By TAP Integrative

Whether because of environmental, ethical, or health concerns, vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming more popular in many parts of the world. And while diets free of animal products can have health benefits, they also can result in nutritional deficiencies if not designed carefully. Vegans are often advised to eat a variety of foods and to supplement to fill the gaps in diet. However, not many studies have specifically investigated the nutritional status of vegans.

The research that has been done has suggested that the vegan diet is prone to deficiencies in vitamin B12, 25-hydroxyvitamin D, iodine, selenium, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. A 2016 paper published in PLoS One sought to determine nutritional status in vegans who had a good understanding of their unique nutritional needs. Researchers compared diets and biomarkers of 22 nutrition-savvy Finnish vegans to those of sex- and age-matched non-vegetarians. The emphasis of the study was placed on the nutrients known to be insufficient in vegans.

The vegans in the study adhered strictly to their diets, but individual food and supplement consumption was variable. Dietary intakes of vitamins B12 and D were lower in vegans versus nonvegetarians. Vegans also had lower concentrations of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D3, iodine, and selenium than nonvegetarians. On the other hand, vegans had more favorable fatty acid profiles and much higher concentrations of polyphenols than nonvegetarians.

This corroborates the view that a vegan diet has the potential to be nutritionally sound, but that adequate guidance is necessary. Vegans need to be especially careful to consume enough vitamins B12 and D, iodine, and selenium, either through supplementation or enriched foods. To ensure sufficient eicosapentaenoic acid formation, they should consume vegetable oils rich in alpha-linolenic acid, such as flax seeds and flaxseed oil, chia seeds and hemp seeds.


Elorinne AL, Alfthan G, Erlund I, et al. Food and nutrient intake and nutritional status of Finnish vegans and non-vegetarians. PLoS One. 2016;11(2):e0148235.

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