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  • Denise Scott

Should Children be Vegan?

I am continuing with my “diet evaluation” month for children, and this week is the vegan diet.

Let’s first define vegan since it can be confused with vegetarian.

Infant in high chair filled with plant-based, vegan foods.

A vegetarian does not consume any animals - meat, seafood, poultry, pork- no animal flesh, but can consume some animal products such as milk, eggs, cheese, and yogurt.

Vegans do not consume animals or any products from animals, such as dairy, and thus are further restricted than a vegetarian. They do not consume any ingredients derived from an animal, such as honey, whey, casein, gelatin, and albumin. It is the strictest form of vegetarianism. Vegans often oppose using animals for any reason such as food, clothing, or research.

This article will focus on veganism. Next week I will explore vegetarianism and plant-based diets.

What can you eat on a vegan diet?

A vegan diet allows vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and soy products.

Technically, a vegan diet allows many processed foods without animal products, such as candy, cookies, cakes, and deep-fried foods.

Unless you avoid these items with added sugars and fat, the diet becomes energy-dense rather than nutrient-dense.

Variety of foods allowed on a vegan diet including legumes, grains, nuts, vegetables, and soy products.

Variety of unhealthy snack foods also allowed on a vegan diet (since they are plant-based) such as soda, French fries, chips, and onion rings.

What do you avoid on a vegan diet?

Avoid all animal products listed above - not only the meats from animals but any product made by or containing animal-derived ingredients. Reading food labels can help to discern this in processed foods.

Animal based food sources pictured here such as eggs, seafood, poultry, cheese, and beef are not allowed on a vegan diet which eliminates many protein, iron, and calcium sources.

What are the advantages of a vegan diet?

  • Whole, natural foods provide a nutrient-dense and fiber-filled diet.

  • This diet tends to be low in saturated fat and cholesterol if one avoids ultra-processed foods.

  • A vegan diet can be protective against heart disease and type 2 diabetes if avoiding ultra-processed foods.

What are the disadvantages of veganism?

As with any restrictive diet, nutritional deficiencies can occur. Supplements may be necessary to ensure adequate nutrients.

These deficiencies include:

  • Iron

  • Calcium

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin B12

  • Zinc

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

If consuming many plant-based processed foods, the diet can become high in sugar, salt, and fat.

Obtaining adequate calcium and vitamin D in this diet that excludes all dairy is problematic; this is detrimental to bone health in a growing child and would require supplementation.

Iron deficiency anemia is a risk, especially in a menstruating girl. Monitoring iron levels is recommended.

One has to be very aware of the potential deficiencies and plan their diet to optimize these vitamins and minerals, realizing you may need supplements. Dietary restrictions for a growing child generally lack adequate nutrients.

Next week, I will focus on plant-based diets and outline strategies to optimize the absorption of these nutrients.

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