Food for thought

JAOA review finds vegans may have increased risk for diet deficiencies

Physicians should encourage vegan patients to vary their food sources to ensure they receive adequate nutrient intake.


Roughly 2% of the U.S. population follows a vegan diet, often as a way of lowering incidence of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. However, vegans may be at an increased risk for nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin B12, iron, calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and protein, finds a new clinical review in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA).

“Just as no two people are identical, no two diets are identical either—not even strictly vegan diets. So what patients actually consume must be broken down and analyzed to determine where potential nutritional deficiencies may occur,” says Joel Cooper, DO, an osteopathic family physician in Phoenix and a semi-vegetarian.

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Particularly at risk for nutrient deficiencies are children, women with heavy menstruation who may be iron deficient, pregnant women, and new moms/breastfeeding mothers, he adds.

To ensure your patients are meeting their nutritional needs, the JAOA review suggests the following:

  • Ask all patients about dietary restrictions and ask vegans about symptoms associated with deficiencies, such as fatigue, cognitive dysfunction and fractures.
  • Monitor vegan patients on an annual basis for serum levels of vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D and iron.
  • Advise vegan patients to consume adequately fortified foods with the recommended daily allowances of vitamin B12, iron, calcium, vitamin D and varied sources of protein.
  • For vegans, consider recommending a consultation with a registered dietician.

Read the JAOA clinical review to learn more.

One comment

  1. Dr. M. Matthew S. Kureja

    Very good article. Right on the money!
    What is the daily Vit D supplement do you suggest to the author?
    Thanks very much.

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