Although veganism is already very well established, it is gaining even more popularity all over the world each day. One of the reasons might be programs such as “Veganuary,” which urges people to give up meat and dairy products for a month.
Additionally, there is a growing awareness of the positive effects that a vegan diet can have on the environment. More and more evidence suggest that plant-based diets are beneficial for adults’ health in many ways.
With a number of studies supporting this diet, people are also looking for the answer to an important question: Is a vegan diet appropriate for children?
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Well, the pros and cons of the vegan diet for children are a bit more complicated than for adults.
According to the Nutritionist of Canada and the American Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, vegan diets are suitable for all periods of life, such as pregnancy, nursing, infancy, childhood, and teenagers. But it also emphasizes the necessity of vegans consuming vitamin B12, whether through fortified foods or supplements.
The requirement for particular nutrients for a growing child at each stage of development is perhaps the most crucial factor to take into account. In particular, for smaller kids, the consequences of missing those can be dangerous. Because their food portions are smaller, their food must also be especially nutrient- and energy-dense.
According to Mary Fewtrel, professor of pediatric nutrition, “Infants and children are developing and growing rapidly (particularly during infancy) and have very high demands for certain nutrients despite having very tiny stomachs. This implies that the foods they are given should include maximal nutrients and sufficient energy in a relatively small volume.”
Breast milk is considered the optimal source of nutrients and energy for infants, whereas a vegan diet must be carefully prepared to suit the nutritional requirements of toddlers and young children.
In fact, some rare, preventable catastrophes in that age bracket have been caused by misguided veganism. After blood tests showed that a one-year-old boy in Milan, Italy, had dangerously low calcium levels due to eating a badly planned vegan diet and the boy’s parents had to give him up. According to Italian media, the one-year-old weighed the same as a three-month-old and had barely sufficient calcium levels to survive.
Having been fed a diet of vegetable milk produced from oats, buckwheat, rice, and quinoa, a seven-month-old infant boy died of dehydration and malnourishment in 2017. The baby’s parents were found guilty in a Belgian court in 2017.
It is important to remind you that similar cases with malnourished children happen with non-vegan children as well. I believe we shouldn’t be pointing fingers at the diet, instead, parents are the ones that need to educate themselves about the nutrition their child needs and make sure their kids get all the vitamins and minerals they need for proper development.
According to a study, a vegan diet may have some advantages for older children, but it may also have some downsides.
To cut it short, we can say that a well-planned, nutrient dense vegan diet is appropriate for children.
Are Vegan Kids Malnourished?
When talking about plant-based diet, a question pops up quite often: Are vegan kids malnourished?
No they are not. According to the finding of a study on nutrient status and growth in vegan children, the majority of vegan children showed normal growth and very little obesity as long as the vegan diet was properly planned.
Overall, compared to omnivores in a study on vegetarian diet adequacy for children, lacto-ovo-vegetarian kids consume diets that are more in line with recommendations, and their prepubertal development is at least as good.
The simplest approach to becoming vegan can mean relying on vegan convenience meals like meat and cheese substitutes, which aren’t always better for your kids nutritionally. Plant-based diets can be, but are not always, sufficient for kids. As long as caution is exercised, especially to guarantee diversity and enough calories in the right ratios of macronutrients.
Let’s face it, vegan or omnivore, it doesn’t really matter. Any diet that is not well-planned and is not rich in nutrients is not appropriate for anyone, not just for the children.
What Do Vegan Toddlers Drink Instead of Milk?
Children who don’t have allergies and aren’t on hypoallergenic formula can start drinking unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives like soy, oat, or almond drinks from one year old as part of a healthy and well-balanced diet with lots of calcium, protein, and energy.
Do Vegan Kids Need Vitamins?
Yes, of course they need vitamins. They can get all the vitamins and minerals from a well-balanced vegan diet except vitamin B12 and vitamin D, which cannot be found in plant-based foods. Therefore, vegan kids should take B12 and vitamin D supplements to ensure they get enough of these very important vitamins.
