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Lots of people are switching to a plant-based diet due to health, ethical and environmental reasons. But are there any negative side effects?
According to a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggests that vegans could be deficient in choline, which is critical for brain health.
The reason for this is that it’s mainly found in animal foods, with the study saying that plant based diets could have “unintended consequences” for levels of choline.
As well as being critical for brain health, especially during foetal development, choline also influences liver function. Whilst the body does produce some of the nutrient, it’s not enough to meet human requirements and must be supplemented in diets.
Key sources of choline include beef, eggs, dairy products, fish and chicken. However, smaller amounts can be found in nuts, beans, and vegetables such as broccoli.
The government is not currently monitoring choline levels in the population, with Dr Emma Derbyshire of Nutritional Insight saying the government has “failed” in not monitoring this or giving vegans recommendations on how to supplement this.
She added: “Given the important physiological roles of choline and authorisation of certain health claims, it is questionable why choline has been overlooked for so long in the UK.”
Dr Derbyshire also said that more education is needed for both health professionals and the importance of a choline-rich diet.
Supplements should be considered, especially during pregnancy, since choline intakes are important for foetal development.
“This is now more important than ever given that accelerated food trends towards plant based diets/veganism could have further ramifications on choline intake/status”, she concluded.
A UN report, written by 107 scientists, said switching to a plant-based diet could help climate change. However, they didn’t call on everyone to become vegetarian or vegan, despite highlighting the benefits.
Recently, UK scientists have also called for a reduction in meat consumption. The UK currently has a target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which means consumers are actively encouraged to eat less red meat.