What to consider if you want to eat a predominantly plant-based but still healthy diet? The Stiftung Warentest gives answers to the most important questions.
- Can everyone eat a vegetarian diet??
- Can I also eat a vegetarian diet as an athlete??
- Do vegetarians and vegans live healthier lives than meat-eaters??
- Flexitarians, Ovo-Lacto-Vegetarians, Frutarians – what do these terms mean??
- Can the renunciation of meat lead to deficiency symptoms?
- How to avoid such deficiencies?
- Do vegetarians have to take nutritional supplements??
- Can I still switch to a vegetarian diet in old age??
- Why is a vegan diet not advisable for children??
- What should pregnant and nursing mothers pay attention to??
- Is a meatless diet good for losing weight??
- Are Soja roast sausages, Tofu Burger and Veggie cold cuts a good alternative to meat?
- What exactly is tofu – and what is seitan??
Different eating types and what you should know about them
Can everyone eat a vegetarian diet??
In principle, yes, as long as the food is balanced and varied. For vegan diets, however, things look different: The German Nutrition Society (DGE) advises pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as babies, children and adolescents, against a vegan diet. Because they have a higher risk of an undersupply of certain nutrients when eating a purely plant-based diet without eggs, milk and meat. This can endanger health. More below in the answer to the question Why is vegan diet not advisable for children?
Tip: Tests of vegetarian and vegan products such as spreads, oat drinks and veggie cold cuts can be found on our topic page Eating Vegetarian and Vegan Food.
Can I eat a vegetarian diet even if I am an athlete??
There is nothing to say against it. Competitive athletes should, however, make sure to cover their increased need for nutrients. They not only consume more calories than couch potatoes, but also more iron, for example. Whether protein shakes are useful for athletes, we clarify in our protein powder test.
Do vegetarians and vegans live healthier lives than meat eaters??
Not auto-matic. It depends on what foods they eat and how varied and diverse their diet is. If they eat a lot of vegetables, legumes, fruit, cereals and whole-grain products, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, this can be health-promoting. On the other hand, many foods that contain large amounts of fat, salt and added sugar are unfavorable – even if they are vegetarian or vegan.
More favorable compositions. Various studies – including those by the World Health Organization (WHO) – show: A high consumption of highly processed meat such as cold cuts or sausages can have a detrimental effect on health and shorten life expectancy. Who eats however much fruit, vegetable and fiber-rich grain products, can lower disease risks. According to the German Society for Nutrition (DGE), vegetarian diets often have a more favorable composition than a mixed diet with meat. However, there is no scientific evidence that vegetarian food is superior to a mixed diet with a low meat content. According to the recommendations of the DGE, you should not eat more than 300 to 600 grams of meat and sausage per week.
Other effects. People who eat a healthy diet usually also lead a healthy lifestyle: Vegetarians often exercise more than others, smoke less often and drink less alcohol. Therefore, it is difficult to determine what effect diet alone has on health.
By the way: In the test.de-Shop you find numerous vegetarian cookbooks, for example Very good vegetarian cooking.
Flexitarians, ovo-lacto-vegetarians, frutarians – what do these terms mean?
Flexitarians. This type of eater eats mainly plant foods, but also eats meat, sausage and other meat products. Flexitarians tend to buy high quality meat and value species-appropriate animal husbandry.
Vegetarians. All vegetarians have one thing in common: they eat mainly plant-based foods and generally do not eat meat or any products derived from it. For some, fish, eggs and dairy products are also taboo. Vegetarians can be divided into the following subgroups.
Pesco-vegetarians. They avoid meat and meat products, but not fish and seafood. Their diet consists mainly of plant foods, but also eggs, milk and dairy products.
Ovo-lacto vegetarian. In addition to meat, fish and seafood and all foods derived from them are taboo for this type of eater. Eggs, milk and milk products are okay.
Lacto-vegetarians. Neither fish nor meat nor eggs and products derived from them are on the menu of this group. Milk and dairy products are allowed.
Ovo-vegetarians. This type of vegetarian eats eggs, but no milk or milk products.
Vegan. They nourish themselves exclusively from vegetable food. Taboo are all animal products, including honey.
Frutarians. For this type of eater, veganism does not go far enough. They feed only on what plants do not have to "suffer" and what they "freely" give: Fallen fruit, as well as nuts and seeds that lie on the ground. Some Frutarier eat however in contrast to Veganern also honey.
Rohkostler. In principle, they eat food only in the raw state. In their opinion, vitamins and nutrients should be preserved in this way. In order to have something warm on the table, the food may be heated to a maximum of 40 degrees. By the way, raw foodists are not necessarily vegans, some also eat eggs, raw milk cheese or even raw meat. The risk of getting sick from germs in food, which are normally killed by heating, is increased with a raw food diet.
