Vegan diets for kids: Proceed with knowledge

Vegan diets for kids: Proceed with knowledge

There are many reasons people pursue a vegan diet; religious beliefs, environmental impact, or simple respect for our animal friends. A vegan diet, however, which doesn’t allow foods that are made of or contain animal products for consumption, can result in illness or vitamin deficiencies if nutritional needs are not met.

This is something parents especially need to be aware of in children.

Vegan diets are different for kids

A recent study, presented by experts at the 50th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN), discusses the impact of a vegan diet on children. The study concludes that it can be often difficult to ensure proper nutrition for a child on a vegan diet, especially without proper medical and nutritional advice.

You might be thinking “What is the big deal? So my kid ends up short some vitamins here and there. It’s still better than eating meat.”

The lack of certain vitamins can impact a child as they develop physically and mentally. We’ve all heard about the importance of childhood development in creating healthy, well-adjusted adults; the main concern is the vitamin deficiencies that can develop when a child is living on a vegan diet, as well as a lack of protein.

The biggest vitamin deficiency that can affect a child on a vegan diet is the lack of B12 vitamins. The reason B12 vitamins are difficult to obtain for anyone on a vegan diet is there are no reliable plant sources of B12. The website for The Vegan Society, which can be found here, when discussing sources of B12 states,

In over 60 years of vegan experimentation only B12 fortified foods and B12 supplements have proven themselves as reliable sources of B12, capable of supporting optimal health.”  

The main source of B12 for most people is products derived from animals, mainly fish and chicken.

The lack of B12 vitamins can result in a string of issues for a child. The importance of B12 is essential for a child to grow into a healthy adulthood. To quote the study from ESPGHAN,

“Vitamin B12 is essential to the creation of DNA, indispensable for the maintenance of the nervous system, and a lack of it can result in haematological and neurological disorders, causing damage in young children which can be irreversible.”  

A lack of B12 can also lead to muscle weakness and a lack of muscle mass in children.Vegan diets for kids: Proceed with knowledge

Any expectant mothers on a vegan diet also must be aware of B12 vitamins if they intend to breastfeed. If the mother has a B12 vitamin deficiency, or even a lack of B12 stores in her body, it can lead to a baby between 2 months and 12 months having a vitamin deficiency also. A B12 deficiency during pregnancy can also lead to preeclampsia and neural tube defects in babies. An expectant and breastfeeding mother on a vegan diet will want to ensure proper B12 Vitamin stores through supplementation. This can be from vitamin pills to powders and even fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.

The issue with obtaining protein for a child on a vegan diet is that a child won’t be able to get enough of the correct amino acids easily. Meat and fish will normally provide all the necessary amino acids if a child is eating these food items. Yes, beans are a great source of protein, but certain beans only provide certain amino acids. This results in having to find a variety of sources of all amino acids and then getting a child to eat them. Which anyone that has children or has children in their life knows, this isn’t always the easiest thing.

Not that kids would ever be picky eaters…

Not drinking animal milk can lead to a lack of Vitamin D and Calcium. Although there are milks that do provide calcium, e.g. almond milk and soy milk, it is often not at the levels that are needed. A lack of Vitamin D and Calcium can lead to lower bone density and stunted growth in a child.  It is important to ensure a child is drinking milks that are fortified with the correct vitamins and nutrients in order to get the correct amounts.

If you are going to have a child living a vegan lifestyle, then you need to be knowledgeable in nutrition or get help from someone that is. Make sure that your children see a doctor on a regular basis to avoid any vitamin deficiencies so they can grow to be strong healthy adults.

If you would like to learn more or are just curious, check out the following websites: The Vegan Society and NAVS (North American Vegetarian Society)

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