More and more parents are leaning toward plant-based diets for their children. As experts warn that we are all eating too much meat and barely half the recommended daily intake of vegetables, veganism is gaining popularity as a dietary choice.
Raising vegan children can be difficult, and does require careful research, planning and consideration of nutritional guidelines for their age, however it’s not impossible.
The vegan diet excludes all foods derived from animals including eggs and dairy products, and can deprive a child (or an adult) of some key nutrients. The ones of greatest concern are vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids. You can get B-12 from your diet only by eating meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. A deficiency of this vitamin can lead to abnormal growth, mental retardation, and other health problems. For that reason, it is recommended that vegan children take a B-12 supplement. Follow the dosage recommendations on products.
Omega-3s are called “essential” fatty acids because our bodies can’t make them so we have to get them from our diets. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a heart-healthy fat that also plays a role in brain function. To make sure that vegan children get adequate amounts of these healthy fats, it is recommended that vegan children take an algae-derived essential fatty acid supplement. It would be wise to speak to a health professional or nutritionist to find the best supplement that can provide both EPA and DHA in adequate amounts.
Vegans also risk not getting enough iron, zinc, and calcium. To make sure your child gets enough iron, combine foods high in vitamin C (citrus fruits as well as many different fruits and vegetables) with foods containing iron. Good vegetable sources of iron include cereals, grains, lentils and beans, dates, prunes, raisins and greens. Zinc is found in grains, legumes, nuts and spinach. The best vegan sources of calcium are sesame seeds, collards, broccoli, sea vegetables, and tofu that is coagulated with calcium (check the label to make sure). You also can get calcium-fortified cereals, orange juice and soymilk.
Eating and following an appropriately planned vegan diet has become slightly easier since most vegan and vegetarian products, such as soymilk and fake meats, are now fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B-12.
It is also important to make sure that your child’s diet is well balanced and varied. Don’t assume that a vegan diet is automatically a healthy one, even if you ensure that your child is getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals. It is just as important for vegans to go easy on sweets and processed foods as it is for everyone else.
Overall I would suggest that a vegetarian diet, including dairy or even fish is better for a growing child than strict veganism and children are supported to make their own dietary choices as they grow older.
Gabriella Peacock, Founder of GP Nutrition