The virtues of a plant-based diet—coupled with growing awareness of the conditions under which our animal food sources are bred, grown, and slaughtered—have, over the past few decades, spawned a rapidly expanding movement towards veganism. From politically-driven animal rights ideologists to eco-friendly environmentalists to health-conscious eaters and dieters in industrialized nations around the world, veganism has presented itself as viable, conscientious, moral lifestyle choice—a panacea to the world's (and our waistlines') problems. While some doctors have wholeheartedly endorsed veganism—and plenty of evidence has shown that adopting a greener meal plan is, for many people struggling with diet-induced health problems, a good idea—veganism remains controversial. And now comes news that the German Nutrition Society (DGE) has taken an official stance on veganism—and it's pretty damning.
According to a statement published in Ernaehrungs-Umschau, a leading German nutrition trade publication, "It is difficult or impossible to attain an adequate supply of some nutrients" in a vegan diet. Citing vitamin B12, protein, amino acids, long-chain n-3 fatty acids, riboflavin, vitamin D, calcium, iron, iodine, zinc, and selenium, the organization recommends against the vegan diet for "pregnant women, lactating women, infants, children, or adolescents." Anyone else who decides to adopt a vegan diet should, according to the DGE, take a B12 supplement "permanently," eat fortified foods, and be regularly seen by a doctor to make sure their "supply of critical nutrients" is on track.
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Especially interesting is the organization's delineation of a "Western" vegan diet versus a "traditional" plant-based diet—"which is mostly practiced in developing countries, where it is often accompanied by restricted food availability and low energy intake, due to low incomes and levels of education." The statement notes that in developed countries, veganism "is usually a conscious and voluntary decision" and a "typical vegetarian" in Germany is profiled as being "female, young, educated, and wealthy, lives in a city and follows a 'healthy lifestyle.'"
The DGE's position also is clear to point out that a vegetarian lifestyle, which incorporates low levels of animal products—including eggs and dairy products—can achieve "adequate nutrition." But the more restrictive the diet, the harder it is for your body to get the vitamins and minerals it needs to function. "The risk of an inadequate supply of nutrients or of nutritional deficiency progressively increases as the selection of foods becomes more restrictive and the diet becomes less varied," the statement says. Lack of nutrients, especially B12, can have devastating effects in the long run, the publication says: "Case reports show that the supply of vitamin B12 and iodine of infants whose mothers were on a vegan diet was not adequately guaranteed and that they developed neurological disorders and megaloblastic anemia or goiter."
The German organization's stance against veganism is pretty extraordinary as far as nutrition recommendations go—and the DGE recognizes this discrepancy, pointing out that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council, the Portuguese National Programme for the Promotion of a Healthy Diet, the British Nutrition Foundation, and the Canadian Pediatric Society all agree that "a well-planned vegan diet, including dietary supplements, can cover the nutrient requirements in children and adolescents, if adequate energy intake is ensured."