Are Vegan Diets Safe for Kids?
Following a vegan diet has become a very popular lifestyle choice for many families. Though people may have found it difficult to stick with a vegan lifestyle in the past, things have become much easier for vegans thanks to clearly labeled grocery ingredients and lots of vegan options both at the grocery store and at restaurants. With vegan foods and meals so much more accessible and scientific evidence showing benefits of vegan diets, it’s no wonder why more parents are deciding to raise their children vegan. Although the decision to raise children as vegan has become more popular, many people still wonder if vegan diets are safe for kids.
The short answer to the question of whether vegan diets are safe for kids is yes, but it’s not without caveats. Managing a vegan lifestyle for young children can be challenging for sure. Children will need to take certain supplements, and you should ask your child’s doctor or a nutritionist for guidance. According to Dinice Scheihing, an Oregon based Physician Assistant: “Veganism in children is difficult because they need to ingest quite a bit of plant-based protein. If undertaking a vegan diet, I recommend close supervision with a physician to follow the supplementation of vitamin B12 because the side effects of low B12 can be serious.”
According to FamilyEducation's Nutrition Expert, Michelle Routhenstein, MS RD CDE CDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Owner of Entirely Nourished, "Kids can safely follow a vegan diet if their meals and snacks are carefully planned out to obtain all the nutrients necessary for optimal growth and development. Specific nutrients that need to be monitored are vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc. I would recommend working with a Registered Dietitian initially to ensure your child is consuming a well balanced, nutrition dense diet before becoming strictly vegan to avoid any delays in proper growth for their age."
Here is what you need to know when considering whether you would like to raise your child as a vegan:
What does it mean to be vegan?
According to Healthline, “Veganism is a way of eating and living that excludes the exploitation of and cruelty to animals as much as possible.” Vegans do their best to avoid meat, dairy, eggs, and any other foods that have animal origins.
Why do people choose to be vegan or to raise their children vegan?
Many people appreciate the long term health benefits that are linked with being vegan as outlined in various studies:
- Studies show that vegan diets tend to provide more fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds. They also appear to be richer in potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamins A, C and E.
- Vegans tend to have lower blood sugar levels.
- A vegan diet may protect against certain cancers.
- Veganism is linked with a lower risk of heart disease.
In addition, veganism can help to fight climate change and protect the environment. According to studies shared by PETA, vegans have the smallest carbon footprint. They go on to share the following: “The U.N. believes that a global shift toward plant-based food is vital if we are to combat the worst effects of climate change. Globally, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation systems combined.”
With the prevalence of health benefits and positive effects on our planet, it’s no wonder more families are embracing a vegan lifestyle.
The Cons of a Vegan Lifestyle
Although vegan foods and meals are much more readily available these days, children will need to depend on their parents and health professionals for regular guidance on how to best care for their nutrition and health. Sarah McCormick, MS, RDN advises the following based on her experience as a dietician:
“Vegetarian and vegan diets can be a healthy option for children. Consulting a Registered Dietician to help choose plant-based foods that provide adequate nutrients commonly found in animal products such as calcium, iron, protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and choline is advised”
In addition to considering the outside help that you will need to raise your child vegan, there are also social situations to consider. Just like with any food allergy or special diet, you will need to be clear about your child’s dietary needs when it comes to school events, parties, and playdates. Helping your child to understand the reasons your family is choosing this lifestyle is important so that they will feel okay with instances where you might bring a vegan cupcake to a birthday party for her rather than taking part in the cake eating with most others. Having that larger understanding will also help your child learn to speak up for herself to ask about meal and snack ingredients when visiting the homes of others and events outside of your home. The more she understands and believes in the reasons behind her vegan diet, the easier and more long lasting this choice will be.
How do I find vegan options for my child?
Pretty much all grocery stores carry vegan options these days. You no longer have to visit specialty health food stores to find good options.
Also, get used to reading ingredients. At the end of every ingredient list on a grocery item, any potential allergens will be listed including milk and eggs. This is the quickest way to verify whether something is vegan or not.
Ask your server about vegan options as soon as you sit down at a restaurant. Sometimes they will have separate menus for vegans or vegan items will be identified with a special symbol on a menu. If these options aren’t present, your server should be able to speak to the chef for you, or in certain cases, they can send a chef out to speak with you about your child’s dietary needs before ordering.
With the right resources, vegan diets are safe for kids. Taking the time to do your homework on veganism, find the right supplements, and connect with helpful health professionals is essential though. Fortunately, we live during a time where resources and options are plentiful, so it is certainly worth exploring veganism as an option for your family if protecting animals or if the environmental and health benefits interest you.
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