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Vegans warned lack of nutrients in some diets could lead to malnutrition


The rise in veganism could spark a malnutrition crisis, experts have warned. There are fears that followers of the plant-based diet are missing out on essential nutrients. Experts said they are at greater risk of breaking bones and could even suffer from irreversible nerve damage.

Professor Chris Elliott, who led the inquiry into the horsemeat scandal, said the trend was likely to become a ‘major contributor to hidden hunger in the developed world.’ Veganism has soared in popularity over the last decade and, according to The Vegan Society, there were 542,000 followers in 2016. A further 1,100,000 class themselves as vegetarian.

The NHS website says a vegan diet is unsuitable for children under the age of two. Many vegans are not replacing the vital nutrients they are missing out on by not consuming dairy products and eggs. Professor Elliott, pro-vice chancellor for medicine, health and life sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, said poorly planned vegan diets could lead to ‘serious micronutrient deficiencies.’ ‘Bone health is a concern for long-term vegans,’ he said. ‘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.’ Prof Elliott, writing for The Conversation, added levels of omega 3, iodine and vitamin B12 were lower in some vegans than meat and dairy 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.’ Vegan diets are much friendlier for the environment and followers have a lower risk of some chronic conditions, such as heart disease. It is possible to replace the essential nutrients by using supplements or consuming food with added vitamins and minerals. Heather Russell, a dietician from The Vegan Society, said: ‘Well-planned vegan diets contain all the nutrients that our bodies need. ‘We work with the British Dietetic Association to share the message they can support healthy living in people of all ages.’

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