When we talk about being healthy here, we refer to whether or not a diet is nutritionally adequate for a child’s growth and development. In this sense, it is perfectly possible for a vegan, or plant-based, diet to be healthy for kids if it is well planned, with the awareness of nutrients and their sources, the inclusion of lots of plant-based diversity and fortified foods and supplements. In this article we’ll tell you how!
The number of vegans in Great Britain has quadrupled since 2014, with 600,000, or the equivalent of 1.16% of the population, identifying as vegan in 2019. Additionally, more than 400.000 people all over the world signed up for Veganuary in 2020, taking the pledge to follow a vegan diet the whole month. Most of the subscribers coming from the UK!
What is the difference between a vegan and a plant-based diet?
A vegan diet is one free of any meat, dairy, eggs, or other products of animal origin. People choose to go vegan for a variety of reasons, including ethical, environmental and health concerns. A plant-based diet, in contrast, is a diet where the majority of foods eaten are plants but some animal foods may still be included.
Given the increasing numbers going vegan, we need to ensure that there is accurate information and guidelines on how to follow a well balanced vegan diet – in every stage of life.
In 2005 the British Nutrition Foundation stated that a child can grow and develop well on a vegan diet if the diet is carefully planned and parents are equipped with sufficient nutrition knowledge.
“Careful dietary planning is needed for infants who are weaned onto vegan diets to ensure that adequate energy, essential fatty acids, protein, calcium and foods fortified with vitamin B12 (or supplements), are included.”
“Studies of UK vegetarian and vegan children have revealed that their growth and development are within the normal range” – F. Phillips, (2005). Vegetarian nutrition. British Nutrition Foundation
The importance of having good knowledge of nutrients and their plant-based sources to meet a child’s nutritional needs is emphasised by the fact the German nutrition society advises against a vegan diet for children, owing to the risks of nutrient deficiencies.
The period from childhood through to adolescence presents unique challenges from a nutritional perspective, with requirements for many nutrients raised to optimise growth and development. The majority of nutrients are found in plant foods but given they are either in small amounts or in few foods, it’s important to know what they are and where to find them! Below are the key nutrients to consider and where to find them:
Tips for a vegan lifestyle with kids
Along with increased numbers of people exploring vegan and plant-based diets, there has been an influx of plant-based and vegan products on our supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. In 2018, the UK launched more vegan products than any nation. This means that along with awareness of what foods to offer our kids to ensure a nutritionally adequate diet, it is possible for a plant-based diet to also be accessible and convenient.
Here are our top tips of how to do #veganuary without compromising on nutrition:
- Swat up! There’s lots of information out there so make sure you’re seeking help from reliable sources when it comes to going vegan
- use resources like Pinterest to help make classic family meals vegan friendly: like a vegan bolognese – follow Mia & Ben there for more easy recipes!
- Monitor your child’s growth and development and if you ever have concerns seek help from your healthcare practitioner
- You don’t have to go the whole hog! Why not try increasing plant-based foods rather than removing animal-based foods completely if you are not sure. Remember though that plant-based diets also require an awareness of the nutrients discussed in this article
- since vegan diets are rich in nuts and seeds ensure that these are ground for younger children (choking hazard)
- the UK government recommends a daily vitamin supplement containing vitamins A, C and D for all children aged 6 months to 5 years (this is not required if a child is fed at least 500ml infant formula per day)
- A daily vitamin D supplement is recommended for everyone, including children from 5 years, during the months of September through to March.
- it’s advisable to have a B12 supplement if there is no meat or fish in the diet
- There are also lots of fortified foods (nut milk, cereals) to choose from that help you meet the recommended intake of certain nutrients, so always check the labels.
Have you ever thought of raising your kids vegan or including more vegan family meals in their diets? If you have any questions on a plant-based diet for your infant, don’t hesitate to contact Mia & Ben’s nutrition scientists and dietitians team.