The Grapevine

How Vegan Diets May Increase Hidden Hunger, A Form Of Malnutrition

Have you ever come across the term hidden hunger? As noted by the World Health Organization, this hunger has a lot to do with the quality of the food we consume.

By definition, it describes "a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals" affecting nearly two billion people around the world. While this is prevalent in developing countries, why is it that deficiencies of essential nutrients occur in developed nations as well?

There are several possible causes and one of them happens to be unsuitable vegan diets. In a recent article for the Conversation, the subject was explored by a team of academics from Queen's University Belfast.

Of course, plant-based diets are extremely good for health, known to reduce the risk of many diseases. And putting individual health aside, the elimination of animal-based products can also be a sustainable choice for the benefit of the planet.

But the restrictions involved in veganism may not work for everyone, leading to malnutrition in some cases. This is either due to poor planning of the diet or certain individuals being unable to cope with such an eating pattern.

The risk of bone health-related problems is elevated by a reduced intake of calcium and vitamin D, something which is not uncommon in vegans. In fact, the new article cites how vegans report more fractures than the rest of the population.

Getting the required amount of vitamin B12 and iron can also be challenging.

"Vegan diets consist of non-heme irons, which aren’t absorbed by the blood as well," Boston-based dietitian Kate Scarlata told Women's Health Mag. As for B12, the vitamin is naturally found only in animal products.

By not consuming enough of these nutrients, one may experience symptoms like headaches, extreme weakness, dizziness, and even developmental delays in the case of children. Scarlata said a constantly tired body may also be sending you a signal that you are low on protein.

"When you’re vegan, you have to be that much more vigilant about protein because it’s not as innate to your diet. All of the enzymes in your body are proteins that help your systems function. If your body doesn’t get enough, it will break down its own protein storage to create what it needs to exist," Scarlata added.

Given these potential consequences, it is a good reminder to consult a doctor or dietitian before adopting a vegan diet. Some people, such as women trying to get pregnant or those with a family history of bone problems, may be advised to steer clear of this eating pattern.

Lifestyle will need to be considered to make sure a person has enough time to plan and prep healthy meals instead of resorting to vegan sources of junk food. You may also be provided supplements or asked to consume fortified foods in order to meet nutritional needs.