Let’s deal with the question of anemia first. This is a condition where the body lacks sufficient red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues, and there are various kinds and causes. It can develop due to an inherited condition, through the use of certain prescription drugs or alcohol, through some chronic diseases, or because of menstrual blood loss. Anemia can also be caused by a dietary deficiency of iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12. Thankfully, there is no need for vegans to experience dietary-related anemia as all of these nutrients can be found on a plant-based diet.
In fact, research shows that those who don’t eat meat are no more likely to suffer from iron-deficiency anemia than those who do. This may be because people who eat meat-free diets tend to get more vitamin C, which helps us absorb iron but, according to research, it may also be because they actually get more iron. Plants are a great source of iron, and many meat-eaters get most of their iron from plants, too.
There are two types of iron; heme iron, which is found in meat, and non-heme iron which is found in plants. Heme iron can be digested more readily but it is also associated with metabolic syndrome and heart disease. With this in mind, Dr. Michael Greger says the healthiest source of iron appears to be non-heme iron, which is found naturally in abundance in whole grains, beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.
A second type of anemia is due to folate deficiency, but vegans tend to have no problem with their folate intake. Data from the EPIC-Oxford study, which compares different dietary groups, showed that vegan participants had the highest levels of folate in their blood. Folate is easy to find as it is in leafy greens, beans, peas and lentils, oranges, beetroot, quinoa, mango, asparagus, avocado, okra, parsnips, chia seeds, and ground flaxseed.
A third type of anemia is related to vitamin B12, and vegans do need to be more careful about this vitamin as it is most prevalent in animal products. But vegans can get a good amount from fortified yeast extract, plant milks, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast, while many people also take a supplement just to be sure.
There is no reason at all why the myth of the anemic vegan persists, and those who eat a balanced plant-based diet have no such concerns. As for weak vegans, are you kidding?! Have you watched The Game Changers?
Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton, basketball’s Kyrie Irving, and Olympian weightlifter Kendrick Farris are all vegan. And so are leading heavyweight boxer Bryant Jennings, the world’s strongest man Patrik Baboumian, and world-class mixed martial artist Nate Diaz. Powerlifter Alison Crowdus, climber Steph Davis, surfer Tia Blanco, and a whole coach-load of wrestlers and NFL players are vegan too. In fact, there are vegans excelling in every sport, and proving that a plant-based diet is not only compatible with strength, muscle mass, and endurance, but it also allows athletes to train harder and recover faster, and get the edge on their competitors.