Can children have a vegan diet? Advantages and disadvantages – research 2023
Can children have a vegan diet? What are the advantages and disadvantages? It is widely recognized that children of all ages can eat vegan, by both research and health authorities in many countries.In June 2021, a large literature review was published in the journal Nutrition Research . The researchers reviewed the available scientific literature on the growth and general health of children on a vegan diet and estimated the intake of several important nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.
The children who had a vegan diet showed normal growth and adequate or higher intakes of protein, fiber and iron compared to children who ate a mixed diet, is the conclusion. Read our dietary advice for children who have a vegan and plant-based diet here
Healthcare professionals should also meet parents who give their children a vegan diet, with respect. This is both because there is good knowledge about vegan diets and because veganism is recognized as a way of life. Yes, children can have a vegan diet. Nevertheless, there are still many who wonder whether this can be optimal for children’s development.
Is there a risk of deficiencies with a vegan diet?
A well-planned vegan diet with some supplements provides enough nutrients to ensure normal growth in children, and may provide some health benefits. For definitive safety, the researchers believe that more research and data on omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iodine and selenium in vegan children is of value. This is what the researchers have concluded in their summary.
“In summary, the current literature suggests that a well-planned vegan diet using supplementation is likely to provide the recommended amounts of critical nutrients to provide for normal progression of height and weight in children, and can be beneficial in some aspects.
However, data on 5 critical nutrients are still missing, hampering a more definitive conclusion.”
Only a poorly planned diet is considered to carry a risk of deficiencies. This also applies to other types of diet.
Disadvantages that only applies to vegan diets
A small disadvantage of a vegan diet is that you should take nutritional supplements and/or use foods that are enriched with some micronutrients. But nutritional supplements apply to all children and many adults, and several dairy products are artificially enriched with some vitamins. In addition, the concentrated feed for livestock is artificially enriched with many tones of vitamins, minerals and microelements.
A vegan diet provides health benefits for children, such as the prevention of cardiovascular disease, vitamin C deficiency and obesity, both in childhood and later in life. This is the conclusion in the summary from June 2021. The disadvantage of dietary supplements is outweighed by the important health benefits a vegan diet provides, in the short and long term. In particular, this applies to a reduced risk of overweight and obesity . Obesity affects 60-70% of the Norwegian population. Obesity is an important risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer.
“A well-composed vegetarian diet can meet the nutritional needs of both adults and children of all ages. If you have a completely vegetarian diet (vegan diet) and are breastfeeding, both you and your child need supplements of vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine. Algae oil contains omega-3 fatty acids and can be used instead of cod liver oil.”
“Varied and correctly composed vegetarian and vegan food can cover the need for energy and most nutrients for children, but good planning and some dietary supplements are necessary.”
“Thus, vegan, lacto-vegetarian and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets should be able to satisfy the nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents and promote normal growth if they are appropriately planned (89), but vegan diets always need to be supplemented with vitamin B12 and vitamin D.”
“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthy, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
Supplements for children – with vegan and mixed diets
Vegan children all over the world need supplements of vitamin B12 .
Vegan children living in need dietary supplements of vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine. Children under the age of two who have a vegan diet also need supplements of marine omega-3 fatty acids, from algae oil dietary supplements .
All children should take supplements of vitamin D , either in the form of cod liver oil or vitamin D drops, from the age of 4 weeks. Vitamin D3 is available in vegan form.
Calcium intake should be ensured with oat milk or soya milk. There is as much calcium in the vast majority (except organic) varieties of plant milk as there is in cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is a good source of calcium and iodine because the cows’ food is artificially enriched
For children who have a normal Norwegian/mixed diet:
All infants are injected with vitamin K in the maternity ward
Many Norwegian children get too little iron (therefore the brown cheese type Prim is enriched with iron)
All children should take supplements of vitamin D from the age of 4 weeks
infants and toddlers are at risk of getting too much protein and vitamin A , according to Norwegian surveys Speedos and Zambrano’s
80% of pregnant women get too little iodine
All pregnant women are recommended supplements of iron and folate .
Unfortunately, a few nutritionists and pediatricians have not caught on. They have written an article in Aftenposten. Here they refer to an article about a diet called “macrobiotic”, which is something quite different from a vegan diet. At the same time, they use this article, from the 1990s, to argue that “vegans” do not get enough b12, and thus score lower on cognitive tests.
” It has been found that vegan children score lower on cognitive tests than other children.” and further “The incidence of vitamin B12 deficiency in newborns in Europe is currently so high that it has been proposed to include this in the newborn screening. »