Can a child thrive on a vegan diet? The answer is yes! Far more studies show that a typical 'Western Diet' has deleterious effects on health compared to the risks of a vegan diet. In fact, vegetarian diets are associated with disease resistance and even higher I.Q.'s in children. (1-5)
With proper planning and a bit of self-education, parents should feel confident in giving their child a diet free of animal products.
Healthy food choices include the following:
Protein dense foods: beans, soy, whole grains, nuts, etc.
Calcium sources: beans, leafy greens, figs, blackstrap molasses, fortified beverages, etc.
Iron sources: grains, dried fruit, coconut milk, blackstrap molasses, soybeans, beans, etc.
Zinc sources: nuts, seeds, grains, chickpeas, soybeans, etc.
Avoid wheat and nuts until after one year of age, to avoid possible food sensitivities.
Supplementation may be necessary for children who are picky eaters, but most nutritional needs can be met through diet. Vitamins D and B12 may be the exception, and parents should ensure an optimal supply through fortified foods or supplements.
Finding community support can be very important in helping your child maintain healthy eating habits, as vegan diets are often misunderstood and even feared by well-meaning family members, neighbours, and teachers. Many excellent resources exist that can help educate those in your child's life who have concerns, and possibly alleviate any misconceptions they may have.
Raising a child on a vegan diet can be challenging in today's world of hot-dogs and ice cream, but parents should be assured that research is on their side.
The following sources are particularly supportive of vegan diets for children:
The Vegetarian Society UK
The Vegetarian Resource Group
European Vegetarian Union
Physician's Committee For Responsible Medicine
Becoming Vegan Brenda Davis, R.D., and Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D.
1. O'Connell JM, Dibley MJ, Sierra J et al: Growth of vegetarian children: The Farm Study. Pediatrics 1989;84:475-481.
2. Fisher M, Levine PH, Weiner B, et al. The effects of vegetarian diets on plasma lipid and platelet levels. Arch Inter Med 1986;146:1193-1197.
3. Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Eilber U. Mortality pattern of German vegetarians after 11 years of follow-up. Epidemiology 1992;3:395-401.
4. Thorogood M, Mann J, Appleby P, McPherson K. Risk of death from cancer and ischaemic heart disease in meat and non-meat eaters. Brit Med J 1994;308:1667-1670.
5. Dwyer JT, Miller LG, Arduino NL, et al. Mental age and I.Q. of predominately vegetarian children. J Am Dietetic Assoc 1980;76:142-147.