Nutrient Intakes of Vegans

In 2016, a paper reporting vegetarian nutrient intakes was released from EPIC-Oxford (1). Nothing earth shattering was reported, but in keeping the Nutrient Intakes of Vegetarians and Vegans article complete, I’ve incorporated this latest analysis.

EPIC-Oxford is a cohort study of “generally health-conscious” British residents, and it follows large numbers of vegetarians. The assessment was conducted in 2010.

I track these nutrient intake reports to get an idea of how vegans, on average, typically eat, and if we’re meeting our nutrient requirements. However, they have some drawbacks:

  • The nutrient intakes are based on food frequency questionnaires (FFQ). FFQ are more useful for judging relative nutrient intakes between groups than for measuring absolute amounts of nutrients for comparison to dietary recommendations.
  • FFQ don’t include all the foods vegans typically eat, and in the case of EPIC-Oxford, it’s likely they don’t accurately reflect typical portion sizes either. This could explain why a much higher percentage of vegans reported calorie intakes that were implausibly low (43% and 33% of vegan men and women, respectively, compared to 33% and 19% of meat-eating men and women).
  • Nutrients amounts are estimated from nutrient database tables rather than directly measuring the nutrient content of the food. Direct measurements are very expensive to perform.
  • Nutrients from fortified foods—such as vitamin B12 fortified foods—are rarely accounted for, nor are supplements.

Given all these potential problems, the studies should mainly be used to spot glaring problems or trends.

The table below notes the most interesting findings from this current report.

I was pleasantly surprised by the calcium intakes for vegans which were significantly higher than the previous EPIC-Oxford report from 2003. I’m wondering how it was so high without fortified foods being represented. [May 22, 2017 update: The researches appeared to assume some calcium fortification of nondairy milks which represented almost one-third of vegans’ calcium intake.]

Vitamin A and zinc intakes are a little low (the DRI for vitamin A is 900 RAE for men and 700 RAE for women while the RDA for zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women). I also prefer to see vegan protein intakes higher than the .9 g/kg of body weight (for men). But given that the overall food intake reported for vegans was low, intakes of these nutrients were probably a bit higher than reported.

Vitamin A and zinc are nutrients I consider to be important for vegans and if you don’t know much about them, please check out the VeganHealth.org articles, Vitamin A and Zinc.

The report includes information on supplement intake, indicating that 50% of vegans were supplementing with vitamin B12.

All in all, British vegans seem to be doing well, though let’s hope that much more than 50% are now getting a source of vitamin B12!

The report is available for free here.

Reference

1. Sobiecki JG, Appleby PN, Bradbury KE, Key TJ. High compliance with dietary recommendations in a cohort of meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Oxford study. Nutr Res. 2016 May;36(5):464-77. • link

4 Responses to “Nutrient Intakes of Vegans”

  1. R2 Says:

    Hi Jack,
    A study published yesterday suggests an association between B12 intake as supplements and increased lung cancer risk, particularly in men. Any views on their findings?
    Long-Term, Supplemental, One-Carbon Metabolism–Related Vitamin B Use in Relation to Lung Cancer Risk in the Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) Cohort
    http://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/JCO.2017.72.7735

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:

    R2,

    I’ll get a copy and check it out.

  3. Pete Says:

    Hey Jack – I posted a similar comment on another post but it seems more appropriate here. The Atlantic mentioned the same study R2 noted citing concerns over men taking high doses of B12. I have been looking for regular dose supplements that just meet the RDA but they are hard to find. Any suggestions? https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/08/b12-energy/537654/

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Pete,

    I just got a copy of the study and hope to read it soon. Sorry for the delay.

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