The Littlest Vegans: Children On A Vegan Diet
You love your vegan diet. You know it has been great for your own health. Perhaps your lifelong struggle with your weight has been solved.
Perhaps chronic health problems have been cured by your healthy diet. Perhaps you feel better than ever.
Now, you’re thinking of having children, and you would love for them to grow up with a the benefits of this healthful diet and lifestyle.
But don’t kids need extra calcium? Will they get enough protein? Won’t they feel they are “missing out” when they can’t eat all of the foods that kids usually eat?
The great news is that your children can enjoy the benefits of a vegan diet including better health and wellness.
And it’s never too early to begin helping them to develop the great habits that will help them to enjoy vibrant health throughout their lives.
According to the doctors at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Vegetarian diets provide excellent nutrition for children at all stages of childhood, from birth through adolesence.”
In fact, meat-based diets can create some developmental problems, including early onset of puberty and long-term health conditions.
"Vegetarian diets provide excellent nutrition for children at all stages of childhood, from birth through adolesence."
Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine
Alternatively, children on vegan diets had mean IQs well above the statistical average, as well as enjoying better health by a variety of measures.
Although their growth rates were somewhat slower than children in the study who ate meat, the eventual average height of the two sets of children were comparable.
One of the biggest concerns people posit regarding veganism is protein acquisition, especially for children. However, a plant-based diet offers ample sources of protein, and higher quality protein than that found in meat-based diet.
In fact, children raised on plant-based proteins get the growth benefits without the negative long-term health outcomes associated with meat-based diets, like arteriosclerosis which has been identified as early as the teenage years in meat-eaters.
Benefits Of Kids Being Vegan
There are a variety of ways in which vegan diet is beneficial, and a vegan childhood can ensure that many of those benefits are enjoyed throughout life.
Rather than having to recover health as an adult through the introduction of a vegan diet, children raised in this way can enjoy these as lifelong benefits.
You may have noticed the significant uptick in allergies in our modern society.
Processed foods and their variety of cross-contaminants, chemicals in furniture, textiles, and building materials, as well as environmental pollutants all contribute to a higher incidence of allergies and allergy-like sensitivities.
THE GOOD NEWS?
A vegan diet is associated with a lower incidence of allergies due to a decrease in the incidence of leukotrienes found in animal and animal-derived products.
In addition, a vegan diet is associated with lower rates of systemic inflammation overall, which prevents the body from overreacting to irritants and allergens.
Children raised on a traditional meat-based diet often experience difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, especially as they transition into puberty.
Because a meat-based diet is often associated with earlier onset of puberty, this can mean developing weight problems that continue to plague children throughout life.
THE GOOD NEWS?
A vegan diet is not only associated with slower, more gradual growth and later onset of puberty, it is also associated with more consistent weight maintenance due to its emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods.
In addition, systemic inflammation has also been associated with metabolic disorders that can create an inability for the body to properly metabolize foods and manage weight. The lower inflammation associated with vegan diets can prevent these long-term problems.
In the words of Dr. Reed Mangels, co-author of the definitive vegan health guide Simply Vegan, communities which follow a vegan lifestyle provide ample evidence that vegan pregnancies can be happy and healthy.
Understanding the mother’s health may help indicate minor adjustments that need to be made to increase the health of the diet in pregnancy, like adding fats from nuts and seeds or adding calories overall to a diet that tends to be lower in calories.
According to the American Dietetic Association, breastfeeding is not only healthy, it is a desirable choice and improves outcomes for both mother and child.
A well-planned vegetarian diet, according to them, is appropriate at all stages of life, including for pregnant and lactating mothers.
Here is a list of the most important nutrients to focus on for you and your child.
Like all children, vegan children get the bulk of their calcium from milk. Because soy milk offers more calcium, vegan dietician Ginny Messina recommends it over alternatives like nut milks to ensure optimal calcium levels.
Vegan milks are fortified with Vitamin D just like their cow’s milk counterparts, so adequate D levels should not be a concern.
Because this is the only element that cannot be produced or derived from plant-based foods, vitamin B12 should be supplemented in all vegans.
As long as breastfeeding mothers are properly supplementing their own diets, their breastmilk will provide sufficient B vitamins for their infant.
Children who are past breastfeeding should begin to consume a chewable B12 vitamin supplement at 10 mcg for toddlers and 15-20 mcg for school age children.
Primarily derived from oily fish, some studies have shown that DHA is an important part of brain health in infants.
There are a variety of algae-based supplements that can be taken by lactating mothers to boost this fat in their breast milk, and some soy milk is fortified with plant-derived DHA.
There are a variety of fun vegan meals and snacks that will help children embrace the possibilities of a well-rounded vegan diet. These include:
Tasty Snacks For Your Kid
- Bean burritos
- Vegan cheese quesadillas
- Fruit and vegetable smoothies
- Veggie pizzas
- Oatmeal Raisin cookies
- Tofu “egg” salad
- Apple crisp
- Oven fries
- Veggies with hummus dips
Your child can enjoy lifelong health and the many benefits of a vegan diet from birth.
And the good news is that their vegan lifestyle can be enjoyable as well, with the many vegan alternatives and fun food possibilities available today in health and wellness-oriented markets.
Loving your family and caring for your children means giving them the best, and that may mean a great, healthful vegan diet.
- Mangels, Reed. “Pregnancy and the Vegan Diet.” Simply Vegan, 5th Edition.
- Messina, Jenny. The Vegan RD: Thoughts on being vegan. A dietician’s perspective. 30 Dec. 2015.
- “Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 109:7, July 2009. 1266-1282.
- “Vegetarian Diets for Children: Right from the Start.” Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.