Is it OK for kids to be vegan?

Veganism has never been more popular but is there a way to remove all animal products and still ensure your little one gets a healthy balanced diet? Morag Turner finds out.

Is it OK for kids to be vegan?

Once considered to be an unusual lifestyle choice, veganism has recently become one of the most fashionable food trends. According to recent stats the number of vegans in the UK has risen by a staggering 360% in the last decade, with an ever-increasing number of people now adopting a completely plant-based diet.

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Whether it’s for ethical, lifestyle or health reasons, it has never been more popular, or more fashionable to cut all animal products (that means everything from meat and fish to eggs and diary) from your plate.  Vegetarians, who differ from vegans in that they can eat fish, eggs and diary, now number over 1 million in the UK.

Such is the increasing demand that sales of vegan food rose by 1,500% last year and even high street eateries such as Pret A Manger are cottoning to the change in habits with the chain opening their first entirely ‘veggie’ branch in London’s Soho last year.

Supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose are now stocking many vegan ranges too.

Fans claim that cutting out all animal based products has a range of health benefits, from lowering cholesterol and blood pressure to weight loss and reducing the risk of heart disease as the amount of saturated fat consumed is dramatically reduced.

And while the number of adult converts grows so too does the percentage of parents deciding to raise their children as vegan or vegetarian.

But is it healthy, or even safe, to remove major food types from your child’s diet?

The biggest concern experts have with cutting out meat and dairy is that the essential nutrients they provide will be lost altogether, leading to inadequate energy and faltering growth.

Red meat is a great source of iron and vitamin B12 and eggs and dairy provide calcium and omega-3. While adults need a regular in take of these nutrients, for children’s growing bodies and forming brains, they are completely essential.

Is it OK for kids to be vegan?

However, what’s not a prerequisite is that they come from animal based products. It’s a common misconception that alternative sources aren’t as good.

For example calcium can be found in leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage and in almond nut butter.

Wholegrains, brown rice lentils and beans provide iron, and if fish is off the diet, then Omega-3 is available in soya based products such as tofu and flax seed oil.

As well as nutrients, young children need lots of energy to grow and develop. Vegetarian and vegan meals can often be higher in fibre and lower in calories than those that include meat.But by adding foods such as hummus, bananas, and smooth nut and seed butters you can easily – and healthily – up their calories.

But by adding foods such as hummus, bananas, and smooth nut and seed butters you can easily - and healthily – up their calories.

Protein is easily found in a diet that includes meat and dairy but vegans and vegetarians can also keep their intake high with the likes of beans, lentils, tofu, quinoa and nuts. However a word of caution with nuts. Be aware of any potential allergy risk and never give a small child a whole nut as they risk choking. Opt for ground nuts or nut butters instead.

In addition to a varied selection of food, vitamin supplements are nearly always a good idea. Indeedthe Department of Health recommends that all children aged 6 months to 5 years are given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.

It’s also recommended that babies who are being breastfed are given a daily vitamin D supplement from birth, regardless of whether or not the mother is taking a supplement containing vitamin D. Babies who are having more than 500ml (about a pint)of infant formula a day don’t need vitamin supplements because formula is fortified with vitamins. Vitamin D2 is suitable for babies and children who have a vegan diet, and you can also get supplements containing vitamin D3 derived from lichen. A great selection of children’s vitamins, vegan and otherwise, can be found at good local health stores on the high street or online.

The Department of Health recommends that all children aged 6 months to 5 years are given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.

So it would appear that it’s not impossible to give your child a healthy diet that is also vegan or vegetarian, but great care must be taken to ensure what has been taken out is replaced with suitably balanced nutrient-rich alternatives. If in doubt consult your GP or a qualified nutritionist who can advise on how to plan the best diet for your child and your lifestyle.

Is it OK for kids to be vegan?

Foods to ensure a healthy, balanced vegan or vegetarian diet

For Iron:  Beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, cashew nuts (ground or butter), ground chia seeds, ground linseed, ground hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds (ground or butter), quinoa, kale, raisins, dried figs, dried apricots and fortified breakfast cereals

For Calcium: Plain fortified soya yoghurt and calcium-set tofu are also valuable sources. Other sources include kale, pak choi, okra, dried figs, chia seeds and almonds (ground or butter).

For Omega-3: ground chia seeds, ground linseed, ground hemp seeds or ground walnuts.

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For more information and up-to-date advice please visit The Vegan Society.

{Images form the Junior Archive}