Now, maybe I’m wrong, but I had always imagined vegans to be deep thinkers, who did not approach such a momentous change in lifestyle lightly. Surely they would look into their new vegan diets in great detail, ensuring they were receiving all the nutrients that an adult body requires to ensure a healthy, balanced diet. And I was doubly sure that if the offspring of vegans were going to be subject to a plant-based diet, even more research would be undertaken to ensure their children would grow up healthy.
But a recent report by the British Nutrition Foundation has advised vegan parents to consult with their GP to ensure that their children were receiving the correct nutrients to ensure their health. The GP may also offer nutritional supplements to prevent illnesses such as anaemia. Again, I would have thought that vegan parents would have, perhaps, a greater knowledge of the vegan diet than the average GP. But at the heart of their observations, the Foundation is correct to advise parents to ensure balance, most especially if dairy is not to be part of that diet.
The report, prompted by the rise in veganism and vegetarianism, along with concerns over the popularity of sugary fruit drinks, states “Well planned vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy for young children, but if you are considering a vegan diet for your child then it is a good idea to visit your GP to ask for advice about supplementation as it can be difficult for young children to get vitamin A and B12, riboflavin, iron, zinc, calcium and iodine.”
The guide does go on to give sound advice about bringing balance into vegan diets for young children. It recommends that children aged 1 to 4 have five portions a day of starchy foods, such as bread, cereal, potatoes and pasta, along with five portions or more of fruit and vegetables. Three portions of protein, such as chickpeas and dahl, should be given per day, to ensure the child has enough iron and zinc. But the report also recommends three portions a day of dairy which, obviously, a vegan diet does not allow. And this is where consultation with a GP could be beneficial, as supplements may ensure the child has sufficient intake of vitamin B12, iron, iodine and, of course, calcium. However, there are a variety of food group alternatives which will ensure your child will receive these nutrients, such as dark green vegetables, lentils, beans and pulses. The NHS website gives good guidance about these food groups and what a child should be eating.
On the subject of fruit drinks, the report is clear that while such drinks can be a good source of vitamins, they are also high in sugar and the acidity could be damaging to young teeth. It therefore recommends these drinks be only taken at mealtimes and should be diluted. Sugary, fizzy drinks are, of course, a big no-no.
In all, the report is perhaps fair in recommending a visit to a GP to discuss a child’s vegan diet, as the health and well-being of the child should rightly be the greatest concern. But I would hope that, given the knowledge a vegan parent is bound to already have, common sense and sound research would lead to a beneficial and healthy vegan diet for children. There maybe a multitude of scare stories on the internet about giving a child a vegan diet, but with the proper information at hand, it can be ensured that a child will grow up healthy and strong.
Check out our recipe section for some interesting ideas for dishes that are sure to appeal to children! And for Dr Michael Greger’s advice about plant-based diets for kids, have a look at this entertaining and informative YouTube video.