Posted on

LMU – 183 The Vegan and Vegetarian Diet Dilemma: Health Benefits and Nutritional Pitfalls


LMU – 183 The Vegan and Vegetarian Diet Dilemma: Health Benefits and Nutritional Pitfalls

Source: German Science Journal:

Lifestyle Medicine Update (November 27, 2020)


In recent years, the allure of plant-based diets, specifically vegan and vegetarian lifestyles, has surged in popularity across Germany and beyond. As more individuals opt to abstain from animal-derived foods, it’s crucial to examine the multifaceted impact of these dietary choices. A 2020 German study, published in Deutsches Aerzteblatt Online, offers a revealing glimpse into the health benefits and potential nutrient deficiencies associated with vegan and vegetarian diets. Let’s embark on a journey through the realm of plant-based nutrition and explore the findings that could reshape our dietary choices.

Plant-Based Diets on the Rise: A Growing Trend

The study opens with a snapshot of the dietary landscape in Germany, where the appeal of veganism and vegetarianism has steadily grown. Presently, nearly 6 million Germans adhere to a vegetarian diet, while close to 1 million embrace veganism—a lifestyle devoid of all animal-derived foods, including dairy and eggs. In a country with a population of 83 million, this translates to a significant percentage—almost 8.5% of the population—choosing plant-based diets. The motivation behind these choices often stems from ethical concerns, environmental considerations, and the pursuit of enhanced health and well-being.

Scientific Backing: The Health Benefits of Plant-Based Diets

The scientific community has long been intrigued by the potential health benefits of plant-based diets. Citing data from the 7-day Adventist Health Study in the US, the researchers highlight the positive effects of these diets in mitigating obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular mortality in males. Moreover, a recent meta-analysis underscores the advantages of vegetarian diets, demonstrating a reduced risk of ischemic heart disease and cancer compared to meat-eaters, even after accounting for key confounding factors such as smoking and body mass index. The conclusion is clear: a meat-free diet stands as a desirable choice for the overall population, promoting both individual health and the broader goals of food security and climate change mitigation.

The Nutritional Tightrope: Nutrient Deficiencies in Plant-Based Diets

While the health merits of vegan and vegetarian diets are evident, they come with a unique set of challenges—nutrient deficiencies. To shed light on these potential pitfalls, German researchers delved into the dietary intake, laboratory parameters, vitamin status, and trace-mineral status of 36 vegans and 36 omnivores. Each group, consisting of 18 men and 18 women aged 30–60, provided valuable insights into the nutritional landscape of plant-based diets.

The results painted a nuanced picture. Among vegans, lower blood concentrations of critical nutrients were observed, including vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin E, vitamin A, selenium, and zinc. Additionally, 24-hour urine samples revealed a reduced excretion of iodine and calcium compared to omnivores. While many vegans are aware of the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency and supplement accordingly, this study unveils other potential nutrient deficiencies that may fly under the radar, such as vitamin B2, vitamin B3, Vitamin E, vitamin A, selenium, zinc, and calcium.

Vitamin D levels were also a concern among vegans, highlighting the need for supplementation to maintain adequate levels, especially for individuals living above or below the 40th-degree latitude.

Navigating the Plant-Based Path: Practical Recommendations

The study’s findings underscore the importance of a thoughtful and informed approach to plant-based diets. While these diets offer a wealth of health benefits, they also demand vigilance in ensuring adequate nutrient intake. Embracing a diverse array of vegetables, legumes, fruits, and nuts is essential. Soy products, unless allergies or sensitivities are present, can be a valuable addition.

For those eschewing dairy, calcium intake from fortified foods and supplements is prudent to mitigate the risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin D supplementation becomes a necessity, particularly for individuals residing in regions with limited sun exposure.


In conclusion, the appeal of a plant-based diet is undeniable, with its potential to shield against various degenerative diseases. However, the study and others like it emphasize the need for vigilance against nutrient deficiencies. A high-potency multiple vitamin and mineral supplement emerges as a crucial consideration, serving as a nutritional safety net for vegans and, to some extent, vegetarians.


Cornelia Weikert, Iris Trefflich, Juliane Menzel, Rima Obeid, Alessa Longree, Jutta Dierkes, Klaus Meyer, Isabelle Herter-Aeberli, Knut Mai, Gabriele I. Stangl, Sandra M. Müller, Tanja Schwerdtle, Alfonso Lampen, Klaus Abraham. Vitamin and mineral status in a vegan diet. Deutsches Aerzteblatt Online, 2020. 

[Read more](


Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,

Dr. Meschino

Dr. James Meschino


Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.

Share this: