playing a part in contributing to improving the
awareness and savvy of individuals around the world.
According to an Ipsos MORI study commissioned by
Britain’s The Vegan Society, about 1%
of the British population over the age of 15 is vegan. This totals to over 500,000 people, which is
three and a half times the estimate from 10 years ago.
This is a promising sign for proponents of the
plant-based movement, and of course the new recruits, who will enjoy a variety
of health benefits as a result.
What health benefits you ask? It is becoming
increasingly recognized that plant-based diets have the potential to confer a variety of benefits including
reductions in weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and
certain types of cancer. In fact, former American President Bill Clinton switched
to a plant-based diet for this very reason.
How unfortunate it is then that men,
who are frequently prescribed medication for blood pressure and cholesterol
lowering, are far less likely to pursue plant-based diets than woman. The same Ipsos
study I alluded to earlier has veganism ratios in Britain at 2:1, female to
male. Estimates that I’ve seen out of the USA had the ratio closer to 3:1.
I had to ask myself then, as a male dietitian, what
is it about veganism that makes it less appealing to men?
A slew of plausible explanations rushed to mind,
but I wanted to have a look at a few pieces of scholarly work on the subject
before I went on with my own opinions.
In doing so, I came across a very interesting study
conducted by an American psychology professor , Margaret Thomas,
which found that those eating a vegan diet were perceived to be less masculine
than those consuming an omnivorous diet. The study also found that the act of
choosing to be vegan was associated with a perception of lower levels of masculinity.
So there we have one tangible reason, now let’s
take a look at some other possible explanations, including my counter arguments
to those lines of reasoning.
plant-based diets resonate with men?
1. Lack of Concern For / Ignorance of
health benefits: There are reasons why men die younger, this is one
of them. Although the health benefits of veganism may be a tough sell for young
man, middle aged men at greater risk of heart disease & diabetes and quite
likely on blood pressure/cholesterol medication should know that a plant-based
diet can offer them a healthier and longer life.
2. Meat Love/ Limited Cooking Skills: This is an obvious
one. We have to face to objectively face the reality that men love to eat
meat. I reside in Canada, and our last
major national survey of men’s eating habits showed they consume meat beyond
our national guideline recommendations. I think what many men do not realize,
however, is just how amazing plant based dishes can taste and how immaculately
foods like tofu (when properly prepared) can replace meat. The issue here, I
believe, is that more advanced food preparation skills are required to prepare
plant-based foods in a way that would appeal to the “average man”.
3. Cultural Influences: Beer, meat and sports are examples of
perennial and deep-seated icons of male masculinity in modern culture. I
believe this point is hard to refute, and it is one that is hammered home by
media and industry from a young age. If this is something that has affected
you, a simple google search of “famous male vegans” will help you to start
seeing things a little bit differently.
4. Masculinity: Yes, I referenced a study earlier that showed
vegan men were perceived as less masculine. But what about physiological
masculinity? For example, there are misconceptions about soy negatively
impacting men’s hormone levels. There is no evidence to support this claim.
There are also suggestions that plant-eaters have lower levels of testosterone
and other androgenic hormones than meat-eaters, this claim has been disproven.
“Problem”: Protein is the most overhyped and
over marketed macronutrients known to man.
Yes we need protein, but most of us get enough. I believe many men have
been led to fear that vegetarian protein sources are inadequate to maintain a
muscular physique. I approach this
argument in two ways:
a. Protein digestibility-corrected amino
acid score ( PDCAA): This is a scientific protein-source rated
system that is considered the best method to determine protein quality. The
higher the score the better. On this test beef scores .92, where soy scores
.91. Practically identical.
b. Vegan Athletes: I reached out to two vegan amateur athletes
on Instagram to provide insight into their decision to go into vegan, the
benefits it has conferred to them and the reasons why more men don’t do it.
Marko turned to veganism after watching the little
known documentary “Earthlings”, which opened his eyes to the mistreatment of
animals. He experienced improved digestive health and less sick days after
going vegan and believes that men may avoid veganism due to teasing and
complaints they may incur about the lifestyle.
Marco turned to veganism after the YouTube channel
Infinite Waters sparked his interest in the spiritual aspects of being a vegan.
From there, he took the time to understand the health benefits of plant-based
eating from other YouTube channels (such as VeganGains) and learned more
about the inhumane treatment animals experience in slaughterhouses. He was
almost fully vegan by the time he watched the Cowspiracy documentary, which hit
it home for him. He noticed cardiovascular and digestive benefits following the
switch and believes that the modern notion of masculinity holds men back from
veganism. He also is adamant there are unfair misconceptions about vegans being
self-centred and always wanting to spotlight their dietary choices
I hope you found my exploration of the male vegan
conundrum insightful. I’ve told a small but important part of the story here
today. For any men out there reading this who happen to be on the fence of
plant-based eating, I hope my words have resonated with you to a certain
degree. If you are looking more information on the benefits of plant-based
eating and how to carry it out right, I have included links to a variety of my
blog posts below.
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Andy is a private practice dietitian and avid nutrition blogger from Toronto, Canada. He holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Toronto and loves spreading the good word on healthy eating through his writing.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself.