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Vegans could benefit from better advice on nutrition, scientists say

While vegans in a recent study were mostly healthy, and in some cases healthier than non-vegetarians, researchers say more consistency in diet guidance could go a long way.
By Stephen Feller   |   March 22, 2016 at 12:01 PM

SAVONLINNA, Finland, March 22 (UPI) -- While a vegan diet can be very healthy, new research in Finland shows vegans follow an array of nutritional advice and some lack in key areas of need.

Researchers at the University of East Finland found many vegans have deficiencies in protein sources, one-sidedness, low use of berries, fruits and nuts, and higher use of fortified foods or supplements, they report in a study published in PLOS ONE.

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The results of the study show vegans should be aware of potential gaps in their diets, and be more aware of foods, or additional supplements, that can address shortcomings.

"Vegetarian and vegan diets are increasingly common in western societies," researchers at the university said in a press release. "However, in order to ensure the intake of all the necessary nutrients, vegetarian and vegan diets need to be composed in a well-rounded manner. Research into the nutritional status of vegans nevertheless remains scarce."

For the study, researchers recruited 22 vegans who maintained their diet for at least eight years and 19 age-matched non-vegetarians, comparing three days of dietary records, as well as measurements of biomarkers found in blood, plasma and urine.

The researchers found variability between the vegans' diets was based on food selection and supplements. In vegans, dietary intake of vitamins B12 and D were lower than in non-vegetarians. Among vegans, 91 percent took B12 supplements, 77 percent used vitamin D supplements and most also consumed calcium fortified beverages.

Among participants, 24 percent of vegans and 6 percent of non-vegetarians had low vitamin D levels. Vegans also had lower levels of beta-carotene, selenium, iodine and fatty acids.

Overall, the researchers report vegans appeared mostly healthy, based on the way they moderate and supplement their diets, though researchers say some consistency in diet suggestions could make it easier to maintain health.

"Long-term consumption of a vegan diet was associated with some favorable laboratory measures but also with lowered concentrations of key nutrients compared to reference values," researchers write in the study. "This study highlights the need for nutritional guidance to vegans."

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