Can a vegan diet be healthy for a child

Can a vegan diet be healthy for a child?


Vegetarian and vegan diets, ever more popular, are a good way to improve health and support a more sustainable environment. The Economist (England), in their global trends edition, called 2019 “The Year of the Vegan”. In 2014, only 1% of Americans identified as vegan. In 2017, it was up to 6%.

Vegetarian and vegan diets are widely praised by nutritionists, but what about for children? Can a child, even an infant, get all the nutrients they need to grow and develop normally?

In the news recently, an Australian couple was sentenced to 300 hours of community service after pleading guilty to “failing to provide for a child and causing serious injury”. At age 3, their child had seizures, and while hospitalized, was diagnosed as severely undernourished. The parents admitted they kept her on a strict vegan diet, mostly oats, potatoes, toast, and rice.

Vegan diets are safe for children

But this extreme case does not show that vegan diets for children are bad. In fact, nutritionists now believe that plant-based diets are fine for children when done correctly. Here is advice from the Children’s Hospital Medical Center (Washington, D.C.): “Multiple experts have concluded independently that vegan diets can be followed safely by infants and children without compromise of nutrition or growth and with some notable health benefits.”

Vegan vs. vegetarian

When someone says they are “vegetarian”, it can mean many things. Some vegetarians avoid all meat products but will eat dairy, eggs, and fish. Some will eat fish but not dairy, or fish and not eggs. There are various possiblities. Some consider themselves vegetarian but occasionally eat meat. Vegans however, will avoid all meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Their diet consists of grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetable fats. 

The one nutrient that is usually missing from a vegan diet is vitamin B12, which is only found in animal sources, A vegan usually needs a B12 supplement. But otherwise, a vegan diet can supply all the calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamin and minerals to support a healthy person. In fact, vegetarians and vegans are usually healthier and have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even cancer. 

Childhood vegans

Parents who want to raise their children as vegans typically start with breast feeding. If not possible, there are non-dairy, soy-based formulas available. After breastfeeding, a wide variety of plant-based foods can begin.  One caution: a pediatrician and preferably also a nutritionist should guide the diet of a child vegan.

We should thank vegans

Many people make fun of vegans, or think they are weird. But global warming is coming on much faster than expected. Diminishing our global dependence on meat would do much to save the Earth. Cattle require tremendous water resources, and reforestation is often driven by the demand for more and cheaper soybeans for cattle feed. (And the Amazon burns.)

Think about the methane and other gases that animals give us. Then think of the scents and oxygen we receive from plants. Plants suck up CO2 and give back oxygen. We should accept and celebrate vegetarians and vegans. They are devalued by many, but besides living a healthier life, they are helping save all of us.  

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See also in ProcuraMed:

Are vegetarians healthier?

Want to help the environment? Eat less meat.

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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