The British Dietetic Association sees veganism as being suitable for all ages, yet experts are still in debate as to whether or not veganism is suitable when raising a child.
Dietitians Judy Moore and Ana Kristina Skrapac raise their concerns on children with vegan diets that can lead to nutrition deficiencies due to the reduced energy intake and faltering growth. The first year of life is the most important for development and inadequate nutrients can cause permanent problems.
“Nutritional deficiencies are common for vegans, particularly iron, B12, iodine,” she toldThe Independent. “Growth restriction may also occur if the diet is not optimally providing fats, protein and total energy. Infants have high requirements for nutrients and energy with vegan alternatives often being low in energy. “
Another difficulty is protein. If a child eats meat and fish, it's easy to get all the right amino acids. But if a child is getting protein from pulses, the problem is that one type of bean might not provide every amino acid, so there has to be a good balance of pulses. In other words, a child who only eats chicken will get all the amino acids – but a child who only eats one type of bean won't.
The most challenging time for parents raising vegan children is when they are under five – although another crucial time is for girls around puberty when iron levels can dip.
But the risks of inadvertently malnourished a child aren't restricted to veganism. According to Claire Williamson of the British Nutrition Foundation, one of the mistakes parents can make is to assume, wrongly, that what's healthy for an adult is healthy for a child.
For example, semi-skimmed milk, low-fat foods and high-fibre foods may be best for adults, but under-fives need full-fat dairy products, while high-fibre roughage can fill them up too quickly, so they don't eat enough nutritious food.
Bahee Van de Bor argues in contrast, stating that these deficiencies can be supplemented. This can be done with either fortified foods - where nutrients like vitamin A, B, D, for example, are added to the foods - or yeast extracts.
Other nutrients, such as calcium and fatty acids by eating things like chia seeds, walnuts, dark greens and linseeds, can be incorporated into a baby’s diet once they start eating solid foods.
Given the endless studies linking saturated fats to cancer and cardiovascular disease, this could be a benefit in itself, with Bor explaining that vegan kids could “go on to benefit from reduced risk of heart disease, some types of cancer and type two diabetes as adults.
In addition, veganism demonstrates and teaches children about nutrition, healthy principles and ethics from an early age - they can decide whether or not they want to follow in the same path when they are older. In saying this, there is not that much difference between raising a child with animal products, vegetarian diets or veganism before that time comes - parents just need to make sure that they are educated in what they need to do to raise a healthy baby no matter which diet they choose.
“As a dietitian, I cannot see any reason why my children could not follow a vegan diet. When well planned, vegan diets can be nutritionally complete offering health benefits,” says de Bor.
Amanda Baker at the Vegan Society tells the Guardian that the real issue isn't whether a child's diet is vegan or not, or restricted or not – the important thing is whether it's healthy. "There are plenty of children who are eating a bad diet, and they're not vegan," she says. "Vegan parents have to plan their child's food carefully. Of course, there are pitfalls, but there are pitfalls for all parents and for any diet.
"The reality is that vegan parents are more likely to cook at home and are likely to be very knowledgeable about nutrition because they have had to make a lot of effort to follow the diet they do. Many of them follow a whole food diet and avoid trans-fats and too much salt. It's actually much easier for vegans and their children to meet the five-a-day guidelines than for other people."
Vegans, she says, are victims of the fact that many people, from doctors and health workers to social workers and other parents, are badly informed. "We've written to every GP's surgery in an attempt to make sure there's better information out there. Parents can come in for mistaken pressure from people with genuine concerns, simply because the issues aren't properly understood."
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