There vegan diet it is a diet that provides for the exclusion of all foods of animal origin and, consequently, the exclusive intake of plant foods (read the Bufala). A person Vegan, in addition to not eating food of animal origin, it does not even consume their products (milk and dairy products, eggs and honey) on the assumption that animals are sacrificed or, in any case, exploited to obtain them. In addition to the "aspect of" food, therefore, this choice also involves ethical aspects of respect for animals (do not use materials of animal origin, do not have fun at the expense of the animals, do not use them for profit).

A recent publication by the Ministry of Health, as well as the document published in 2009 by the ADA (American Dietetic Association), one of the most important associations of nutritionists in the world, report that the vegetarian diet and the vegan diet, if properly planned, can be adequate from a nutritional point of view.

In fact, problems related to the lack of sufficient quantities of certain nutrients (nutritional deficiencies) can easily occur in those who follow a vegan diet. Since vegans completely exclude foods of animal origin from their usual diet, they take in very small quantities of those nutrients that are mainly contained in them: proteins, zinc, calcium, iron, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids.In particular, the lack of vitamin B12 can be particularly alarming because being involved in biochemical processes, in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and in reproduction, it serves to carry out many fundamental functions for the organism. Vitamin B12 is found in abundance in foods of animal origin , not only in meat but also in milk and derivatives, but is absent in foods of plant origin.

Consequently, the vegan diet requires caution and it is advisable to follow it under medical and dietary supervision, especially for certain groups of the population such as children, adolescents, women of childbearing age, pregnant and breastfeeding.

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, women who follow a vegan diet must be sure that they have the necessary amount of vitamins and minerals for the baby to develop in a healthy way. If you intend to feed a baby on a vegan diet, you need to make sure that eat a variety of foods that can provide you with the energy, vitamins and minerals you need for growth.

In these segments of the population, for some nutrients the consumption of fortified foods is recommended, ie enriched with nutrients that are important for the body.

In general, in order for the vegan diet to be as healthy and balanced as possible, guaranteeing the necessary nutrition for the body, it is good to take into account the following indications:

  • eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables different every day (read the Bufala)
  • consuming foods based on complex carbohydrates (especially starch) such as potatoes (read the Bufala), bread, rice, pasta, better if wholemeal
  • use soy-based products as an alternative to milk and its derivatives preferring those with low fat and simple sugar content
  • consume various types of legumes (beans, lentils, etc.) as a protein source
  • choose oils containing unsaturated fatty acids as a condiment, without abusing it
  • drink plenty of fluids (at least 6/8 glasses per day)
  • reduce consumption of foods and beverages with a high fat, salt or sugar content such as savory baked goods and soy drinks and fruit juices with added sugar, etc.
  • make use of products enriched with important substances for the body (fortified) or to supplements in cases where a possible deficiency of one or more nutrients is identified

Sources of vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found in foods of animal origin. Vegans, therefore, must use supplements or foods enriched with this vitamin. Consuming adequate amounts of vitamin B12 appears even more important during childhood, pregnancy and breastfeeding. In these cases, it is advisable to consult an expert doctor who can indicate the most appropriate dosage of vitamin B12 in order not to incur risks for the health of the mother and the child.

Vitamin B12 is found:

  • in cereals for breakfast enriched with vitamin B12
  • in soy drinks, milk and vegetable yoghurt enriched with vitamin B12
  • in yeast extract enriched with this vitamin

The presence and quantities of vitamin B12 in enriched (fortified) foods, because of course they would be devoid of it, are indicated on the product packaging in the tables showing the nutritional values.

Sources of calcium and vitamin D.

Calcium is needed for bone and tooth health. Not eating milk and derivatives, the sources of calcium for vegans are represented by plant foods as well as drinking water.

Some types of vegetables, legumes, nuts and oil seeds contain good amounts of calcium; however, some of them contain substances that prevent their absorption. Examples are oxalates contained in high concentrations in spinach, chard and turnip leaves; vegans should therefore reduce the consumption of these vegetables.

In the vegan diet, calcium can come from:

  • Sesame seeds
  • basil
  • legumes
  • white and wholemeal bread
  • dried fruit (e.g. raisins, almonds, figs, and apricots)
  • plant foods (cereals, fruit juices, drinks) in which calcium and vitamin D are added (fortified)

The body needs vitamin D to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body.

Vitamin D, however, is found in foods of animal origin (in the high-fat part) that vegans do not eat. Consequently, sources of vitamin D for vegans can be:

  • breakfast cereals and unsweetened soy drinks (with added vitamin D)
  • vitamin D supplements

Sun exposure is essential for the synthesis of the vitamin.

Sources of iron

Iron is essential for the functioning of red blood cells as it constitutes the central element of hemoglobin, the protein contained within them which serves to transport oxygen from the blood to all the cells of the body. Iron is contained in good quantities in various foods of plant origin but is present in a form not linked to hemoglobin (called not heme) which is more difficult to absorb. Vitamin C and organic acids (for example the citric acid contained in lemon) present in fruit and vegetables increase their absorption capacity so iron deficiency is not a real problem in vegans.

Good sources of iron for vegans are:

  • legumes
  • wholemeal bread and flour
  • breakfast cereals integrated with the iron
  • dark green leafy vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli, and spring greens
  • peanuts
  • dried fruit (apricots, plums and figs)

Sources of zinc

The zinc content in foods of plant origin is high but, also in this case, the simultaneous presence of substances that prevent its absorption (such as the so-called phytates) can reduce the quantities actually available.The concentrations of zinc in the blood of vegans are slightly lower than in individuals who also eat foods of animal origin, but still remain within normal limits.

Particular attention must be paid to identifying foods rich in zinc and using precautions that favor greater absorption:

  • put cereals and legumes in water before consumption to inactivate substances that inhibit absorption
  • consume foods rich in zinc and foods rich in organic acids at the same time, such as citric acid, contained in fruit and broccoli

Plant sources of zinc include:

  • legumes  
  • whole wheat pasta  
  • wheat germ
  • cereals to which zinc is added (fortified)
  • nuts
  • tofu

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are important for keeping the heart healthy and reducing the risk of getting sick. In addition to some types of fish, they can be supplied by foods of plant origin such as:

  • seeds and linseed oil
  • rapeseed oil
  • nuts
  • soy-based foods, like tofu
  • soya milk to which omega 3 fatty acids are added
  • supplements based on microalgae

However, vegans tend to have lower blood concentrations of these fatty acids than non-vegetarians and vegetarians.

In conclusion, it can be said that correctly planned vegan diets can meet the needs of nutrients of adults bearing in mind that, in particular conditions, medical supervision and the use of supplements or enriched products (foods in which the quantity of the desired substances is increased with respect to their natural content) or fortified (foods to which the desired substances are added because they are not naturally present).

In early childhood and children, to ensure normal development, it is necessary to plan an adequate diet with the help of the pediatrician or nutritionists, and to resort to the use of supplements for iron, vitamins D and B12, and zinc, essential for correct physiological development.


NHS Choices. The vegan diet (English)

Craig WJ and Mangels AR. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109 : 1266, 2009

In-depth link

Ministry of Health. Feeding the planet, feeding it healthily. Nutritional balance of a healthy diet. Notebooks of the Ministry of Health. 2015, n. 25

Scientific Society of Vegetarian Nutrition (SSNV). Vegetarian nutrition

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