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Vegan Diet Parents Need to Monitor Their Children’s Dietary Needs

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Children on vegan diets can be nutritionally deficient

Thinking about trying a vegan diet for losing weight? Great! Thinking about including the entire family—including your children—on the diet as well to teach them healthy eating habits and share the benefits of a vegan lifestyle? Great…but…and it’s a big but, as it turns out research shows that children are not little adults and as such, vegan diet parents need to consider and monitor their children’s special dietary needs.

Discover now what vegan dieting parents need to know from a recent study that shows many children in vegan diet homes are actually at risk of becoming nutritionally deficient.

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The Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Adopting a vegan diet has many benefits, not the least of which is that a vegan diet is most effective for weight loss according to Emaxhealth writer Nancy Mure.

A vegan diet consisting primarily of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables while avoiding meat and animal-based food products provides many health benefits aside from weight loss, including:

• Whole-grain products and vegetables have relatively low glycemic index values and therefore don't cause blood sugar levels to spike.

• Fruits are rich in fiber, antioxidants, minerals and protective chemicals that naturally occur in plants.

• Whole-grain products contain both soluble and non-digestible fiber. Such fiber helps to delay the speed by which food leaves the stomach and ensures good digestion. It also allows enough nutrients to be absorbed while food moves through the intestines.

In fact, because of these benefits, there is a growing trend among some demographics where parents are taking up a vegan lifestyle in their homes. Chief among the reasons for this is to prevent their children from becoming overweight which could lead to a lifetime of adult obesity and its related health issues.

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However, it should be noted that if weight loss is the primary reason for adopting a vegan diet, at least one study points out why your plant-based diet might not be working for you—especially if you are not being strictly vegan during your dieting.

Vegan Children

Earlier nutrition research has warned that treating children like adults nutritionally can be a well-intentioned mistake. Part of the problem is that young children and adolescents are actively growing. It’s not just their weight and height, but also their neurocognitive and psychomotor development are also strongly influenced by the source, quantity, and quality of their nutrition.

In addition, there has been no clear evidence that a vegan diet started in early childhood actually confers a lasting health benefit. Moreover, a vegan diet could potentially put young children at nutritional risk of having an inadequate diet in terms of protein quality and energy as well as long-chain fatty acids, iron, zinc, vitamin D, iodine, calcium, and particularly vitamin B12. Such deficiencies can lead to severe and sometimes irreversible developmental disorders.

As such, these concerns have prompted some health experts to warn parents in vegan homes that there may be a need for providing their children with additional nutritional supplementation that includes vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, and other micronutrients crucial to ensure healthy physiologic development.

The Latest Study on Vegan Children

According to a recent news release from the University of Helsinki, a new study published in the international scientific journal EMBO Molecular Medicine found that concerns of children in vegan homes becoming nutritionally deficient has some scientific backing.

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In the study, 40 Finnish children with a median age 3.5 years were selected in a cross sectional study that included vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores whose diets were analyzed with questionnaires and food records. Blood tests were performed that analyzed cholesterol levels and other biomarkers of health including those focused on detecting vitamin insufficiencies.

What they found was that children on a fully vegan diet had significantly lower vitamin D levels compared to children without a special diet—despite having regular vitamin D supplementation and blood samples being collected in late summer. In addition, children from vegan homes also had lower vitamin A status than their non-vegan classmates. Also noted was that the cholesterol levels were low, including an essential amino acid and docosahexaenoic acid—a fatty acid with a central role in development of visual function.

From the data the researchers concluded that:

• Vitamin A and D status of vegan children requires special attention.

• Dietary recommendations for children cannot be extrapolated from adult vegan studies.

• Longitudinal studies on infant‐onset vegan diets are warranted.


"Our results indicate that the health effects of strict diets on children cannot be extrapolated from studies on adults. In addition to vitamin D intake, attention must be paid to adequate intake of vitamin A and protein from various sources
," stated Topi Hovinen, MD a co-author of the study.

An Alternative Approach for Vegan Parents

One suggestion for parents concerned that their vegan diet lifestyle might be nutritionally premature for their children is to consider making some dinner table concessions. Emaxhealth writer Daniele Dent-Breen wrote an informative article that considers the value of a Mediterranean diet for vegans that offers the best of both worlds nutritionally, and could possibly prevent nutritional deficiencies from occurring in children from strictly-vegan homes.

Top 5 Prime Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians

For more news about diets and dieting, be sure to follow a new series of articles on how to lose weight quickly.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Ajale from Pixabay

References:

Vegan diet significantly remodels metabolism in young children: Statuses of Vitamin D and A require special attention” University of Helsinki news release 21 Jan. 2020.

Vegan diet in young children remodels metabolism and challenges the statuses of essential nutrients” EMBO Molecular Medicine (2021) e13492.DOI: doi.org/10.15252/emmm.202013492 Topi Hovinen, Liisa Korkalo, Riitta Freese, Essi Skaffari, Pirjo Isohanni, Mikko Niemi, Jaakko Nevalainen, Helena Gylling, Nicola Zamboni, Maijaliisa Erkkola, Anu Suomalainen.

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