Vegan diets are becoming more and more popular. Social media influencers and celebrities constantly promote them, so it’s no wonder they pique the public’s interest. Moreover, the American Dietetic Association has concluded that vegetarian and vegan diets might have a role to play in preventing and treating specific diseases. It also stated that if planned correctly, you can safely apply these diets during all life cycle stages. And this includes infancy and childhood.
Nevertheless, you should know that this topic is still quite controversial. Doctors and nutritionists still haven’t reached a general agreement in this sense. So, is a vegan diet healthy for children? Learn more about it to make sure you’re developing healthy family habits and practices.
Is a vegan diet healthy for children? It depends…
Adults choose to adopt a vegan diet for many reasons. Protecting the environment, the animals, and one’s health are among the top three reasons. However, when it comes to raising children, their health is the number one priority. Therefore, you should always consult with a doctor before making any changes to your children’s diet. The main reason for this is that young children have different nutritional needs than adults. Just because a vegan diet works perfectly for you, doesn’t necessarily mean it will have the same effect on your child.
Furthermore, there are some situations when your children shouldn’t go vegan at all. Here are some examples:
If you had a premature birth, then your child will need a lot more protein and fat to grow and catch up with other children his/her age.
If your child has a medical condition that prevents him/her from properly digesting food or eating, then a vegan diet is not a good idea.
If your child presents a high risk of developing food allergies, you should avoid the vegan diet. It’s best to expose the child to allergens early on to reduce the risk.
What should a healthy vegan diet include?
As previously mentioned, children have different nutritional needs than you. So, is a vegan diet healthy for children? Only if it provides them with the appropriate intake of nutrients. But be advised that it won’t be easy. This requires a lot of research and attention to detail. However, a good tip is to make vegan meal plans for an entire week. This will help you save time and energy. Now, let’s consider what you should pay close attention to.
No. 1 Protein
Protein is essential for your child’s development. It helps with muscle building, cell generation, and regeneration, boosting the immune system and metabolism, as well as energy production. Animal products are richer in proteins than plant products. Therefore, it’s much easier for your child to get the right protein intake from animal products. However, if you want to stick with the vegan diet, then choose good sources of protein. These include whole grains, soy products, nuts, and legumes.
No. 2 Calories
As adults, we learn to be careful about how many calories we eat per day. This is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing obesity. However, children need calories to grow and produce energy. Of course, the right intake of calories depends on your kids’ age and size, as well as how active they are. After all, we see obesity in children as well. Still, plant products usually contain fewer calories than animal ones. Therefore, you should make sure your kids are getting enough. Then, as they grow, you can discuss nutrition with your kids. This way, you can help them develop healthy eating habits.
No. 3 Essential minerals
During childhood, calcium is essential for healthy bone and tooth growth. The problem is that dairy products represent the richest source of calcium. Therefore, if you’re raising your children on a vegan diet, you must find alternatives. Some of the best options include soy foods, beans, lentils, almonds, tahini butter, and bok choy.
Another crucial mineral for children’s development is iron. Iron promotes the growth of new blood cells and helps transport oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. The primary concern is that even though plant products contain iron, the body doesn’t absorb it well. Thus, apart from dark leafy greens, seeds, and beans, you should also give your children iron supplements.
Zinc is essential for strengthening the immune system, maintaining gut health, and supporting cognitive development. Some of the best sources of zinc include seeds, tofu, and beans.
No. 4 Key vitamins
Vitamin B12 ensures proper brain development and red blood cell growth. But it also has many other health benefits, such as promoting bone, eye, and skin health. Therefore, you should ensure your children get the proper vitamin B12. The problem is that you rarely find it in plant products. Thus, looking for fortified cereals and soy milk would be best. Moreover, it would help if you considered administering your child a multivitamin. These products are great because they usually contain some essential minerals as well.
Vitamin D strengthens bones and boosts the immunity system. We all know that the sun is a great source of vitamin D. However, we also know how dangerous long sun exposure is. Therefore, most of our vitamin D intake should come from our diet. When it comes to small children, there are lots of fortified dairy products containing vitamin D. But since this is not possible with a vegan diet, your best options are supplements.
In the past, people would strongly criticize you for even considering raising your children vegan. However, times have changed. Even if there’s debate on this topic, there’s also a lot of new evidence to consider. So, is a vegan diet healthy for children? Well, as you’ve seen, it can be as long as you ensure the correct nutrient intake. Nevertheless, it would be best if you never make this decision alone. You should always consult with your children’s doctor first because there are certain circumstances where you should avoid a vegan diet.