Focus on milk for pregnant and lactating vegetarians

The new official dietary guidelines recommend that we eat more plant-based and climate-friendly. Dairy products are a valuable supplement to plant-based diets as milk contains the minerals and vitamins that characterize animal products. With an uneven or small intake of meat, dairy products advance in the food chain as a source of essential nutrients. In addition to calcium, it involves among others iodine, iron and vitamin B12, which according to the National Board of Health are recommended as dietary supplements for pregnant and lactating vegetarians, both for their own sake and for the sake of their fetus and infant. The aim of this project is to assess the iodine, iron, and B12-induced antioxidant status during pregnancy, lactation, and infancy following a vegetarian diet with and without the inclusion of milk.

By: Grith Mortensen

Vegan and vegetarian diets have gained popularity over the past decade. However, concerns have been raised regarding the ability of these diets to adequately provide essential micronutrients. This view agrees with systematic reviews, confirming that vegans and vegetarians, living in industrialised countries, not consuming supplements, appear to have increased risk of iodine, iron, and vitamin B12 deficiency. Iodine, iron, and vitamin B12 deficiency in infants, lactating women, and pregnant women is of major health concern as these nutrients are responsible for development and growth of major systems in the body, especially the brain. Prolonged deficiency is found to cause anaemia, stunted growth, intellectual disabilities and irreversible brain damage etc. in unborn babies and children.

The researchers will investigate how effectively milk contributes to an improved iodine and iron status in pregnant and lactating vegetarians and whether the milk's content of vitamin B12 protects the body against oxidative stress during pregnancy. This is investigated in a controlled intervention study where blood and breast milk samples are taken from pregnant and lactating vegetarians who daily consume two glasses of milk, a B12 vitamin pill or placebo. The researchers will compare the iodine and iron content of the collected blood and breastmilk samples and measure the levels of glutathione (the body's most important antioxidant) in the collected blood samples.

The project is a spinoff of the IMPROVIT2 project, where the effects of milk versus vitamin pills is investigated regarding the general B12 status during pregnancy, breastfeeding and infancy. Blood and breast milk samples collected in the IMPROVIT2 project will be available for the analysis work planned. The project will provide increased knowledge about the role of dairy products as a source of vitamin B12, iodine, iron, and glutathione.

Project period: January 2023 - December 2023

Budget: 1,406,000 DKK

Financing: Milk Levy Fund

Project manager: Christian Würtz Heegard

Institution: Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University


The results originating from the project will be published on this page when they become publicly available.

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The intake of milk, pregnancy outcome and vitamin B12

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Grith Mortensen

Chefkonsulent, Branchesekretariat mejeri, Landbrug & Fødevarer/Skejby

Mobil: 40964114