Put Wellness Within Reach

Vegetarian and Vegan Trends Pushing More People Into Deficiency Risk

NEW RESEARCH FROM HSIS REVEALS LACK OF DIET KNOWLEDGE LEADING TO SERIOUSNUTRIENT GAPS AND RISK OF POOR HEALTH A new survey[1] commissioned by theHealth and Food Supplements Information Service(HSIS) has highlighted worrying gaps in knowledge leading to an enhanced riskof nutritional deficiencies. The OnePoll survey interviewed 1000 vegetarianand vegan adults across the UK and found that 28 per cent of vegans and 13 percent of vegetarians have been diagnosed with a nutrient deficiency following ablood test. The key nutrients which could be an issue on vegetarian or vegandiets were iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium and zinc. These are all foundin animal-sourced foods but tend to be less bioavailable or present in smalleramounts, in plant foods. Yet, despite this, more than six in 10 people claimedthat their plant-based diet provided all of the nutrients they need. Theexamples of deficiency were accompanied by poor general knowledge about how toobtain adequate nutrient intakes when following a vegan or vegetarian diet.While one in ten respondents had turned to a meat-free diet in the past yearand half had been vegan or vegetarian for longer, 60 per cent overall admittedthat they had done no research before cutting out animal products and most didnot take a targeted dietary supplement, as recommended by the NHS[2] and theVegan Society[3].Dietitian, Dr Carrie Ruxton who advises HSIS, comments:“Many people start a vegetarian or vegan diet without doing any research atall. Simply cutting out whole food groups without prior planning isn’t idealas most animal and marine foods are a good source of essential nutrients e.g.oily fish provides omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, meat contains iron andzinc, and dairy is a source of vitamin B12, iodine and calcium. Thesenutrients are needed to support health but often people following vegetarianor vegan diets aren’t aware that some of these nutrients can be tough to getfrom plant sources. A vegetarian and vegan diet can still be healthy, but itdoes need extra planning to make sure the right balance of nutrients isconsumed. “For vegetarians who avoid marine foods, or those on a vegan dietwhere no fish, dairy or animal products are eaten, a supplement may benecessary as, for example, iodine, zinc and vitamin B12 are difficultnutrients to get from a vegan diet. The long-chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA) arenot widely available from plant sources so, for anyone who doesn’t eat fish,including foods such as walnuts, milled seeds such as flax and hemp seeds, andrapeseed oil is essential and you might want to consider taking a vegan algae-based omega-3 supplement which is rich in EPA and DHA”. Obtaining accurate andappropriate information is vital before restricting key food groups, yet theHSIS survey found that advice on diet and nutrition came mostly from familyand friends (32 per cent), wellness blogs and celebrities (25 per cent) ornewspaper and magazine articles (14 per cent). These less qualified sourcesperhaps explained a general lack of knowledge amongst vegans and vegetarianswith only a quarter aware of iron and zinc issues, six per cent aware ofiodine deficiency, and significant groups believing – wrongly – that apricots,spinach, mushrooms and apples are high in protein or that broccoli (33 percent) and pulses (20 per cent) were good sources of vitamin B12. On top ofthis, one in four had no idea where to get omega-3s in the diet – importantfats for heart and brain health. In contrast, one in ten worried unnecessarilyabout lack of vitamin C – a negligible risk as plant foods are a rich source.Other eating habits explored in the HSIS survey gave rise for concern. Only 41per cent of men and 38 per cent of women report eating breakfast every dayand, worse still, around two other meals a week are regularly skipped,slightly more among women. Skipping meals is also more prevalent amongstvegans than vegetarians (2.3 vs 1.9 meals skipped per week) raising furtherconcerns about the adequacy of dietary intakes.Dr Carrie Ruxton adds: “With meal skipping habits and gaping holes in nutrition awareness, it’shardly surprising that those who eliminate animal products without consideringfortified foods or targeted supplementation might be facing a greater risk ofnutrient deficiencies. This survey revealed that an alarming 29 per cent ofvegans and 42 per cent of vegetarians were not taking any multivitamin ormineral supplements despite expert advice to the contrary, especially forvitamin D, iodine, vitamin B12, selenium and, in targeted groups, omega-3fatty acids”. The HSIS survey showed that, at most, only one in four knew whoshould take specific supplements. Indeed only 13 per cent of vegans were awareof any advice to consider taking vitamin and mineral supplements. Of thoseusing supplements (61 per cent) regularly, 25 per cent took a multivitamin, 16per cent took a multimineral and 21 per cent used a combined supplement.Reasons for taking supplements included ‘to get energy levels up’ (47 percent) and ‘to have sufficient vitamins and minerals’ (45 per cent). Dr Ruxtonconcludes: “Improved awareness of potential nutritional gaps and considering adaily multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplement are clearly priorities forvegetarian and vegan populations in the UK to help prevent the poor healthoutcomes associated with an inadequate diet. In addition, taking an algae-based omega-3 supplement is also worth considering for those who have cut fishout of their diets altogether. Omega-3 is vital for normal brain and hearthealth whatever your age.” ENDS5 tips for getting started on a vegetarian or vegan dietFor more information on vitamin, mineral and food supplements visitwww.hsis.org References [1] Independent research by OnePoll of 1000 vegetarianand vegan UK adults. Autumn 2019 [2] www.nhs.uk/live- well/eat-well/the-vegan-diet/ [3] www.vegansociety.com/resources/nutrition- and-health/nutrients/veg-1-frequently-asked-questions-faqs#faq2 To contact theHSIS press office team please call:020 3600 0228 / 07867 513 361 Email: HSIS@junglecatsolutions.comHSIS works with independent diet and nutrition experts to provide evidence-based, accurate comment on food supplements issues. The Health and FoodSupplements Information Service is funded by PAGB, the consumer healthcare association, which represents the manufacturers of branded OTC medicines, self care medical devices and food supplements in the UK.

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