Should my kid be vegan?
Overall, vegan diets can be a very healthful way of eating. But is it an ideal diet for growing kids?
Hopefully, when you think of a vegan diet it is one with a wide variety of colorful vegetables, fruit, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Not just a plate void of animal products, like meat, dairy, eggs, etc.
So, if we are eating a diet rich in the foods listed above and little to no processed junk food, what are the down sides to this way of eating?
Most vegan diets tend to be lower in fat and protein if the person is not conscious to consume adequate amounts. Fats, as a rule, are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Nature itself doesn’t usually make ‘bad fats’. It is usually after we process, extract or transform fats when they become less desirable.
Consider including these high-quality fat sources such as:
- Flaxseeds (ground fresh and stored in fridge is best), nuts, seeds, avocado, nut butter, etc.
- Cooking fats:
- High heat – Organic virgin coconut oil, Avocado oil
- Medium heat – Olive oil
- Raw – Olive oil, grapeseed, safflower oil, flaxseed oil.
Protein is another macronutrient that can be low among vegan diets. A good minimum intake for protein would be about 0.75-0.8 grams per lb of body weight.
For example, if you weigh about 140 lbs you should eating about 105 grams of protein per day. What does that look like in a day’s worth of vegan eating?
|140 lb person|
|Breakfast||3/4 C oatmeal, 2 Tbs of natural peanut butter, 1 glass of almond milk.||15g protein|
|Lunch||4 oz Tempeh, 1 C kidney, 1/2 C brown rice, 3/4 C cooked broccoli.||43g protein|
|Dinner||4 oz Seitan, 3/4 C winter squash, 1/2 black beans, 2 C raw spinach.||34g protein|
|Snack||2 Tbs mixed nuts.|
1/3 C edamame beans
|Totals:||100g Protein, 182g carbs, 50g fat.|
1510 Total Calories
This meal plan gives you about 100 grams of protein, 182 grams carbs, 50 grams of fat and about 1510 total calories.
More protein is needed for those engaging in regular exercise, especially if doing resistance training or if weight/muscle gain is your goal.
Some vegan protein sources are: seitan, tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, beans, nutritional yeast, spelt, teff, hempseed, peas.
Along with these above “macronutrients” we also have to think about our “micronutrients”. These are vitamins and minerals that our bodies need (in smaller amounts) to function optimally.
Common nutrients lacking in a vegan diet are vitamin B12, riboflavin (B2), vitamin D, zinc, calcium, omega 3’s.
Some vegan foods high in these crucial nutrients include:
|Micronutrient||Vegan Food source||Vegetarian Food source|
|Vitamin B12||Nutritional yeast, fortified cereals/grains||Yogurt, milk-based, plant-based milk, cheese, eggs.|
|Riboflavin (B2)||Soy milk, cereals, mushrooms, spinach, almonds, avocados.||Milk, eggs, fish.|
|Vitamin D||Sun exposure, Supplementation||Fish|
|Zinc||beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, oats, wheat germ, nutritional yeast.|
|Calcium||Soy, beet greens, chard**, kale**, collard greens**, mustard greens**, rice, oats, tahini, sesame seeds, lentils, rhubarb, dried fruit,|
|Omega 3 fatty acids||Flaxseeds, hemp seeds, soy, walnuts, chi, brussels sprouts,||Fish, eggs|
But what does the research say?
While vegan diets have numerous health promoting effects such as potentially lowering LDL cholesterol and balancing blood lipids overall (Resnicow et al, 1991). Studies repeatedly suggest a vegan diet adopted by a child often results in growth and development rates in the lower reference ranges. This means these children tend to be smaller in height and stature (Schürmann, Kersting and Alexy, 2017).
In an older study of 23 vegan children followed from ages one to five years, the kids grew normally but again tended to be smaller in height and build. They also showed a low dietary intake of vitamin B12, B2, vitamin D, calcium, and total calories (Sanders, 1988; Sanders, & Purves, 1981).
Finally, a German study that followed infants for the first year of life and compared groups of vegetarian diets and ‘mixed diets’.
“Children on pure vegan diet need ongoing elaborate dietary strategies and continuous supplementation at any age, similar to nutritional management in children with metabolic disorders. A vegan diet is disadvised during all periods with intense growth and development.”
- Vegan diets can be very healthful but care should be taken to avoid nutrient deficiencies.
- Vegan diets are not ideal for children as they are in a period of significant growth and development which drastically increases their nutritional needs.
- My general dietary advice: eat mostly plants, lots of colorful vegetables, some fruit, nuts, seeds, very little sugar or refined processed products.
- Remembering food quality! The quality of the food drastically impacts the nutritional content of the food. Organic produce when possible. Organic, grass-fed and finished beef. Free range, pastured poultry or eggs.
If you have any more question about vegan, other dietary approaches or how to supplement a healthy vegan diet. Contact one of our clinics to talk with our Nutrition & Fitness advisors today!
– Ali Parkerson, BS NTP
Kersting, M., Kalhoff, H., Melter, M., & Luecke, T. (2018). Vegetarian Diets in Children?-An Assessment from Pediatrics and Nutrition Science. Deutsche medizinische Wochenschrift (1946), 143(4), 279-286. https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.uws.idm.oclc.org/pubmed/29471576
Schürmann, S., Kersting, M., & Alexy, U. (2017). Vegetarian diets in children: a systematic review. European journal of nutrition, 56(5), 1797-1817. https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.uws.idm.oclc.org/pubmed/28299420
Sanders, T. A. (1988). Growth and development of British vegan children. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 48(3), 822-825. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/48/3/822/4716540
Sanders, T. A., & Purves, R. (1981). An anthropometric and dietary assessment of the nutritional status of vegan preschool children. Journal of human nutrition, 35(5), 349-357. https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/7288184
Resnicow, K., Barone, J., Engle, A., Miller, S., Haley, N. J., Fleming, D., & Wynder, E. (1991). Diet and serum lipids in vegan vegetarians: a model for risk reduction. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 91(4), 447-453. https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/1849932