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Who Knew? Vegan Diets Are Bad For People, Malnutrition, D’Ye See?

Given that every vegan any of us ever meets appears malnourished this doesn’t come as the greatest of surprises, does it? That vegans often are actually malnourished:

Vegan diets are adding to malnutrition in wealthy countries

Hidden hunger affects over two billion people, globally. The cause is a chronic lack of essential micronutrients in the diet, such as vitamins and minerals. The effects of these nutritional deficiencies may not be seen immediately, but the consequences can be severe. They include lower resistance to disease, mental impairment and even death.

While many of the cases of hidden hunger are found in developing countries, this phenomenon is also a growing public health concern in developed countries. For example, iodine deficiency is the most common cause of preventable mental impairment and the UK ranks seventh among the ten most iodine-deficient nations. And data from the US shows that more than one in four children lacks calcium, magnesium or vitamin A, and more than one in two children are deficient in vitamin D and E.

There are several causes of hidden hunger in developed countries. The consumption of cheap, energy dense, nutritionally poor and heavily processed foods, particularly by poorer members of society, is a major factor. Even when fresh produce is consumed, there appears to be fewer micronutrients available than was once the case. This is due to issues such as soil health, caused by poor agricultural management and climate change.

Growing trend of veganism

The rapidly growing trend of veganism is likely to become another major contributor to hidden hunger in the developed world. According to the Vegan Society, the number of people switching to a vegan diet in the UK has risen more than fourfold in the last decade. A study commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group revealed that nearly 5% of the US population are vegetarian and about half of these are vegan.

Eating a plant-based diet may lower the risk of chronic disease and is good for the environment, but poorly planned vegan diets that do not replace the critical nutrients found in meat, can lead to serious micronutrient deficiencies.

Bone health is a concern for long-term vegans. Vegans are consistently reported to have lower intakes of calcium and vitamin D, with resultant lower blood levels of vitamin D and lower bone mineral density reported worldwide. Fracture rates are also nearly a third higher among vegans compared with the general population.

Omega 3 and iodine levels are also lower compared with meat eaters, as are vitamin B12 levels. Vitamin B12 is most often obtained from animal foods, and higher rates of deficiency have been found in vegans compared with other vegetarians and meat eaters. The symptoms can be serious and include extreme tiredness and weakness, poor digestion and developmental delays in young children. Untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause irreversible nerve damage.

While getting less than the optimal amount of B12 is quite common in pregnant women and in less-developed countries, the reported frequencies of deficiencies among vegetarians and vegans in developed countries vary greatly in severity between age groups. Even low levels of vitamin B12, but not enough to be classed as deficient, may be bad for your healthand increase your risk of heart disease.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in pregnancy. Anna Om/Shutterstock

Potential solutions

Vegans can prevent micronutrient deficiency by consuming fortified foods (food with added vitamins and minerals) and taking supplements. But supplement use is often resisted by those on a plant-based diet and they have been reported to interfere with the absorption of other important nutrients.

Also, plant-derived vegan supplements tend to have low biological activity in humans. For example, studies show that vegan-friendly vitamin D2 supplements are less effective in raising blood vitamin D levels than the more widely used vitamin D3 supplements. Other supplements, such as vitamin B12, may be largely inactive in the body.

Hidden hunger is widely recognised and is being addressed in many parts of the developing world by well-organised and large-scale bio-fortification programmes. Perhaps something similar needs to be done to address hidden hunger in the West.


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Jonathan Harston
Jonathan Harston
5 years ago

I’ve known somebody who’s been vegetarian since the 1970s and vegan since the 1990s or so, and she’s exceptionally healthy (she cycled 30 miles to her wedding). But she approached it open-eyed and with research, basing her diet on a wide range of fruit, veg and fungus, not expensive urine supplements. Also, not believing in forcing her views on other people, she followed a meat-inclusive diet while pregnant and nursing. The modern faddists suffer because they adopt veganism as a fad thinking “vegan” equals “healthy” instead of realising that “healthy” is a different axis to “vegan”. It’s same idiocy that… Read more »

5 years ago

It is worth noting that many vitamins and minerals are NOT compatible with veganism. Take vitamin D. The only 2 commercial sources are fish oil and sheep extract. (It’s way cool. Take sheep skin oil, blend it, expose in a vessel to intense UV light, filter out the resulting vitamin D). So any pious vegan who takes vitamin D supplements is a hypocrite. Likewise calcium. From milk or bonemeal. And folic acid. And…a whole list of vitamins that are chemically based upon proteins and amino acids that only exist in commercial volumes in animal products. A true vegan should suffer… Read more »

5 years ago

How is climate change causing “soil health” to deteriorate? Central Scotland is somewhere on the order of 3 degrees cooler than the South West of England. Our soil (barring the Carse of Gowrie, which is alluvial) isn’t better.

bloke in spain
bloke in spain
5 years ago

Why would you want to promulgate this information? These people are obviously insane. Veganism shortens their lives. Their children are less healthy. Left to themselves, they’ll remove their genes from the gene-pool. Like the last wholly vegetarian anthropoids did. Do us & them a favour. Leave them & evolution to their worthy task, unimpeded.

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