A balanced and healthy diet for children is the same as for adults but the difference is the amount of specific nutrients (MayoClinic.com). Children require protein for the repair of tissue cells and muscle growth (WebMD.com) which can be found in seafood, meat, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds. Fruits for reducing constipation and lowering chances of heart disease(ChooseMyPlate.com) (any fruit produce that doesn’t have added sugar). A variety of vegetables for the healthy formation of red blood cells and to maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels (Healthyeating.com) (preferably onions that are low is sodium). Grains for heart health and healthy bowel movements (Healthyeating.com) (whole grains such and wild rice, quinoa, oatmeal,…).
Dairy for bone growth and bone strength (fat-free or low-fat products, or fortified soy beverages). Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose (vegansociety.com). Many individuals who choose to follow a vegan diet do so because of the reduced environmental impact it has compared to most other diets. The ecological and carbon footprint of a vegan diet is less than an ovo-lacto-vegetarian and omnivore diet (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). Vegans commonly suffer from iron, Vitamin B12 and iodine deficiencies. And for a child to grow and develop properly they require a balanced diet which consists of proteins, carbohydrates which supply the child with a source of energy (rice, bread, potatoes, etc.). Fats which are another source of energy that are easily stored in a child’s body (oil, whole-milk dairy products and nuts). And vital vitamins and minerals such as calcium (found in tofu, green leafy vegetables and dairy products), iron (found in beans, and meat products), folate, fibre (found in spinach, legumes, and grains) and Vitamin A and C (found in most vegetables and fruits).
Cape Town based dietician Judy Moore says that, “raising a vegan child can lead to nutrient deficiencies, inadequate energy intake and faltering growth”. Other nutritionists state that with the right knowledge on where to source all the required nutrients, a plant based diet can lead to a healthier child who will have a smaller chance of having cholesterol problems when they are adults and a smaller chance of heart related problems. They will have a large range of knowledge about food and increased creativity when it comes to the kitchen and preparing meals. The aim of my research is to conclude wether a vegan diet can be sustainable for a child without rendering them in any disadvantage to their peers. Veganism has rapidly become a popular diet as it is thought to be a weight reducing diet which is highly misleading.Are vegan diets suitable for children? The aim for my research is to deduce wether this diet choice is feasible and realistic for a child without rendering them to any disadvantage to their peers. A common thread of concern for the lack of protein that a vegan diet presents is seen in most of the articles. And is even one of the main reasons why dietician Sue Filmer does not recommend this diet for a child. Other predominant issues are that of a lack of calcium which is most commonly found in dairy produce and the lack of iron which in result increases the chances of developing anaemia. Another very important topic that has been brought up is that of parents not being educated enough about how to create a balanced vegan meal. And this lead to severe malnutrition of the children and in one case a five and a half month old child died. Many individuals will choose such a diet because of its benefits on a large scale.
Research has shown that the environmental impact of a vegan diet is much lower than in an omnivore or ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet. But the water footprint of a vegan diet is the second lowest but only by a very small amount (ncbi.nml.nih.gov). If a child does in fact follow a vegan diet the main recommendation is that to regularly be monitored by a dietician. This can detect any problems that such a diet could be causing to the child before any district sign can be noted by the parents. This can in turn allow for prevention before the problem is irreversible. In correlation to attending sessions with a dietician the child’s parents should inform themselves on where to find protein from a plant based diet, providing complete proteins in each meal (green leafy veg with a grain), iron, vitaminB12 and D. Along with many other macro and micro nutrients that are hard to provide in a vegan meal.
Even though dietician Sue Filmer does not recommend a vegan diet for a child due to the lack of variety of food options and proteins. She does state that following such as diet is possible and thus together we formulated a viable meal plan which consists of possible recipe ideas for breakfast, lunch, a snack and dinner. The meal plan is a seven day plan that includes portion size, suggested supplements, an exchange list, recipe ideas and each food item is categorised into starch/grain, protein, fat, fruit and vegetables. A lack of protein in one’s diet can have a negative effect on the brain development as the brain produces hundreds of neurotransmitters and protein is needed for regular maintenance of the brain (psychologytoday.com). But large amounts of protein can be sourced from a plant based diet and through supplementation such as that of using Wazoogles (plant based organic superfoods protein powder) and taking B12 supplements. Protein thus allows for the regulation of one’s blood sugar levels, which it turn makes one’s hungry less often. Spirulia, if not already present in the protein shake, is another source of plant protein. A teaspoon (3 gram serving) contains 60% protein and is a source of vitamins A, K1, K2, B12, iron, magnesium and chromium (draxe.com).
