Swiss national guidelines

On its official website the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health publishes several documents on vegetarian and vegan diets:


  1. complete report (71 pages in German only)

  2. Summary (5 pages in German, French and Italian)

  3. Recommendations (5 pages in German, French and Italian)


We reproduce and translate the last of these (Recommendations).


"Advantages and disadvantages of a vegetarian diet for health

General recommendations




Because of the absence of all animal products in the vegan diet vegans have a higher risk of deficiency.  As vitamin B12 is present only in animal products, vegans must be careful to ensure they consume enough B12.  They also risk calcium deficiency.  Vegans must ensure they obtain a sufficient intake of calcium by consuming plant-based milk substitutes.  However experience has shown that if you know enough about nutrition it is possible to consume only plant-based products without suffering any deficiency (except Vitamin B12, which must be absorbed through fortified foods or supplements).
Whatever the diet it should be varied, especially for vegans.  It is impossible to recommend a vegan diet to the entire population because deficiency risks may increase in specific situations (growth, pregnancy, breast-feeding and old age).  However this diet can be considered as an option because if the above-mentioned recommendations are observed it can have positive effects on health.



Guidelines for different age groups, including pregnant and breast-feeding women and the elderly



The ideal and natural food for infants is their mother’s milk.  The World Health Organization recommends six months of solely breast-feeding, possibly continuing up to two years old in combination with weaning foods.  Whether vegetarian or not, pregnant and breast-feeding women should ensure they eat a good diet containing enough iron and the full range of vitamins.
Vegan mothers must also ensure they get enough vitamin B12.  Babies who are not breastfed must be given suitable formula milk.  The calcium and methionine intakes of infants fed on soya milk must be monitored.  Therefore they must be fed solely on soya milk specifically formulated for babies.




Whatever the parents' and children’s diets, between the second and the fourth week of age all children must start absorbing 400 IU of vitamin D3 to prevent rickets.





Second year


Recommended foods 




Vegan children:  vitamin B12 supplements and possibly calcium and iron (consult a paediatric nurse).




Older people


B12 vitamin resorption is known to diminish by 10 to 30% among people over 50 years of age.
Vitamin D3 synthesis also diminishes with age, which may have an impact on calcium assimilation.  Moreover many elderly people do not have a balanced diet.  Hence fortified foods and supplements are widely recommended for all elderly people, whether vegetarian or not.  If elderly people do not eat meat and fish the risk of deficiency increases further, especially in the case of vitamin B12 and vitamin D3 but also zinc, selenium, calcium, proteins and long-chain fatty acids.
In conclusion, not only vegans but also vegetarians must monitor their intake of the above-mentioned nutrients very carefully.



For more information:

Federal Office of Public Health, Consumer Protection Unit, Nutrition and Toxicological Risks’ Department, telephone +41 (0) 313 229 505