May 23, 2022

Paying Attention To The Critical Nutrients: Critical nutrients and vitamins in a (vegan) diet, according to the German Society of Nutrition — Put into context.

Paying Attention To The Critical Nutrients

Critical nutrients and vitamins in a (vegan) diet, according to the German Society of Nutrition — Put into context.

Jar with vegan foods and wooden table with vegetables on top
Photo by Mariana Medvedeva on Unsplash

Visit activeplantbased for professional help and plant-based nutrition training.

All key points

  • Covering your nutrients sufficiently is a matter of knowledge.
  • Start a diet only after extensive research, as it might pose a health risk otherwise.
  • Your preferred diet, mixed or plant-only, does not automatically determine whether all nutrients are sufficiently covered.
  • Vitamin B12 must be supplemented in a fully vegan diet.
  • Every other nutrient, vitamin or mineral can be obtained from plant sources.
  • In mixed diets, there is room for improvement regarding nutrients.
  • Change your diet slowly after thorough research, with blood tests in between.
  • A vegan diet is superior to a mixed or Mediterranean diet regarding human health, environmental protection and animal welfare.

What’s the DGE, and what do they say?

DGE is an abbreviation for Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung, which translates to German Society for Nutrition.

The German Society for Nutrition is a seemingly independent, non-profit registered association of a German scientist society.

Potentially critical nutrients, according to the DGE

Protein, long-chain n-3 fatty acids and […] vitamins (riboflavin, vitamin D) and minerals (calcium, iron, iodine, zinc, selenium).

The most critical nutrient in a vegan diet is Vitamin B12.

─ Nutrition Report of DGE e.V., 2016

Potentially critical nutrients, according to the DGE, put in context

The same report indicates that many of the nutrients mentioned are potentially critical, regardless of the type of diet.

One could say that the DGE likes to play it safe. I am not sure if I can blame them for that.

After all, how you treat nutrition depends, among other things, on your willingness to learn about it. We cannot assume that every person is interested in what they consume and how it might affect their health.

Most people, I believe, want to get on with their lives, and their focus certainly does not lie on nutrition.

Alena Shekhovtcova from Pexels

Knowledge fights against potential nutrient deficiency

A voluntary […] restriction in food choice can increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies and the associated health restrictions […]

[…] the omission of individual foods requires extensive nutrition sciences knowledge to compensate for potential nutrient deficiencies through a targeted menu design.

─ Nutrition Report of DGE e.V., 2016

Change your diet slowly after thorough research.

We all need to be attentive regarding Vitamin D and Iodine

People who eat a mixed diet are not exempt from being observant regarding their nutrients.

The partly inadequate vitamin D supply […] due to Germany’s geographical location.

The iodine supply of the population in Germany […] is still unsatisfactory.

─ Nutrition Report of DGE e.V., 2016

Supplement Vitamin D in regions where it is necessary. Mostly you will need to supplement in the winter months without sun.

Iodised table salt or sea salt enriched with iodine-containing algae or seaweed with a defined iodine content helps optimise your iodine levels.

Be careful to get the dosage of iodine right.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a vitamin that is, theoretically, almost absent from plants.

It can be found in fortified products such as plant drinks or mock meats and — in traces — in tuber and root vegetables.

Therefore, long-term supplementation and regular blood tests are necessary.

Can I suffer from Vitamin B12 or any other deficiency when following a mixed or vegetarian diet?


Generally speaking, older people, pregnant women, infants or people with sickness need to take special care of their nutrient levels.

The primary source of Vitamin B12 is found in animal products. Even if you consume those, you can still be deficient. It depends on a multitude of factors.

How do I prevent nutrient deficiencies?

Regular blood tests and adjusting the food accordingly. I do mine once a year, but I’ve been vegan since 2019, and my blood results were always satisfactory.

When you switch to a new diet, you might get a blood count before you begin, after 1, 3 and 8 months, and then annually if everything is to your blood’s liking.

Diet in real life

The National Consumption Study II (NVS II) gives an insight into the average nutrition of the German population. This survey was conducted with 20,000 people from 2005 to 2007.

Table by the Author yasemin ☯ — Table 1: Comparison of the NVS II versus DGE’s recommendations

According to NVS II (left), there are significant deviations from the DGE’s consumption recommendations (right), especially for meat, eggs, sugar and vegetables.

There is room for improvement in food selection and, thus, nutrient intake in the general population. After all, there is a reason why a minimum amount of vegetables is recommended per day.

Table 1 points out that eating mixed foods does not automatically mean a good supply of essential nutrients.

Suggestions to the average person

According to Table 1, you could advise someone to

  • cut sugar, meat and egg consumption in half
  • and maybe replace a couple of fruits throughout the day with veggies
  • replace meat or egg with veggies, potatoes and other starch products such as corn or tortillas, bread and bagels, oats, sweet potatoes and rice…
organic vegetables market, baskets full with green vegetables such as broccoli, cucumber, peas, zucchini
Photo by Iñigo De la Maza on Unsplash

What about eating vegan?

Eating vegan does not automatically amount to a healthy diet, though it is likelier since most people will research before adding a radical change to their diets.

The narrative

Most of us either believed or still believe the skinny vitamin and nutrient-deficient vegan narrative.

If anything, people stay away from veganism, as it seems unnatural and harmful. So the only way to make the transition would be to research. Consulting a dietitian for support would be a legitimate option.

In return, the learnings will likely optimise the person’s nutrition. Regardless of the selected diet, the research will make it less likely to suffer from deficiencies.

Most herbivores know much more about nutrition than the average person because they acquired the knowledge before jumping to any dietary conclusions that could potentially harm them.

I have never encountered anyone following a special diet who cannot answer basic questions about nutrients, vitamins, protein, etc.

What else?

In 2021, a study by the University of Bonn evaluated the nutritional recommendations of the DGE compared to a Mediterranean diet and a vegan diet.

Three points that were looked at

  • Health
  • Environmental protection
  • Animal welfare

Regarding environmental and animal welfare, the vegan diet performed best in many areas, followed by the Mediterranean diet. From a health perspective, both were rated better than the DGE recommendation.

Extra Question: Why are we talking about the German Nutrition Society and not the American Society for Nutrition or the British Nutrition Foundation?

Good question. I was born and raised in Austria, a small country south of Germany. Thus, I am familiar with the Austrian and German cultures and their eating habits. I am unfamiliar with those of the UK, the USA or any other country that is not precisely a neighbouring country.

I obtained the title of Vegan Nutritionist at a German institute in Bonn. While studying and preparing for my final exam, I encountered the facts and scientific research presented here.

All in all, I am more comfortable sharing knowledge that I have adequately learned, understood and interpreted correctly. That’s why.

If you’ve never heard of Austria, here are some associations of Austrian people you might have heard of :)