The best source of vitamin D is sunshine, which is absorbed by the skin and is found in a very small variety of foods. Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption to maintain healthy bones and teeth.
Since there is no natural occurring vitamin D in plant-based diet, the best vegan sources are fortified plant-based milk, spreads, and cereals. Every child aged one to four years old should get 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day.
The growth of red blood cells, the brain, and the nervous system all depend on vitamin B12. The fact that vitamin B12 can only be obtained naturally from animal sources is commonly known.
But fortified breakfast cereals, plant-based drinks, and soy products all contain B12 and should be a part of your child’s diet. If not, your child will need to take a B12 supplement.
If you wish to read more on veganism and B12, I suggest you read my post on why do vegans need to take B12 supplements.
Where Do Vegan Kids Get Calcium?
Calcium is vital for growing kids no matter what they eat. However, there are other sources of this nutrient besides dairy, and studies have shown that the calcium in certain plant foods is more easily absorbed than that in dairy.
In another post I already went into details on whether vegan diet leads to calcium deficiency.
Children do not require dairy products to achieve their calcium requirements for healthy bones and teeth. Vegan kids can get enough calcium from plant foods if you include them in their meals and snacks.
Here are 5 great calcium sources for vegan children:
- Fortified soy milk: 1 cup = 50 – 300 mg (depending on the milk brand)
- Tahini (made from sesame seeds): 1 tablespoon = 64 mg
- Almond butter: 1 tbsp = 55 mg
- Tofu, calcium-set, raw: 3oz = 150 mg
- Orange: 1 medium = 50 mg
How Do Vegan Kids Get Protein?
Protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D and essential fatty acids are all important for vegetarians and vegans. So, how do vegan kids get protein?
Protein and iron are best absorbed from animal products like meat and fish, therefore vegetarians and vegans must receive enough of these nutrients from other sources.
Vegan kids can get their protein with all essential amino acids from foods like quinoa, buckwheat, hemp, soy or chia seeds. Many plant foods have “incomplete” protein profiles, which means they provide some of the required amino acids in significant amounts but not all of them. A diverse diet that combines the amino acids from various foods eaten to produce complete protein is a fairly simple way to solve this problem.
The idea of ‘food combining’ at every meal is outdated and unnecessary, as long as the overall diet has a good variety of vegan protein sources.
Protein in the proper amount can also be found in beans, grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, and soy.
I would advise against using too-processed vegan meat substitutes like imitation bacon, poultry, sausages, and so on. These are acceptable from time to time, but they are unquestionably not nutritious foods, and you shouldn’t depend on them frequently.
Nevertheless, you can also read my post on whether vegans have protein deficiency.
How Many Children Are Raised Vegan?
No doubt that veganism is on the rise. But how many children are raised vegan?
According to recent research, 1 in 12 parents raise their kids as vegans, primarily for health reasons. Additional research revealed that 13% of families fed their kids vegetarian meals, with the majority of the time the kids asking for meat-free options.
The data of about 2,200 families with children under the age of twelve in the United Kingdom was analyzed. The majority of the time (97% of the time), as is the case with most lifestyle decisions, parents chose to give their kids vegan diets.
While some view vegan diets for kids as problematic, more and more families are becoming open to the idea as research shows that the lifestyle has many positive health benefits.
In conclusion, vegan diets can be healthy for kids as long as their parents are aware of the essential nutrients needed for healthy growth and development. In addition, parents of vegan kids must exercise extra caution to make sure their kids are consuming a balanced diet and, when necessary, seek professional advice.
In case of vitamin B12, vegan children should regularly take supplements since plant-based foods do not contain this vitamin. Exception being some fortified foods. The same goes for vitamin D. If the child does not get enough sunlight exposure, make sure you give them vitamin D supplements.