South Africans on the vegan diet face several challenges

Most people who have decided to go vegan – eating food that has no animal sourced products in it – took the decision to prevent cruelty to animals and harm to the environment.

Vegans are growing in numbers globally, but local vegans lament about the lack of variety in restaurants and the quality of produce required to remain healthy.

This is what emerged from Sansha Kohidh’s Master’s degree in Dietetics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) which she earned for her research on the vegan diet in South Africa – dieters’ motives for making the lifestyle choice, challenges they face and nutritional quality.

Kohidh said that although the vegan diet was becoming increasingly popular internationally and locally, very few studies had been done on this diet from a South African perspective.

“Despite its growing popularity, there are a lot of misconceptions about the diet, including that the food is bland and tasteless, expensive and lacking nutrition, having no dairy or animal products in it,” said Kohidh.

By doing a cross-sectional study by posting an online questionnaire on the SA Vegan Facebook page, Kohidh concluded that animal cruelty, harm to the environment and its resources was the main motive for vegans to ditch animal-derived food.

Sansha Kohidh’s research into South African vegans revealed that they care about the environment and don’t want anything to do with animal cruelty. Picture: Supplied

The survey revealed that vegans struggle with restaurants relegating their offerings as an afterthought at the bottom of the menu. Kohidh highlighted in her research the importance of fortified food products and nutritional supplements to ward off possible nutrient deficiencies.

Kohidh became interested in this field from seeing people suffer chronic conditions such as obesity, so she chose a career that would help individuals develop a healthy relationship with food and nutrition.

She has seen first-hand how rural communities suffer poor health and nutrition while doing her community service at Montebello Hospital in Ozwathini inland of Tongaat. Dietetics gave her a vehicle to contribute to connecting science and technological research innovations that would benefit people.

Kohidh was honoured by UKZN at its recent virtual graduation ceremony.