VEGAN DIETS ARE SAFE FOR CHILDREN

by drnieman on May 9, 2017

in Monthly

The exact percentage of children who are raised on a vegan diet is uncertain.

Some estimates claim as many as one in 40 adults are vegan. This means that they are very likely, but not absolutely certain, to use a vegan diet in their homes to feed all family members. The interest in going vegan has increased sharply over the past decade.

There are numerous reasons why more and more people are opting to follow a strict vegan diet: some are motivated only by health reasons while others believe that the environmental impact of raising animals is unsustainable. The argument has been made that if the choice is between driving an electrically power car and being vegan, then being vegan will have a greater impact.

On the Good Food Institute’s website (www.gfi.org) there are numerous resources about alternatives to meat-based nutrition. The founder of GFI, is the highly respected and influential Bruce Friedrich, a man who has devoted his life to reforming animal agriculture and innovating the future of food and food systems. (I had the opportunity to hear Friedrich being interviewed on a recent Rich Roll podcast and for those interested in the future innovation of remaking meat, this podcast is worth listening to)

Not all scientists are excited about the safety of vegan diets in children. In a Slate article written in 2016, Melinda Wenner Moyer questioned if kids can actually get the nutrients they need on a vegan diet.

Ms. Moyer raised concerns about low Vitamin B12 levels, which if present before age six, can lead to cognitive problems during the teenage years. She questioned if children raised on a vegan diet will be shorter and pointed out that veganism leads to low iron which can cause long-term neurological handicaps. Moyer raised the issue of vegan kids getting too much fiber and not enough fat; explained that vegan-raised children are at risk for lower calcium levels due to plant-based foods being high in oxalates which inhibit calcium absorption and finally found it disturbing that plant-based foods, according to some critics, provide less essential amino acids than animal-based foods.

In a methodical rebuttal (www.theveganrd.com/2016/04/vegan-diets-are-safe-for-children.html) a dietitian experienced in help families raise children on a vegan diet was able to put all the concerns raised by Ms. Moyers to rest, by using more recent scientific studies.

The main theme throughout these debates is that much of the research questioning the safety of vegan diets in children date back to the mid- to late 1980’s. The article suggesting that vegan kids were shorter actually referred to the toddler stage and conveniently forgot to add that by the high school years the differences were insignificant.

Dr. Reed Mangels, a RD with a PhD, and one of the world’s top experts in raising children vegan, has written numerous books on the topic. Dr. Mangels blogs regularly on www.onegreenplanet.org and serves as an advisor to the Vegetarian Resource Group (www.vrg.org) She has written extensively on how to feed vegan infants, toddlers, vegan children and vegan teens and many vegan families consider her to be one of the best resources on this topic.

One of North America’s top advocates for plant-based nutrition is Dr. Neal Barnard, President of the Physicians Committee for responsible Medicine (www.pcrm.org) This organization is well-known for advocating for healthier school lunches and keeping government accountable —at least in the USA. Dr. Barnard is also the author of numerous books on the vegan lifestyle and Barnard’s latest book, The Cheese Trap, is touted as a book which will help readers break their cheese “addiction” without giving up their favorite foods.

Over the past thirty years of caring for children and youth, I have noticed a definite trend of a minority of families doing their due diligence when it comes to their nutritional habits. These parents never complain that being vegan is too difficult or expensive.

Although their motive may be to do their part for reducing the carbon footprints caused by consuming animal products, the main motive remains a healthier lifestyle; a quest to reduce obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cancer and a desire to save the health care system additional dollars. As a result a vegan diet has become less of an elitist diet. It may however take many more decades before it becomes mainstream.

Unfortunately many medical schools continue to graduate doctors who have had very little training in the benefits of plant-based nutrition. The good news however is that regardless of this fact, many families and RDs have competently taken things in their own hands by promoting and explaining the benefits of a vegan diet—starting safely at a young age.

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