Is a vegan diet safe for children? It depends.

vegandietskids_largeThe number of families raising their children on raw or vegan diets is growing in popularity – in fact, over 3.7 million Americans identify as vegan. On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal; after all, what’s a little veganism compared to the paleo diet, gluten-free craze, low-sugar trend, or the ever-popular low-fat or low-carb diets? 

Still, it raises a loaded question: Should you raise your kids on a completely vegan diet? 

Although veganism is a popular way of eating, feeding children a vegan diet is a controversial move. There are mixed messages out there when it comes to kids and vegan diets, and it’s understandable if you’re confused. 

The key is having a well thought out diet monitored by a registered dietitian.

What are the benefits of raising kids on a vegan diet?

According to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. 

Vegetarian or vegan diets in childhood and adolescence can aid in the establishment of lifelong healthful eating patterns and can offer some important nutritional advantages. 

Vegetarian children and adolescents have lower intakes of cholesterol, saturated fat and total fat, and higher intakes of fruit, vegetables and fiber than non-vegetarians. They’re also reported to consume more fiber, iron, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C than non-vegetarians. They consume more fruits and vegetables and fewer sweets, fast foods and salty snacks, compared to other children who don’t follow a vegetarian diet.

Is it safe? Yes, if kids get the right nutrients. 

Creating a well-rounded vegan diet is especially important when it comes to children, who need certain nutrients to develop as best they can.

It can be hard for adults who are in complete control of their diets and understand potential vegan pitfalls to get all the nutrients they need, much less kids. 

There have been studies suggesting that vegan children tend to be slightly smaller in weight and height (but within the normal ranges of the standards). Poor growth in children has primarily been seen in those on very restricted diets. 

Make sure kids on a vegan diet get these key nutrients.

Key nutrients of concern for adolescent vegetarians or vegans include calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and vitamin B-12. Infants and toddlers have higher protein needs, because they’re developing and growing so quickly; however, with a well-planned diet, these nutrients are able to be met through food and/or supplementation.

The Vegetarian Resource Group provides a “My Plate” version for vegans, providing a simple well-balanced visual to ensure inclusion of all the important nutrients and food groups.

Before you start your child on a vegan diet:

If you're considering putting your child on a vegan diet, I strongly encourage you to consult with a registered dietitian specializing in vegetarian nutrition to guide you, as well as ensure that your child is adequately meeting his/her nutritional needs. Without this important guidance, it’s all too easy to feed children a vegan diet that skimps on the things they need.