What do the world’s nutrition organizations say about vegan nutrition? Unlike the German Nutrition Society (DGE, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung), many of them conclude that a well-planned vegan diet can be healthy across all stages of the life cycle, including for pregnant women, children, athletes and seniors. In this article, we have compiled some of the most prominent positions.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (A.N.D.)
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (A.N.D.) is the world's largest organization of nutrition and dietetics practitioners. As early as 1988, the A.N.D. (then called the »American Dietetic Association«) spoke out in favor of vegan nutrition. It stressed that this type of nutrition is suitable to meet energy and nutrient requirements at all stages of the life cycle. In 2016, the organization renewed its position paper based on further studies and also emphasized the positive effects of these diets on health and the environment:
»It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.«
Dietitians of Canada (DC)
In 2003, the Dietitians of Canada (DC) published a position paper jointly with the then American Dietetic Association. It also advocates for vegan diets. Furthermore, on its website, the DC offers detailed dietary recommendations for vegans and emphasizes the positive aspects of this form of nutrition:
»Anyone can follow a vegan diet – from children to teens to older adults. It’s even healthy for pregnant or nursing mothers. A well-planned vegan diet is high in fibre, vitamins and antioxidants. Plus, it’s low in saturated fat and cholesterol. This healthy combination helps protect against chronic diseases.
Vegans have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer than non-vegans. Vegans also have lower blood pressure levels than both meat-eaters and vegetarians and are less likely to be overweight.«
In the official dietary recommendations published by the Canadian government, dairy products, meat and fish are now merely three options alongside many plant-based protein sources. They do not represent separate food categories and are not explicitly recommended, as is the case with, for example, the DGE. Instead, Canadians are encouraged to eat »vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and plant-based proteins« more regularly.
According to a Google Trends analysis, the vegan diet is more popular in the UK than anywhere else. British nutrition organizations are open-minded about this trend:
British Dietetic Association
»One of the UK’s longest-standing organisations that represents dietetics and nutrition, the British Dietetic Association, has affirmed that a well-planned vegan diet can ›support healthy living in people of all ages‹. [...] The BDA has renewed its memorandum of understanding with The Vegan Society to state that a balanced vegan diet can be enjoyed by children and adults, including during pregnancy and breastfeeding, if the nutritional intake is well-planned.« [Source]
National Health Service (NHS)
The state healthcare system, the National Health Service (NHS), also holds the position that a well-planned vegan diet is possible across all stages of life:
»With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.«
»During pregnancy and when breastfeeding, if you follow a vegan diet you'll need to make sure you get enough vitamins and minerals for your child to develop healthily.«
Italian Society of Human Nutrition (SINU, Società Italiana di Nutrizione Umana)
The Italian Society of Human Nutrition (SINU) has published a 16-page position paper detailing the various aspects of vegan and vegetarian diets. In this paper, not only the individual stages of the life cycle but also the respective nutrient requirements and potentially critical nutrients are analyzed in depth. Here, the vegan diet is considered a variant of the vegetarian diet:
»The evidence reviewed in this paper makes it clear that well-planned vegetarian diets that include a wide variety of plant foods, and a reliable source of vitamin B12, provide adequate nutrient intake. [...] We urge government agencies and health and nutrition organizations to provide more educational resources to help Italians consume a nutritionally adequate vegetarian diet.«
Ministry of Health
Israel is one of the most vegan-friendly countries in the world. This can be attributed, on the one hand, to a cuisine that has traditionally tended to be quite strongly plant-based and, on the other, to a growing awareness for animal welfare and environmental protection. The Israeli Ministry of Health also deems that a vegan diet for nursing mothers and infants is easy to achieve provided that the necessary knowledge is available and a certain amount of caution exercised:
»A vegetarian diet, wisely consumed, can provide all dietary requirements, from infancy until old age.
Infants receiving a vegetarian diet grow well when their diet includes all the dietary components in adequate amounts and they are nourished in accordance with the dietary guidelines for all infants of their age.«
* In this paper, vegan is understood as a subform of vegetarian.
