“Vegans should take vitamin B12 supplements permanently”

“With a pure plant-based diet, it is difficult or impossible to attain an adequate supply of some nutrients. The most critical nutrient is vitamin B12,” the German Nutrition Society (DGE) wrote in its review of scientific literature now cited on the German government’s website.

Other potentially critical missing nutrients include protein, “indispensable” amino acids, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins like riboflavin, vitamin D and minerals like calcium, iron, iodine, zinc and selenium.

“Since rejecting any animal foods increases the risk of nutrient deficiencies and thus of health disorders, a vegan diet is not recommended by the DGE during pregnancy or lactation, or for children or adolescents of any age.”

However they said people who do choose to follow a vegan diet should “permanently” take vitamin B12 supplements and have vitamin B12 intakes regularly checked by a physician and “select very specifically nutrient dense foods and fortified foods, in order to ensure supply of nutrients, particularly critical nutrients”.

The report also said vegans should “possibly” have the supply of other critical nutrients regularly checked by a physician.

“Any diet that does not lead to the intake of adequate levels of essential nutrients and energy is unfavourable. The DGE recommends a diet that includes all groups of foods in the nutrition circle – including animal products,” it said.

International opinion

The report cited the differing opinions of several international nutrition bodies.

In the past the likes of the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Canadian Paediatric Society have said an appropriately planned vegan diet that includes food supplements and fortified foods is nutritionally adequate and therefore appropriate for individuals during all life stages, including pregnant and lactating women.

“In the opinion of the British Nutrition Foundation a well-planned, balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can be nutritionally adequate. More extreme diets, such as strict macrobiotic and raw food diets, are often low in energy and a range of micronutrients, making them wholly inadequate and inappropriate for children,” the report said.

The Portuguese National Programme for the Promotion of a Healthy Diet recommends vegan infants are breastfed beyond the recommended period of six months up to two years during the complementary feeding phase to make sure they receive enough high quality milk protein.

Meanwhile the Nutrition Committee of the German Society of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine “rejects” a vegan diet for healthy infants, unless supplements are taken.

Making the impossible possible?

Yet spokesperson for the pan-EU Vegan Society, Jimmy Pierson, told us: “With a little knowledge and planning, rest assured you can get everything you need from a vegan diet for great health.”

He said the British Dietetic Association (BDA) backed this idea.

In 2014 BDA and the Vegan Society signed a Memorandum of Understanding seeking to: “Ensure that medical professionals and service providers know that well-planned plant-based, vegan-friendly diets can be devised to support healthy living at every age and life-stage.”

Pierson said: “A reliable source of vitamin B12 is essential, either from cereals, non-dairy milks, yeast extract or any other foods fortified with B12; or from a supplement.

“And we recommend that everyone in the UK, regardless of diet, considers a vitamin D supplement.”



The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.