Is veganism safe for young children?

Vegetarianism has moved from a niche subculture to a lifestyle promoted by celebrities including Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Since 2006, the number of people considering switching to a plant-based diet has increased by 350%. Among them is Elizabeth Teague, a 32-year-old artist and mother of four from Herefordshire, creator of ForkingFit. She, like many followers of this food system, considers this way of life more humane for both animals and the environment.

However, vegans and vegetarians are not well liked in some circles because they are seen as pushy and self-righteous preachers. Moreover, vegan parents are generally despised. Last year, an Italian politician called for legislation for vegan parents who instilled “reckless and dangerous eating behaviors” in their children. In his opinion, people who feed their children only “plants” should be sentenced to six years in prison.

Some vegan parents admit that they too weren’t big fans of this style of eating until they tried it out for themselves. And then they realized that they were not worried about what other people eat.

“Honestly, I always thought that vegans were trying to impose their point of view,” Teague says. “Yes, there are, but in general, I met so many peaceful people who, for various reasons, switched to veganism.”

Janet Kearney, 36, is from Ireland, runs a Vegan Pregrancy and Parenting Facebook page and lives with her husband and children Oliver and Amelia in suburban New York.

“I used to think it was wrong to be a vegetarian. That was until I saw the documentary Earthlings,” she says. “I thought about the ability of a vegan to be a parent. We don’t hear about the thousands of people who are raising vegan children, we only know of cases where children are scolded and starved.”  

“Let’s look at it this way,” continues Janet. We, as parents, only want the best for our children. We want them to be happy and, above all, as healthy as they can be. The vegan parents I know make sure their kids eat healthy, just like parents who feed their kids meat and eggs. But we consider the killing of animals to be cruel and wrong. That’s why we raise our children the same way. The biggest misconception is that vegan parents are supposedly hippies who want everyone to live on dry bread and walnuts. But that is very far from the truth.”

Is a plant-based diet safe for growing children? Mary Feutrell, professor at the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, warned that improper vegetarian diets can cause “irreversible damage and, in the worst case, death.”

“We advise parents who choose a vegetarian diet for their child to strictly follow the doctor’s medical recommendations,” she added.

However, nutritionists agree that raising a vegan can be healthy if, as with any diet, the right and proper nutrients are consumed. And children need more vitamins, macro and microelements than adults. Vitamins A, C, and D are essential, and since dairy products are an important source of calcium, vegan parents should provide their children with foods fortified with this mineral. Fish and meat sources of riboflavin, iodine, and vitamin B12 should also be included in the diet.

“A vegan diet requires careful planning to ensure the intake of a variety of nutrients, as some of them are found only in animal products,” says British Dietetic Association spokeswoman Susan Short.

Claire Thornton-Wood, pediatric nutritionist at Healthcare On Demand, adds that breast milk can help parents. There are no vegan infant formulas on the market, as vitamin D is derived from sheep’s wool and soy is not recommended for babies under six months of age.

Jenny Liddle, 43, from Somerset, where she runs a public relations agency, has been a vegetarian for 18 years and her child has been a vegetarian since birth. She says that when she was pregnant, the person growing inside her made her think even more carefully about what she was eating. What’s more, her calcium levels during pregnancy were higher than those of the average person because she ate calcium-fortified plant foods.

However, Liddle maintains that “we can never achieve a 100% vegan lifestyle” and her children’s health is more of a priority to her than any ideology.

“If I hadn’t been able to breastfeed, I could have received donated milk from a vegan. But if that wasn’t possible, I would use mixtures,” she says. – I believe that continuous breastfeeding is very important, even though existing formulas contain vitamin D3 from sheep. But you can evaluate their need if you do not have breast milk, which is necessary for the development of the child. Sometimes there is no practical or possible alternative, but I am sure that taking life-saving medication does not mean that I am no longer a vegan. And the entire vegan society recognizes this.”

Teague, Liddle and Kearney emphasize that they do not force their children to be vegan. They only actively educate them about why eating animal products can be harmful to their health and the environment.

“My children would never think that our favorite ducks, chickens or even cats are “food”. It would upset them. They are their best friends. People will never look at their dog and think about Sunday lunch,” says Kearney.

“We are very careful in explaining veganism to our children. I don’t want them to get scared or, worse, think their friends are terrible people because they still eat animals,” Teague shares. – I just support my children and their choice. Even if they change their mind about veganism. Now they are very passionate about it. Imagine a four year old asking, “Why do you love one animal and kill another?”

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