To Allow or Not To Allow: A Guide for Parents with Kids Who Want To Eat Vegan
Whether through the influence of a classmate, an older sibling, or their own research, a parent might be faced with a child who wants to go vegan. Is it really healthy? And more importantly, does it provide a child with all the nutrition they need?
A strict vegan diet is one that consists of food items from plant sources i.e, fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains. A person who is vegan does not consume animal flesh or derivatives from animal sources, which means strict vegans do not even consume eggs and milk. Veganism is a choice made by a person who wants to eat healthy, avoid animal cruelty, or a mix of both.
I will look at the vegan diet from a health perspective. Is it healthy? In terms of nutritional content , a vegan diet is abundant in all the essential nutrients. It contains a high amount of fiber – especially coming from fruits and vegetables, minerals and vitamins and provitamins like carotenes. Nuts provide for unsaturated source of fat – and by unsaturated we mean the good fats that are easy to absorb and prevents non-communicable diseases like obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Legumes and grains also provide carbohydrates and proteins. But is it nutritionally complete?
Unfortunately, it is not, and this is an important fact to note for young children who need complete nutritional requirements. For the body to achieve optimum health and well being, there is a need to provide optimum nutrient to nutrient interaction. The body needs good quality macronutrients: carbohydrates, the good fats and complete proteins to promote and enhance the efficiency and use of micronutrients vitamins and minerals. Although plants such as legumes and grains area abundant in proteins, these proteins are not considered complete proteins and therefore will not give the full benefits of protein in the body. Complete proteins come from animal sources, such as flesh meat, dairy/milk products, and eggs. A lot of green leafy veggies provide iron, but this is the non-heme type of iron; the body needs heme iron, the one coming from animal source like flesh meats. High consumption of plant food can therefore lead to a deficiency in iron. This is likewise true for other micronutrients like zinc, selenium iodine , Vitamin A to name a few. These vitamins and minerals require animal proteins to be efficiently used in the body We all know how essential these minerals are for growth and development and cognitive development in children.
(1) Iron plays an active role in brain metabolism as well as boosting the immune systema
(2) Zinc and Selenium help assist in the development of long bones to promote growth as well as serving as anti-oxidants to strengthen the immune systemb
(3) Iodine improves cognitive function and assists in healthy metabolism b
(4) Vitamin A is essential for normal vision and can only be gotten from animal sources. What we actually get from plants are actually pro-vitamin A – carotenes b
A vegan diet likewise predisposes children to deficiencies. Vitamin A, Vitamin D iron, zinc and iodine are already considered at-risk nutrients in children. However, data from the DOST-FNRI National Nutrition Surveys considered as moderately high state that 1 out of 10(11.2%) preschool children have anemia as a result of depleted iron stores; 1 out of 5 have Vitamin A(19.6%) and Zinc deficiency(17.9%) respectively. c
Lastly, a vegan diet is also high in phytates. Phytates are substances abundant in rice, wheat, peanuts, potatoes, soy beans – essentially, it is in all plant foods. Although phytate content is reduced during cooking, an ALL-PLANT diet can have significant phytate contribution to the body. What does phytate do to the body? It is a potential anti-nutrient because it inhibits the availability of nutrients that are very beneficial to the body. High consumption of plant foods, especially true in a vegan diet, impairs iron absorption because iron absorption is influenced by high phytate consumption. Kids who go vegan, therefore, will not get all the nutrients they need, but even the nutrients they do get might not be absorbed properly by their bodies.
Having a variety of food items in the diet is important for children because they have the greatest need for all the essential nutrients to promote optimal growth. And variety means ensuring that they are provided not only with plant-based foods, but animal-based foods as well, at least as their young bodies are still developing. . For healthy but also complete nutrition, kids should have items from the following food groups on a daily basis: (1) grains and tubers, (2) legumes and nuts, (3) dairy products like milk and yogurt, (4) flesh meats, (5) eggs, (6) Vitamin A rich fruits and vegetables, (7) other fruits and vegetables d When they’ve grown up and are aware of the decision they are making and still choose to go vegan, then by all means they can go for it. But as parents, we owe it to ourselves to make the best nutritional decisions for our children while we know what is best for them.
• aGeorgieff, MK. Nutrition and the developing brain : nutrient priorities and measurements. AJCN 2007
• b Whitney & Rolfes. Understanding Nutrition, 12th edition.
• c Philippine Nutrition Facts and Figures. 2nd ed 2015
• d WHO Food Groups 2010
About The Expert
Mary Jude Barba-Icasiano
Mary Jude Barba-Icasiano is a graduate of Food Science and Technology from the Philippine Women’s University, with a Master’s degree in Food Science from the same. Her expertise in food science and nutrition spans more than 30 years with the academe, as well as working with food ingredients, food processing, and in the infant and young child nutrition industries.
Mrs. Icasiano is a member of the Board of Directors and Treasurer of the Philippines Association of Nutrition; she is an active member of the Philippines Association of Food Technologists and the Institute of Food Technologists of America where she is seeking accreditation as a Certified Food Scientist.
Mrs. Icasiano is married to Juan Carmelo and they have two grown-up children.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.