Growing interest in plant-based diets has led to concerns about nutritional deficiencies, but a varied vegan diet can supply enough of most nutrients – except vitamins B12 and D, according to a story by Bakery and Snacks.
Conor Kerley of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute found 50-60% of U.S. and UK vegans were deficient in vitamin B12, while even those who eat foods high in vitamin D — like fortified milk, cereals, fish and eggs — are often deficient in the vitamin. Other micronutrients present in plant-based diets, but perhaps at inadequate levels, include vitamin A, iodine, iron, zinc, calcium, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids.
Speaking at the annual Nutrition in Medicine conference in London, Kerley said vegans should consider taking iodine, vitamin D and omega-3 supplements, and boost other key nutrients by eating nuts, seeds and fortified plant-based milk alternatives and cereals, as well as a range of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. He stressed that vegan diets tended to be rich in antioxidants, as well as potassium, magnesium and dietary nitrate, which have been linked to lower blood pressure.
Vegan diets are on the rise, with 6% of Americans now identifying as vegan, up from just 1% in 2014, according to a recent Top Trends in Prepared Foods report. However, the trend toward plant-based diets is much broader, which has brought into the spotlight questions about their nutritional value. HealthFocus estimated that 17% of U.S. consumers aged 15 to 70 claim to eat a predominately plant-based diet, while 60% say they are cutting back on meat-based products.
Vegans are used to being questioned about their protein intake, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has concluded that protein is not a nutrient of concern for vegans as long as their diets are appropriately planned. In fact, it found protein consumption meets or exceeds recommended levels even among vegans. Some micronutrients tend to require more attention, including the use of supplements and fortified foods.
However, despite the rising numbers of vegan consumers, food companies have been hesitant to adopt the term, and products carrying vegan or vegetarian claims have seen revenues remain stable during the past year, according to Nielsen.
At the same time, products described as "plant-based" have soared. From 2012 to 2016, U.S. plant-based product claims grew at a compound annual growth rate of 35.8%, with 220 related product launches in 2016 and 320 in 2015. The term is one that appeals not just to vegetarians and vegans, but also to flexitarians, a potentially lucrative market segment accounting for about 25% of U.S. consumers.
Most experts recommend a varied diet for optimal nutrition, including plenty of foods from plants while limiting saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. But the potential health benefits of plant-based diets continue to attract attention, including from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which has gone as far as endorsing diets free from animal products, stating that they can be “not only nutritionally adequate, but have far-reaching health and environmental benefits.”
These are the main reasons why carnivore-loving consumers continue to flock toward plant-based burgers. Even Beyond Meat has succeeded in selling its veggie patties next to beef hamburgers in the stores. Unlike prior plant proteins parading as meat alternatives that vaguely looked like their meaty cousins but lacked the taste and texture, Beyond Meat and competitor Impossible Foods have changed the market for meat equivalents by offering a product that strongly resembles a real beef patty and claims to be better for the environment.
If companies can continue to deliver the great taste while finding ways to overcome the limited nutrition deficits that exist, the vegan regimen could become an even more attractive option for more people.