Vegan Diets Blamed For 'Increasing Malnutrition' In Wealthy Countries

But leading dietary organizations worldwide have said that a well-planned plant-based diet is healthy at all stages of life
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Malnutrition is increasing in wealthy countries (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

An increasing number of people in wealthy countries are becoming malnourished, and the rise of vegan diets could be a factor, according to a food safety expert

Professor Chris Elliott is an academic from Queen’s University Belfast. He is best known for leading the 2013 inquiry into the horse meat scandal.

Writing for The Conversation, along with colleagues Chen Situ and Claire McEnvoy, Elliot blamed 'hidden hunger' - a chronic lack of essential micronutrients in the diet - on some plant-based diets. His article claimed badly-planned vegan diets could lead to 'serious micronutrient deficiencies'.

He listed other cause of hidden hunger as the consumption of cheap 'energy dense, nutritionally poor' food, and the lack of micronutrients available in produce due to declining soil health.

Vegan diets

"Bone health is a concern for long-term vegans," the three wrote. "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. 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."

Supplements

According to the article, the answer to this is to take supplements - though they claim vegan supplements are less effective than others.

"Plant-derived vegan supplements tend to have low biological activity in humans," they wrote.

"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."

Well-planned vegan diets are safe

For some time now, the world's leading dietetic associations have been in agreement that well-planned vegan diets are suitable and safe for all stages of life - including very young and old people, and during pregnancy.

The British Dietetic Association partnered with The Vegan Society last year to share this message. Andy Burman, Chief Executive the BDA said at the time: "We are pleased to have renewed this memorandum with The Vegan Society, so that we can continue our positive working relationship.

"It is important that people choosing to eat a vegan diet can get the right advice from the right sources, and know to visit a dietitian for advice on tailoring their nutrition and diet. The BDA will continue to work with The Vegan Society to promote this message."