TEENAGE girls inspired to live as vegans by bloggers, YouTubers and celebrities are at risk of poor brain function, weak bones and mood swings, nutritionists have warned.
The call for young vegans to eat with care follows figures in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) last year revealing that more than half of girls aged between 11 and 18 lack magnesium, threatening their immune systems; one in five lack vitamin B2, risking fatigue and anaemia; and that in 45% of girls, iron levels are too low.
Experts say food obsessions can also develop into the unofficial eating disorder “orthorexia”, in which a strict diet can lead to hair loss, orange skin and malnutrition.
“You do have smart vegans eating very good diets,” said Dr Alan Stewart, a founding member of the British Society for Nutritional Medicine. “What you also have are poorly educated vegans, and you need to know quite a lot to get the vegan diet right. It’s debatable whether you can actually get enough of certain key nutrients in the teenage years.
“I’ve had sick vegans walk through the door with a vitamin B12 deficiency, vegan girls who have anaemia . . . fatigued vegans who are multiply deficient in lots of things and just eating pasta, and very sick vegans who have low trace elements, got an infection and got wiped out.”
Lucy Dabner, 24, began a vegan diet seven years ago but had to revert to eating animal products after developing a dangerous vitamin deficiency.
“I was vegan for 18 months, from 17 to 19,” she said. “At first I felt great, much more active and healthy, but after a few months I began to feel lethargic. I had to sleep much longer.
“Eventually I noticed that my brain was really foggy, I became quite forgetful and definitely wasn’t at peak function.” Dabner tried taking multivitamins and eating extra protein, but found it hard on a student budget.
“In the end, it was my doctor who suggested I needed to go back on my dietary choice as it wasn’t sustainable at that time. My B12 deficiency was becoming dangerous.”
YouTube celebrities Jenna Marbles and Deliciously Ella, both popular with teenage girls, have millions of views for videos and blog posts on vegan diets, and there has also been a vogue for “clean eating”. Instagram has more than 22m pictures tagged “#eatclean” — many of super-slim and muscular girls.
However, Jordan Younger, who became known for her vegan blog, TheBalancedBlonde.com, has since described her struggle with “orthorexia”, an obsession with healthy eating.
The NDNS survey shows that girls aged 11-18 are the UK group at highest risk of developing vitamin D deficiency at 24.4%. Calcium intake is poor in 19% of girls, up from 14% in 2008. According to the NDNS, about 1% of the population were vegan in 2012, but 10% of girls aged 15-18 said they were vegan or vegetarian.
Terri Holloway, a nutritionist for the Vegan Society, said: “A vegan diet can provide all the essential nutrients for optimal health, growth and development at any age.
“Vegans, on average, have lower rates of obesity and lower BMIs [body mass indexes] than any other dietary group.”
Gluten-free bread uses fracking glue
They may appear in the “free from” aisle, but some gluten-free loaves are made with synthetic materials that are used in oil production.
A survey of 86 gluten-free breads revealed that many are made with xanthan gum, a glue-like substance used to soak up the residue from fracking and oil drilling.
All the gluten-free loaves bought from Morrisons and Sainsbury’s contained E464 hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, a treated wood pulp used in eye drops.
Morrisons said: “These ingredients are completely safe.” Sainsbury’s did not respond