Swedish national guidelines


Vegan diet in schools


Energy and nutrients
A vegan diet is exclusively plant-based (without meat, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products). Hence this diet lacks vitamin B12, which is found only in animal foods.

As far as is practicable efforts should be made to meet current nutrient and energy recommendations. With the help of fortified products and/or dietary supplements containing vitamin B12 and vitamin D, it is entirely possible to design a vegan diet that meets requirements in practice.

Schools cannot fully satisfy all requirements. Nevertheless they should still offer vegan options because pupils who are vegans for ethical reasons and on principle do not usually accept other types of vegetarian foods.

Schools should also provide adequate information about vitamin B12 and supplements suitable for vegans. This information can be obtained free of charge from the Vegan Society of Sweden (0159-344 04).

Compared with a lacto-vegetarian diet, a vegan diet is lower in protein and other nutrients. Long experience and scientific studies have shown that a well-planned and varied vegan diet (with controlled content of vitamin B12) provides adequate nutrition for healthy individuals. Reported clinical deficiencies mainly occur with monotonous diets (macrobiotic vegan diet) or when the total energy intake has been inadequate.

When planning a vegan diet, make sure it contains enough vitamin B12 and D, selenium, calcium, iron and zinc as well as alpha-linolenic acid, iodine and riboflavin (vitamin B2).

Animal protein generally has a higher biological value than plant proteins. However even vegan diets can contain high-quality proteins if different kinds of plant protein are mixed. It is therefore recommended that many meals combine legumes and cereals. Leafy greens are also suitable for combining with various cereals. Soy products can be used to increase the protein content of vegan diets.

Calcium and vitamin D
It can be difficult to meet the recommended calcium intakes without dairy products. Leafy vegetables and cabbage of all kinds (especially kale), legumes (peas, beans, lentils, etc.), root vegetables, sesame seeds (unshelled), almonds, dried fruit (figs), rosehips and blackcurrants are examples of important sources of calcium for vegan diets.

A sufficient supply of vitamin D (from daylight during the summer months, fortified products or just vitamin D) is essential to enable the body to absorb calcium. Dairy-free margarine fortified with vitamin D and milk-substitute drinks with added calcium (without any animal ingredients) are readily available as well as vitamin D supplements. They are valuable food sources for vegan diets.

Vitamin B12
Unless products fortified with vitamin B12 are included, all plant-based diets lack vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 may be produced by contamination with specific bacteria but cannot be considered a reliable source since Western countries have a good hygiene level. Fermented products (fermented using lactic acid) may contain small amounts too but there is no guarantee that they will meet vitamin B12 needs. Labels on spirulina state that it contains vitamin B12 but whether it is absorbed and utilized by the body is unclear. Despite the fact that substantial amounts of vitamin B12 are produced in the colon, the absorption of Vitamin B12 actually occurs in the small intestine so it cannot be relied on either. Therefore in today's society dietary supplements and fortified products are the only reliable sources.

Plant sources of riboflavin are mainly leafy vegetables, legumes, grains, almonds, sesame seeds (unshelled), sunflower seeds, wheatgerm and nutritional yeast.

The iron content of the vegan diet is generally higher than in a lacto-vegetarian diet and often even higher than in a conventional mixed diet. However its bioavailability is much poorer than in a conventional mixed diet. It is therefore recommended that foods rich in vitamin C be included in every meal. Legumes, dark-green leaves, wholegrains, nuts and dried fruits are examples of good vegetable sources of iron.

When vegan diets are poor in salt, iodine intakes may be low, especially inland. However iodized table salt is usually part of most young vegans’ diets. Otherwise seaweed meal or seaweeds of any kind can be used.

Like iron, zinc intakes may be reduced by foods that contain absorption inhibitors, namely phytic acid. Legumes, nuts and seeds, wholegrains (notably wholemeal bread) and wheatgerm are important sources of zinc for vegan diets.

Swedish soils are low in selenium. Most home-grown vegetables have a low selenium content. Hence there is a reason to recommend a wide selection of foods for vegan diets. Imported products such as pasta, millet, brown rice, sesame seeds, pulses of various kinds, nuts, almonds and sunflower seeds are important sources of selenium.

Omega-3 fatty acids
It is possible to achieve an adequate intake of alpha-linolenic essential fatty acid on a vegan diet. This fatty acid is mainly found in linseed oil, flaxseed, canola and soybean oils and walnuts. When cooking, it may be appropriate to use canola oil or liquid margarine based on rapeseed oil. EPA and DHA (long-chain omega-3 fatty acids) are not found in vegan diets but can be formed in the body if alpha-linolenic acid supplies are sufficient.

Food choices
Lacto-vegetarian dietary recommendations that are relevant to vegan diets generally apply.

Meat, fish and eggs are entirely excluded. Pulses of various kinds, soy protein (such as soy meat and tofu), beans, lentils and peas replace meat in vegan diets. Tofu (soybean curd, bean curd), falafel (made from chickpeas) and a variety of 'vegan steaks' are available and generally valued by most vegans. Marinated legumes are another excellent way of including legumes in your diet. Those who eat small amounts of egg (egg white) may consider Quorn to be an option but it is not vegan.

Vegetables, fruits including berries, potatoes and root vegetables of all varieties: cook as gently as possible. Eat plenty of leafy greens, such as cabbage and kale, and legumes. Pease pudding or pea soup with a little oil can be served with root and other vegetables because they provide valuable energy and nutrients.

Dairy products are entirely excluded. Soy beverages and other dairy-like vegan products (containing no animal-derived ingredients) can be used instead of conventional milk products. Choose products fortified with calcium and vitamin D whenever possible.

Lacto-vegetarian diets include bread and other cereals. Prefer soy flour, soy macaroni and buckwheat. Buckwheat and wheatgerm both have a higher lysine content than other cereal products, which is undesirable. Porridge and bread can be prepared with added soy or chickpea flour.

Oils and fat must be of plant origin only and preferably fortified with vitamins.

Nuts, including almonds, and seeds (mainly unshelled sesame seeds) are part of the traditional vegan diet. If nuts and peanuts are served in schools care must be taken to ensure that they are not served to children allergic to them, because reactions can be severe and life-threatening. Sesame milk can be prepared from sesame seeds (mixed with water and possibly flavoured with banana or soaked dried fruits). Almond milk may be prepared in a similar manner. Dairy-free margarine, vegetable spreads (soy or yeast extract), ground or mixed legumes with spices and a little oil or spreadable yeast extract can be used as spreads.

Updated 24 January 2012