Is a vegan diet healthy for children?

Protein-rich foods

Edwina Raj, a clinical dietician at the Bengaluru-based Aster CMI hospitals, points out that India’s traditional foods offer plenty of options for vegans. “We’ve seen that some vegans tend to rely too heavily on refined flours and carbohydrates,” she says. “Instead, they’ll need to focus on complex carbs. We suggest the many varieties of unpolished rice – red, brown, black. As a vegan parent, you’ll need to keep in mind the dietary requirements for protein are 1g per kg of body weight and plan your meals accordingly.” She recommends millets, lentils, dried green peas and beans as sources of high-quality protein.

Karla Moreno-Bryce (MDA, RD, LD), a vegan Pediatric Nutrition Coach based in Minneapolis, in the US argues that regardless of the family’s chosen cuisine, planning healthy vegan meals can be relatively easy.

“Meal prepping for vegan kids just requires a little attention to ensure that key nutrients (iron, zinc, iodine, omega-3s, calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B12) are offered during the day through a variety of plant foods and dietary supplements,” she says. “It’s particularly important that all vegan kids receive a reliable Vitamin B12 supplement, preferably at the time they begin solid foods. This is a nutrient that naturally lacks in plant foods and a supplement, in addition to fortified foods, is the most reliable source of meeting this important nutrient.”

With the right mix of ingredients, she says, parents can offer healthy vegan versions of many different cuisines: “Many vegan parents focus on ensuring that their children’s meals consist of vegetables, and while they are important and provide an array of nutrients, they lack the calories to support a child’s growth and development. I encourage vegan parents to focus on providing foods rich in iron (such as beans, lentils, and tofu) and fat (such as avocado and nut butters) since these are two important nutrients during periods of rapid growth,” says Moreno-Bryce.

To meet his growing vegan child’s nutritional needs in India, Ashish Kumar Jain has turned to locally grown leafy vegetables, like local spinaches, methi (fenugreek leaves), cumin seeds, coriander, and curry leaves, as well as nutrient-dense sesame seeds, tofu and finger millet. He substitutes milk with extracts from almonds and coconuts, makes “cheese” from cashews and potatoes, and yoghurt from peanut milk.

“We’ve never felt deprived of dairy,” he says. “And there are many reasons to prioritise veganism that go beyond diet and health – compassion for animals, climate and sustainability. Veganism is a social justice movement, as much as it is a healthy choice.”

Disclaimer: All content within this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical and dietary advice of healthcare professionals. The BBC is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis or actions taken by a user based on the content of this site. The BBC is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor does it endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites. The BBC encourages anyone interested in making dietary changes to consult their healthcare provider beforehand. Always consult your own GP if you’re in any way concerned about your health or the health of your child. 

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