Vegan diet warning

B12 molecule, image from Wikipedia

B12 molecule image from Wikipedia

The German Nutrition Society is taking a firm stand on the suitability of vegan diets for infants, children, teens and pregnant/lactating women.  That position is “Not recommended”.

With a pure plant-based diet, it is difficult or impossible to attain an adequate supply of some nutrients. The most critical nutrient is vitamin B12. Other potentially critical nutrients .. include protein, .. long-chain n-3 fatty acids, .. riboflavin, vitamin D,…calcium, iron, iodine, zinc and selenium. The DGE does not recommend a vegan diet for pregnant women, lactating women, infants, children or adolescents.

The Society goes on to advise that anyone on a vegan diet should take B12 supplements and possibly others, depending on how well planned the diet is for nutritional balance.  Vegetarians, by comparison, would get B12 (as well as protein, calcium, iron, zinc, etc) from milk, cheese, yogurt and eggs.  This recommendation applies only to vegan diets.

So is this a valid concern?  Yes it is.  B12 is impossible to get from plant sources.  It’s only found in animal-derived foods, unless it has been added to plant-based foods.  And it’s critically important for dozens of metabolic systems, from red blood cells to energy production to digestion to nerve and brain function.  Raising a B12-deficient infant or child is a recipe for disaster.  Italy has seen a spate of critically ill B12 deficient children who were raised vegan, and one lawmaker has proposed a ban on vegan diets for young children, with parents potentially facing criminal charges.

Let’s look for some B12.

Here’s the ingredients list for well-known Boca Vegan Burgers.  Oops, no B12.

Boca Burger ingredients

Vegan Boca Burger ingredients list

How about Tofutti American Cheese slices?

Tofutti American cheese slices

Tofutti American Cheese Slices ingredients list

No, no B12.  How about Rice Dream Rice Milk?

Rice Dream ingredients

Rice Dream rice milk ingredients list

Again, no added B12.

Here’s another.  Field Roast Lentil Sage Deli Slices.Field Roast deli slices

Nope, no B12.






How about the famous Tofurkey company?

Here’s the list for “smoked ham”, a very misleading name, since it has nothing to do with real ham.

Tofurkey smoked "ham" ingredients list

Tofurkey smoked “ham” ingredients list


No, again, no B12 added.  We’re really striking out here.

Finally!   Silk Soy milk has B12.Silk Soy milk ingredients

Kind of like adding a crushed vitamin supplement to the milk.  You could just take a supplement in pill form.  And in fact, that’s what the German Nutrition Society recommends.  Given the widespread lack of B12 fortification of these vegan foods, I think they’ve got a point.

Take Away Message

If you’re an informed adult and you want to be vegan, fine.  You need B12, too, so pay attention to the ingredients in your foods, or take a supplement.  Most multi-vitamins have B12.  There are also B12 supplements, although most have extremely high doses, so taking just the right amount (2.4 micrograms/day for adults) is tricky when the tablet has 500 micrograms.  Vegan diets are not appropriate for infants and very young children, sorry.  Making that type of restricted diet work for a growing child is extremely difficult.  The B12 requirement for adolescents is also 2.4 micrograms/day, so again a general purpose multi-vitamin supplement should have that amount.  If your teen is drinking fortified soy milk, he or she might be getting enough B12 from that.  Check the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel.

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