Pudding vegetarians and vegans. This term refers to people who abstain from meat, but do not follow a healthy, balanced diet. If they consume a lot of sweets, sugared soft drinks or highly processed foods, this can lead to overweight or malnutrition in the worst case.
Balanced nutrition also works without meat
The renunciation of meat can lead to deficiency symptoms?
No. Although meat provides nutrients such as high-value proteins, readily available iron, zinc, selenium and vitamins B1, B6 and B12, it is not a good source of nutrition. Vegetarians who eat a varied diet and eat dairy products, eggs or fish, but get everything they need.
For vegans, vitamin B12 is the sticking point (see also Do vegetarians need to take dietary supplements??). Other important sources of nutrients are also lost in a vegan diet, for example vitamins D and B2 (also known as riboflavin), calcium and iodine. Among other things, they are more susceptible to infections, anemia, osteoporosis or poor memory.
How to avoid such deficiencies?
Valuable Proteins eat, for example, soy, lentils and other legumes, and whole grains. Eating legumes and grains in combination – in one meal or spread throughout the day – can increase protein quality.
Rich in Iron are for example oat flakes, amaranth or also leguminous plants. If you eat them at the same time as foods that are rich in vitamin C, you can ensure that the body utilizes plant-based iron better. Black tea and coffee, on the other hand, can reduce the availability of iron from plant foods. Vegans should therefore not drink it directly before, during and after iron-rich meals.
vitamin B2 Found in oilseeds, nuts, whole grains and legumes, for example. It is important for cell function.
Nuts, canola, flax and microalgae-enriched cooking oils provide the body with essential Omega-3 fatty acids. This is good for brain performance. Nuts also provide calcium, iron, iodine and zinc. Calcium is good for growth, iodine is important for the thyroid gland and for the mental development of children. Calcium and iron are also found in dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach.
Tip: An overview of which plant foods can contribute to the supply of critical nutrients can be found at the German Nutrition Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Ernahrung). Quinoa, chia seeds, millet, kamut and spelt also contain a lot of vegetable protein and are a good alternative to animal and dairy products. In the message Chia, Quinoa, spelt we arrange the grains for you. More in-depth information on Chia seeds only is provided in our article What are the benefits of the trendy seed from Central America??
Vegan food for children not advisable
Do vegetarians need to take dietary supplements??
Vegetarians do not need to automatically take additional pills to supplement their diet if they plan their meals well – unless a doctor has diagnosed nutrient deficiencies. But vegans should take supplements with vitamin B 12. It occurs in plants in traces at best. Although it is added to some foods such as muesli, fruit juices or soy products, the amounts are hardly sufficient to ensure the daily intake of 4 micrograms recommended by the DGE. The DGE therefore advises vegans to take B-12 supplements. In addition, they should have their nutrient balance regularly checked by a doctor.
At the beginning of 2019, Stiftung Warentest tested food supplements for vegetarians and vegans, including vitamin B12 preparations and combination products with a colorful mix of nutrients. Conclusion: Some products are incorrectly dosed, but many are suitable.
Can I still switch to a vegetarian diet in old age??
Yes. Only vegan food is not recommended for seniors. The reason: From 65 the nutrient requirement changes. An adequate supply of animal proteins is now particularly important – if not from meat, then from dairy products, fish and eggs. It is best to discuss with a doctor or nutritionist how you can optimally eat a meat-free diet.
Why is a vegan diet not advisable for children??
Risk of nutrient deficiency. Children and adolescents need more nutrients than adults. Calcium, for example, is important for bone structure. In addition, their nutrient stores are not yet sufficiently filled. The German Society for Nutrition advises against vegan diets for children and adolescents. The results of the VeChi-Youth study conducted by the University of Bonn and the Institute for Alternative and Sustainable Nutrition do not change this. This study is the first to provide comparative data for 6- to 18-year-olds in Germany who eat a vegan, vegetarian or mixed diet, including fish and meat.
Surprising study results. With all three diets, the majority of study participants were adequately supplied with most vitamins, nutrients and minerals. Vegetarian and vegan children and adolescents had lower iron levels than the mixed diet group, but mostly within the normal range. The fiber intake was highest among vegans, and they were also usually well supplied with vitamin B12: 88 percent take it as a dietary supplement. But not only they, but all who took part in the study could absorb more iodine, calcium, vitamin B2 and D.
Healthy food choices. The vegetarian and vegan children in the study consumed more fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts than children who eat everything. Vegans also ate the least sweets, snacks and convenience foods.
