Food and Nutrient Intake and Nutritional Status of Finnish Vegans and Non-Vegetarians

PLoS One. 2016 Feb 3;11(2):e0148235. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148235. eCollection 2016.


Background: Vegetarian and vegan diets have become more popular among adolescents and young adults. However, few studies have investigated the nutritional status of vegans, who may be at risk of nutritional deficiencies.

Objective: To compare dietary intake and nutritional status of Finnish long-term vegans and non-vegetarians.

Methods: Dietary intake and supplement use were estimated using three-day dietary records. Nutritional status was assessed by measuring biomarkers in plasma, serum, and urine samples. Vegans' (n = 22) data was compared with those of sex- and age-matched non-vegetarians (n = 19).

Results: All vegans adhered strictly to their diet; however, individual variability was marked in food consumption and supplementation habits. Dietary intakes of key nutrients, vitamins B12 and D, were lower (P < 0.001) in vegans than in non-vegetarians. Nutritional biomarker measurements showed lower concentrations of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 (25(OH)D3), iodine and selenium (corrected for multiple comparisons, P < 0.001), Vegans showed more favorable fatty acid profiles (P < 0.001) as well as much higher concentrations of polyphenols such as genistein and daidzein (P < 0.001). Eicosapentaenoic acid proportions in vegans were higher than expected. The median concentration of iodine in urine was below the recommended levels in both groups.

Conclusions: Long-term consumption of a vegan diet was associated with some favorable laboratory measures but also with lowered concentrations of key nutrients compared to reference values. This study highlights the need for nutritional guidance to vegans.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cholecalciferol / blood
  • Diet, Vegan / statistics & numerical data*
  • Diet, Vegetarian / statistics & numerical data*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Eating
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / blood
  • Energy Intake
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Food
  • Genistein / blood
  • Humans
  • Iodine / blood
  • Iodine / urine
  • Isoflavones / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritional Requirements / physiology*
  • Nutritional Status / physiology*
  • Polyphenols / blood
  • Selenium / blood
  • Vegans
  • Vegetarians
  • Vitamin B 12 / blood
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids
  • Isoflavones
  • Polyphenols
  • Cholecalciferol
  • daidzein
  • Iodine
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid
  • Genistein
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin B 12

Grants and funding

This work was supported by The Juho Vainio Foundation (A-LE and JL). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.