In addition to this it holds many other benefits such that of boosting energy which is highly significant to a vegan individual. It is easily addable to shakes and smoothies as you only need a small amount of it to provide large amounts of nutrition. Vegan Omega 3 supplements, classified as an essential fat, (which is extracted from algae) is important in reducing heart disease and allowing for the brain to function as Omega 3 acts as ‘brain fuel’ (myprotein.com). This can in turn allow for full brain development and ‘fuel’ the neurotransmitters to allow for the best possible cognitive function. Multivitamins assist the body with the maintenance of cellular efficiency (energeticnutrition.com) and in most cases will fill the gap if there is a short fall in one or more nutrients on any given day (betternutrition.com).
All in all supplementation is very important to anyone who follows a vegan diet, thus taking supplements daily should become ritualistic (steptohealth.com). Certain foods such as avocado, nuts, rice milk, chia seeds, hemp, chickpeas, quinoa, green peas and green leafy vegetables are high in protein and at least one should be incorporated in each meal. Items such as tahini, beans, spinach, lentils, sulphur free dried prunes and peaches are high sources of iron. These foods should also be incorporated in each meal due to many individuals who are vegan and are not monitored by a qualified dietician suffer from an iron deficiency (anemia) which can lead to fatigue, dizziness and heart problems if not treated (healthline.com), thus effecting the individual’s productivity which renders them at a disadvantage to their peers. Calcium is mostly found in almonds, tofu, tahini, green leafy vegetables, broccoli and soy. A lack of calcium in one’s diet can result in an increase risk of developing calcium deficiency disease (hypocalcemia) (healthline.com).
Recent studies have shown that soy can actually be harmful to the body in large quantities and thus should be eliminated or only consumed in very small quantities. Soybeans contain phytoestrogens which mimic the body’s natural estrogen hormones. When children reach puberty it can lead to many issues, such as in males it can cause testosterone imbalances, infertility, low sperm count and increased risk of cancer. In females it can cause estrogen dominance which can cause the mensural cycles of females to begin at a very young age, infertility and cancer (wellnessmama.com). The lack of amino acids is another reasons why Filmer does not recommend vegan diet for a child but due to further research into this topic food items such as watercress and spirulina are a high source amino acids which even exceeds meat (onegreenplanet.org). Other items such as hemp seeds, chia seeds, figs, avocados, quinoa, almonds, sesame and pumpkin are also a high source of amino acids.
When parents are not well informed about how to create nutritional vegan meals and have outdated ideals to what a vegan diet consists of (vegans do not just eat fruit and salads) it can have a very drastic effect on the child’s life. This can cause severe malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies as seen in the article, Malnutrition in infants receiving cult diets: a form of child abuse (bmj.com). And in drastic cases even cause death if the child is not attended to by the correct doctors which can be seen in the article, Case report of 5 sibling: malnutrition? Rickets? DiGeorge syndrome? Developmental delay? (nutritionj.biomedcentral.com). These problems most certainly can be avoided and will be seen less over the years due to the increase of social awareness and interconnectedness.
The availability of information regarding a vegan diet and how to sustain it is easy to access and user friendly. After having taken into account the research and the interview with a registered dietitian I believe that a vegan diet is not suitable for a child. However I would recommend such a diet choice for an adult who has reached full brain development, and has the ability to do their own research into this type fo diet as it has many undeniable benefits to the individual and also to the sustainability of the planet. Taking supplements and protein shakes regularly is not something that children tend to do or remember. To be constantly monitoring the amount of food that they intake can be exhausting and stressful to a young child. The risk of anaemia, hypocalcemia, malnutrition, protein deficiency and other issues are too high in young children and not worth the chance of them occurring. Children need certain macro and micro nutrients, that are most commonly found in animal produce, to develop fully and without being negatively affected by a vegan diet. Even though research does show that one can find the same amounts of protein from plant based foods it becomes hard for a child and stressful on their parents or guardians. As Filmer expressed her concern around sourcing essential amino acids and protein from a vegan diet such responsibility that this requires is something that a child is still only developing. Brain development issues can arises if not enough protein and essential fatty acids are consumed daily. This can lead to stunted brain development and a learning impediment.
Even though this can be avoided with the supplementation of vegan Omega 3 capsules, or with foods such as hemp oil, brussel sprouts, walnuts and flaxseeds such a responsibility is not a realistic expectation for a child. Such a diet will cause a lot of restrictions that are opposing to the nature of children who is wanting to try out everything and find what they personally enjoy. The lifestyle of a vegan child will be very different to that of an omnivore child which could possibly make them feel like an outsider and struggle to connect with their peers. There are certain sustainability advantages that a vegan diet provides to the environment which is beneficial to our highly populated planet. But this expectation should rather be put on older people who can understand the difference that they are making. Balanced, variated and healthy meals should rather be provided than a vegan diet for a child. But I would recommend such diet for an older individual as it has shown to lessen the occurrence of cancer, diabetes and other problem related to diet.