Nordic Council of Ministers
Every eight to ten years, the Nordic Council of Ministers (NHMRC) issues the »Nordic Nutrition Recommendations for Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland«. The latest recommendations not only give science-based nutritional recommendations for health, but—for the first time—also take the environment and climate into consideration. In conclusion, the NHMRC recommends a »predominantly plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, berries, pulses, potatoes and whole grains…«. The consumption of meat products, on the other hand, should be reduced. At the same time, however, the organization recommends an increased consumption of fish. We are critical of this recommendation: Fish are highly sensitive and intelligent animals, and overfishing of the oceans, lakes and rivers as well as environmentally harmful aquacultures constitute one of the major problems of our time. Any nutritional benefits of fish products, such as a high content of omega-3 fatty acids, can also be achieved through plant-based foods such as algae or flaxseed.
A vegan diet, according to the NHMRC, requires the consumption of fortified food and food supplements to ensure a balanced diet.
National Health and Medical Research Council
As many as 12% of Australians follow a mostly vegetarian diet and 2% a vegan one. In the Google Trend analysis on the popularity of vegan nutrition, Australia ranks second, closely followed by Israel.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is responsible for medical research and is considered the most important statutory authority of the Australian government in this area. In its Dietary Guidelines, it provides scientifically based information for a healthier diet and states the following about vegan nutrition:
»Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthy and nutritionally adequate. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle.«
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung (DGE)
The German Nutrition Society (DGE) does not yet recommend a vegan diet, stating as its reasons »insufficient data« and difficulties in meeting the requirements for certain nutrients. Nonetheless, in its 2016 position paper, even this organization emphasizes the benefits of this form of nutrition:
»However, it can be assumed that a plant-based diet (with or without low levels of meat) is associated to a reduced risk of nutrition-related diseases in comparison with the currently conventional German diet.«
In 2020, the DGE submitted an addendum to its position on the vegan diet. In this paper, it factors in more recent studies on population groups with special nutritional requirements such as pregnant women and children. In it, it says:
»Assuming that the diet contains all essential nutrients, is rich in nutritionally beneficial nutrients such as dietary fibre and is low in added sugar and saturated fat, a vegan diet (like other plant-based diets) can have long-term beneficial effects on children's health. Examples include a lower prevalence of overweight or obesity and a lower risk of cardiometabolic diseases in adulthood.«
Moreover, in the DGE's 10 rules [in German], the organization notes the benefits of plant-based foods and recommends a plant-based diet:
»A predominantly plant-based diet as recommended by the DGE causes less damage on the environment and climate than the average current German diet.
The production of plant foods consumes less resources and emits less harmful greenhouse gases than the production of animal foods. [...] Eating less animal food—especially red meat—not only has health benefits, but also reduces the negative impact on the environment and climate. The production of animal foods consumes more resources and emits more harmful greenhouse gases than the production of plant foods.«
In the framework of its 14th Nutrition Report, the DGE also published the VeChi-Youth study. It concluded that children and adolescents following a vegan diet are well supplied with most nutrients and that there are only minor differences between children on vegan diets, on the one hand, and those on vegetarian and omnivorous diets, on the other. However, the study is not considered representative of the entire German population.
Conclusion: If you are well informed, a vegan diet is healthy across all stages of the life cycle
We are pleased that many nutrition organizations consider the vegan diet to be nutritionally suitable. Critical positions such as the DGE’s are, on the one hand, the result of an insufficient number of studies on the topic. On the other hand, according to the DGE, it cannot be assumed that the general population has the necessary knowledge to meet all the nutritional needs related to a vegan diet. At the same time, however, the DGE too recognizes the plant-based diet as the healthiest form of nutrition.
Fortifying plant-based foods or soils with the critical nutrients would be a good way to ensure that all population groups receive the nutrients they need—something that is not automatically optimal with omnivorous diets either. Fortified foods are already widely available in the United States. Increasing soil selenium concentrations through fortified fertilizers has been common practice in Finland, for example, since the 1980s because European soils are very low in selenium. In countries such as Germany, animal feed is instead fortified to this day with nutrients such as selenium or B12 to prevent deficiencies in animals and humans.
What is also needed is more scientific research in order to fill the gaps in knowledge when it comes to vegan nutrition.
One thing is clear, however: Provided that people possess the necessary knowledge, a vegan diet is easy to achieve and healthy across all stages of life. A plant-based diet is also the key issue when it comes to planetary health and offers great potential in the fight against climate and environmental disasters, world hunger, pandemics and antibiotics resistance as well as the extinction of species. Last but not least, a more plant-based diet means that fewer animals have to suffer and die in agriculture.