The vegan diet has seen a rise in popularity with many new parents choosing to raise their children vegan as well, but some dietitians and researchers are raising concerns about the infant diet, which they warn can lead to serious health complications that can stunt growth and put a stop to it. They risk nutrient deficiencies.
The vegan diet has sparked controversy on TikTok, with several mothers claiming they plan to raise their children as vegans. Under the hashtag #VeganBaby, many moms detail the perceived benefits of raising their infants and toddlers as vegetarian, and explain what the kids eat in the day.
Despite this, many critics of the #VeganBaby trend have raised concerns about complications a child may face later in life if they decide they no longer wish to live a vegan lifestyle.
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“Babies eat such small portions when introduced to solids, and limiting their choices of foods that can help them grow and thrive seems like an unnecessary risk to me when we know how serious nutrient deficiencies can be during this time period,” pediatric dietitian Cynthia Scott told CNN. Fox News Digital. “The first two years are very important for ensuring adequate nutritional intake as it is a period of rapid growth and development that shapes long-term health.”
If children are deficient in several necessary nutrients, Scott said the effects of that deficiency are not usually seen until later in life. She said she aims to prevent this nutritional deficiency and improve infant development, especially the growth in their neurodevelopment that occurs during the first few years of life and can affect long-term health.
As a pediatric nutritionist, Scott said, she has seen an increase in parents choosing a vegetarian lifestyle for their children, which she suspects is likely because many people believe meat leads to health ailments or because they have concerns about their well-being. the animals.
“I think many parents are not educated about the importance of adequate iron, fat, and B12 intake in the first two years of life, and I believe that sticking to a plant-based diet is a healthy alternative for their children,” Scott said. .
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in children, even among those who are regularly offered animal products, said Scott. Because iron deficiency can cause long-term neurological delays, she added, “it’s very important to ensure adequate iron intake for the first few years of life.”
Milk is usually a vital part of any toddler’s diet, but vegans choose milk alternatives and the search for the best milk alternative for babies is varied.
In England, the NHS states that infant formula made from goat or cow’s milk is “the only suitable alternative to breast milk” for children under 12 months, and soy-based formula should only be used with medical advice, according to its recently updated website. “Start for Life”.
After age 1, they think it’s appropriate to give children unsweetened, calcium-fortified, plant-based beverages such as soy, oat or almond milk, according to the website under the “Vegetarian or Vegan Diet” category.
“It’s important to remember that cow’s milk and dairy foods are good sources of the nutrient, so don’t cut them out of your child’s diet without first talking to a GP or dietitian – they can advise you on suitable milk alternatives,” the guidance states.
The NHS is also aware of the potential nutrient deficiencies associated with a vegetarian or vegan diet.
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“Your child may also need certain supplements in addition to the usual multivitamin supplements recommended for all children,” the directions said. “Children who follow a vegan diet or a vegan diet that does not include dairy products or eggs need a vitamin B12 supplement, or foods containing vitamin B12 fortified.”
A University College London (UCL) study looked at 187 vegetarian, vegan, meat and dairy-eating children between the ages of 5 and 10 and found that those following a vegan diet were 1.2 inches shorter than their peers, according to the research. The vegetarian children also had lower bone mineral content, but lower body fat and lower levels of the bad types of cholesterol.
Many vegans turn to nutritional supplements to ensure they are getting adequate vitamins and minerals, but Scott cautioned that nutrients in supplements are not absorbed as efficiently as those from natural food sources.
“While supplementation is a useful aid to ensuring adequate nutritional intake for those who adhere to a vegan diet or follow a restricted diet due to food allergies, without blood work and constant monitoring, it would be difficult to say with 100% certainty that supplementation fills in the gaps,” she said.
Jonathan Wells, professor and lead on the University College London study, recognized the various reasons why many parents choose to raise vegetarian children, but cautioned that there is very little historical data to provide insight into the health effects of diet among children.
“We know that people are increasingly drawn to plant-based diets for several reasons, including enhancing animal welfare and reducing our impact on the climate,” he said. “Indeed, it is now recognized that a global shift towards plant-based diets is critical to preventing climate collapse, and we strongly support this effort.”
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“We also know that, to date, research on the health impact of these diets on children has been largely limited to assessments of height and weight and has only been conducted on vegetarian children,” he added. “Our study provides insight into health outcomes for children who follow a vegetarian and vegan diet.”
Scott said she isn’t aware of “any science that shows a child won’t be able to properly digest foods they haven’t been exposed to,” but said it could lead to allergic reactions.
“We know that early exposure to allergens is recommended, so if we choose to avoid exposing a child to foods such as eggs or dairy products until they are over 12 months of age, they will be considered at higher risk of developing a potential allergy to those avoided foods.” She said.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) have determined that vegan diets are safe, but they don’t go into much detail about best practices, especially for infants.
“North American guidelines indicate that well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets are safe for people of all ages,” according to a study conducted by the American Food and Drug Administration (AAP). However, the Canadian Pediatric Association notes that a vegan diet can be nutritionally appropriate when milk and egg products are provided.
The study added that “some European guidelines do not recommend a vegetarian diet for children because of the risks of nutrient deficiencies without appropriate clinical follow-up, serum monitoring and supplement use.”
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AND agrees that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including a vegetarian diet, are healthy, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of specific diseases,” according to a statement from the organization. “These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, infancy, infancy, childhood, adolescence, seniors, and athletes.”