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Human nutrition: Introduction

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which is made up of over 100,000 nutrition professionals in the U.S. and abroad, has shown in numerous reports and position papers that an appropriately planned vegan diet is nutritionally adequate for all stages of life.1 This organization is probably the most well respected dietetic organization in the world, and their guidelines and recommendations are adopted by national dietetic organizations in other countries as well.2 It is now understood that to be appropriate, any diet must include the necessary nutrients, regardless of the sources of those nutrients. Due to this, both vegan and nonvegan diets can be healthy, as long as they are balanced and include the nutrients we need.

For many different reasons, anyone can have diet-related problems, whether they consume animal products or not. However, because of the widely held view that animal products are essential for health, if someone who eats animal products has a diet-related health challenge, many people will see it as normal, whereas if someone who doesn’t eat animal products has a problem, many people will think it’s because they don’t eat them.

A diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds will meet practically all our nutritional needs. There are, however, certain nutrients that we must pay close attention to and others of which we should be aware. Those who consume animal products also have to be careful about their nutrient intake in order to avoid health problems. There are some deficiencies that both vegans and non-vegans are susceptible to such as vitamin D and calcium, some that are more common in vegans and some that are more common in non-vegans.

The following sections discuss some important nutrients. Everyone striving for optimal nutrition should know something about them. Some, like vitamin B-12, require special attention by vegans, although non-vegans also have to be careful about their levels of B-12, especially anyone over the age of 50. Others, like potassium, folic acid or beta-carotene, require more attention by non-vegans than by vegans.





You can visit too the section about special cases (pregnancy, lactation, infancy, elderly and athletes).

Further readings

Messina, V. (2013) Vegan for her: The women’s guide to being healthy and fit on a plant-based diet, Cambridge: Da Capo.

Norris, J. & Messina, V. (2011) Vegan for life, Cambridge: Da Capo.


1 Melina, V.; Craig, W. & Levin, S. (2016) “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian diets”, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116, pp. 1970-1980 [accessed on 21 January 2017].

2 Kaiser Permanente, the largest HMO in the United States, now recommends that people follow a plant-based diet, and organizations such as Mayo Clinic, Dietitians of Canada, the British National Health Service and the Dietitians Association of Australia have all affirmed that vegan diets are healthy. American Dietetic Association & Dietitians of Canada (2003) “Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets”, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 103, pp. 748-765. Dietitians Association of Australia (2012) “Vegan diets”, [accessed on 21 November 2016]. Tuso, P. J.; Ismail, M. H.; Ha, B. P. & Bartolotto, C. (2013) “Nutritional update for physicians: Plant-based diets”, The Permanente Journal, 17 (2), pp. 61-66 [accessed on 21 November 2016]. United Kingdom. Department of Health (2015) “The vegan diet”, NHS choices, 15/10/2015 [accessed on 21 November 2016]. Mayo Clinic (2016) “Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition”, Healthy lifestyle: Nutrition and healthy eating, March 14 [accessed on 21 November 2016]. Dietitians of Canada (2014) “Healthy eating guidelines for vegans”,, Nov 27 [accessed on 14 October 2016]. Nordic co-operation – Norden (2014) Nordic nutrition recommendations 2012: Integrating nutrition and physical activity, 5th ed., Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers [accessed on 23 September 2016].

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