Why the DGE advises against it. The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) continues to advise against a vegan diet for children. The study can only improve the "insufficient data situation to a limited extent". The 400 or so participants were not selected to be representative, so the results cannot be generalized. They do not permit statements to the long-term health, since it concerns a cross section study and the data only at a time point were raised. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends a mixed diet for children, consisting mainly of plant-based foods and only to a lesser extent of animal-based foods, such as fish or meat.
Tip: If you still want to feed your child a vegan diet, you must give him or her vitamin B12 as a supplement and select foodstuffs specifically. Seek advice from qualified nutritionists and have your supply of critical nutrients such as vitamin B12 or iron checked by a doctor once a year.
What pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should bear in mind?
Unborn babies and infants have an increased need for nutrients – and so do pregnant and breastfeeding women. If they eat a vegan diet and do not take nutrient supplements, the development and health of the children can be damaged: Iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies, for example, can lead to blood-forming and neurological disorders.
If the mother is insufficiently supplied with the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, this can negatively influence the development of the infant’s brain and retina. In addition, the protein requirement of women is significantly increased during the breastfeeding period. Breastfeeding women should therefore eat a lot of protein-rich foods. Further information can be found in the FAQ of the DGE on vegan nutrition.
Tip: In our FAQ on nutrition during pregnancy, we summarize what pregnant vegetarians should bear in mind. When the baby starts to eat from a spoon, there is nothing to be said against feeding vegetarian porridge from time to time. In our baby food test, three lunch cereals without meat performed well. However, a completely meat-free diet is a second choice for babies in the second half of their lives. Because their iron requirements are higher than usual later in life, and meat is the best source of iron. You can read more about baby nutrition in our free special on baby nutrition in the first year.
Vegetarian meat alternatives in the test
Is a meat-free diet good for weight loss??
In principle, yes: Vegetables and fruit have a low energy density and plenty of fiber, they make with few calories faster full than, for example, a bread with fat salami.
Who thinks about becoming thinner with saturation capsules or fat burners, learns in our slimming product test how they work and how the drug experts of the Stiftung Warentest evaluate them. In the Special Interval fasting we explain, how this nourishing form can funk-tionieren and which it brings.
Are soy sausages, tofu burgers and veggie cold cuts a good alternative to meat??
It depends. Meat substitutes are a practical alternative for anyone who wants to avoid meat or simply eat less. Veggie cold cuts can be eaten directly, and veggie sausages can also be prepared with little effort in a pan, pot or microwave.
Different basic ingredients. The range of meat substitutes is very diverse, the recipes are based on different basic ingredients such as chicken protein, soy, wheat, peas or lupins. Often the products are highly processed, sometimes they contain many additives, flavors and thickeners. Additives that are approved in the EU are considered safe, but some consumers reject them and prefer to make their own vegan spread, for example.
Meat substitutes under test. Stiftung Warentest has tested various meat substitutes – most recently veggie nuggets. Just because they were plant-based, they were not necessarily lower in fat and calories than classic chicken nuggets. 2021 testers sent 18 veggie patties for hamburgers to the lab, some of which looked and tasted like real meat patties. Every second product scored well, but some were contaminated with harmful substances. Many products tested also did well in the March 2019 test of veggie cold cuts – cold cuts reminiscent of Lyoner were more convincing overall than salami-type slices. On average, the products contained significantly less fat and calories than salami and lyonnaise with meat.
When testing veggie products for the pan such as sausages, schnitzels and meatballs in 2016, some were contaminated with critical mineral oils. Some also proved to be calorie bombs.
What exactly is tofu – and what is seitan?
Not all vegetarians fundamentally reject the taste of meat. The alternative for you: Plant-based meat substitutes. The fillings of "soy cutlets," "tofu burgers" or "seitan frankfurters" often consist of protein-rich soy or wheat meat. More rarely, it is filled with lupine protein or shii-take mushrooms. The latter add spice with their umami flavor.
Tofu. It is made similarly to cheese, but from soybeans. These are soaked, ground and cooked. The resulting soy drink must then coagulate. Then it is pressed and cut into pieces. Tofu is offered pure or mixed with spices. It can be fried, steamed, marinated, smoked and takes flavors well.
Other soy products. Clearly more meat-like, because more fibrous, is so-called textured soy protein. It is obtained from a soy protein solution. There are also products made from fermented soybeans: Miso and Tempeh. In tempeh, fermentation takes place through the addition of a mold. Soy products can cause an allergic reaction in some people. You should avoid these foods – including soy drinks.
Seitan. This Asian specialty is less well known in this country and consists of pure wheat protein that is highly processed. Flour is mixed with water several times and kneaded until the starch has been washed out. The mass is then usually cooked in seaweed, soy sauce and salt to take on flavor. It is rich in gluten. flavor enhancers are often added. Those who suffer from celiac disease and have to eat a gluten-free diet should not eat seitan.