Are Vegan Diets Healthy for Children?

 

A student sent me the links below in defense of the vegan diet, after I taught the Evolutionary Eating seminar at Boucher Institute. Below are my comments to her:

“After reviewing the materials it seems they are all basically saying the same thing: with considerable care and attenuation it is possible to be healthy and to raise healthy children without animal foods. It takes a deliberate effort and some attention to quality and quantity of foods, but in principle children can be successfully reared on a vegan diet providing sufficient care is taken to avoid the known pitfalls of protein insufficiency, a bulky diet and vitamin B12 deficiency. High fibre diets may inhibit mineral absorption.”

This is exactly what I had said in the lecture, with 2 caveats:

  1. Many / most patients will not take the time to make the optimal choices each day. It takes a concerted effort and  and requires special menu planning, and it is highly probable our patients won’t sustain a very high quality vegan diet all the time
  2. Veganism is not the ‘natural’ diet for humans. While we can and should /must eat lots of plant foods (preferably leafy greens) we are also designed and ‘hard wired’ to receive flesh foods on a regular basis. We can choose to rise above this on religious / spiritual grounds, but the evolutionary facts are that we are omnivores not herbivores.

It is critically important (perhaps the most pertinent part of my lecture) that we learn to differentiate between facts and beliefs. Facts are what our patients want; beliefs are for personal consumption.

Related Research Links:

“healthy infants who are breast-fed by women who eat adequate vegan and vegetarian diets thrive in early infancy.”

“vegetarian’s breast milk contained fewer environmental contaminants and indirect additives, such as dieldrin and beta-benzene hexachloride, than did milk from omnivores.”

Vegetarian children: appropriate and inappropriate diets, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
http://www.ajcn.org/content/48/3/811.full.pdf+html

“Nutrient intakes of vegan children are generally sufficient and sometimes exceed those of omnivore children. Sanders and Manning (3) found that British vegan school-aged children had higher intakes of fiber and all vitamins and minerals except calcium compared to omnivore children. Similarly, a study of vegan preschoolers in Tennessee (4) also found that average intakes of protein, vitamins, and minerals exceeded recommended levels, with the exception of calcium (5), (6), (7) and (8).

Older studies conducted with children following more extreme versions of vegan diets should not form the basis for conclusions about adequacy of vegan diets today because most of those studies focused on families on highly restrictive diets not typical of more mainstream vegan families. Also, a much larger variety of nutrient-rich and fortified vegan foods are available today.

Vegan diets may reduce risk of some chronic diseases of adulthood that have their origins in childhood. Vegan children have lower intakes of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than omnivore children who typically have intakes of saturated fat and total fat that exceed the levels suggested in the Dietary Guidelines. Vegan children also have higher intakes of fruits and vegetables as evidenced by their higher intakes of vitamin C (3) and (4). Finally, vegan diets may expose children to a greater variety of whole plant foods, which may help to establish healthful lifelong eating habits.”

Journal of American Dietetic Association, Considerations in Planning Vegan Diets: Children
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002822301001675

“Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life-cycle including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.”

American Dietetic Association in Can J Diet Pract Res.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12826028?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=2&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed
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“If known pitfalls are avoided, the growth and development of children reared on both vegan and vegetarian diets appears normal.”

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vegetarian Diets and Children
http://www.ajcn.org/content/59/5/1176S.short

 “The results of this study show that children can be successfully reared on a vegan diet providing sufficient care is taken to avoid the known pitfalls of a bulky diet and vitamin B12 deficiency”

Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, The Growth and Development of Vegan Children
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-277X.1992.tb00129.x/abstract

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