College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

South African Vegans Under the Spotlight

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Ms Sansha Kohidh earned a Master’s degree in Dietetics for research she did into aspects of what is involved in a vegan diet in South Africa, including dieters’ motives for making the lifestyle choice, challenges they faced and the nutritional quality of the diet.

‘A vegan diet is plant-based and excludes meat and animal products. Being a vegan and following the diet is becoming popular internationally as well as locally, yet very few studies have been done on it from a South African perspective,’ said Kohidh.

Kohidh, who also completed an undergraduate degree and a Postgraduate Diploma in Dietetics at UKZN, conducted her cross-sectional study, the first of its kind in South Africa, by posting an online questionnaire to vegans on the SA Vegan Society Facebook page.

Her results indicated that the main motive for following the diet was to help prevent cruelty to animals and protect the environment and its resources.

A serious challenge faced by vegans was finding vegan options in restaurants. Kohidh highlighted the need for fortified food products and the use of nutritional supplements to reduce possible nutrient deficiencies involved.

‘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, pointing out that as vegan food grows in popularity, plant-based meat and dairy alternatives were becoming more easily available.

Kohidh’s study was supervised by Dr Nicola Wiles who she is now working with to develop a manuscript for publication and possibly continue towards reading for her doctorate.

A keen cook and a lover of discovering new cultures and places, Kohidh has been interested in health and helping people since her early life when she became aware of the chronic conditions of cancer and obesity suffered by people in her community. Aiming to help alleviate these conditions that Kohidh realised were linked to dietary choices, she chose a career that would help individuals develop a healthy relationship with food and nutrition.

After completing her community service at Montebello Hospital in Ozwathini and witnessing first-hand the challenges faced by rural communities owing to poor health and nutrition, Kohidh decided to develop her expertise and skills in dietetics further, aiming to contribute to the connection between scientific and technological research innovations.

Kohidh said completing her master’s had been challenging but extremely rewarding, especially knowing that her research would contribute to advances in knowledge beneficial to society.

‘Completing my master’s gave me a great sense of confidence and accomplishment in my academic career,’ said Kohidh, adding that she learned valuable skills in time management through the process.

Kohidh thanked God for the strength, knowledge, ability and the opportunity to study.  She also thanked Wiles for being an inspiration, guide, role model, pillar of strength and friend, and Mr Dylan Barsby and Ms Anna Jordan from the South African Vegan Society for providing her with a platform for her research.

She thanked the Halley Stott Foundation for funding the statistical analyses for her dissertation, and finally paid tribute to her parents and sister for their support and encouragement, which had been invaluable.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied