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Rachel Curfman

Nutrition For Life

21 March 2019

Effects of Vegan Diets on Childhood Development

A vegan diet can have many benefits, both to the body and the environment. However,

when children are participating in a vegan diet, it can have an impact on their growth and

development. In some cases, adjustments have to be made to the diet to ensure that children are

getting everything that they need to cause proper growth and development. Monitoring a child’s

diet is important to ensure that they are acquiring the nutrients that they need in order for their

body to remain healthy and develop correctly.

There are many different types of vegetarian or vegan diets. The most common are

semi-vegetarian, pescatarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, and vegan. A semi-vegetarian diet is when a

person eats animal products selectively. Most commonly semi-vegetarians cut out only red meat

from their diet, and still eat poultry and fish. When following a pescatarian diet, you do not eat

red meat or poultry, but do consume fish and seafood. In a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet all meat, fish

and poultry is eliminated from the diet. However, a lacto-ovo vegetarian still includes dairy and

egg products in the diet. The final category is a vegan diet, which is when no animal products are

consumed at all in the diet (Harvard Health Publishing, n.d.).

More people have been adopting vegetarian or vegan diets because of the possible health

benefits. This is believed due to the lower consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol. Often, a

vegetarian or vegan also consumes higher amounts of beneficial items such as Vitamins C and E,

dietary fiber, magnesium, and potassium. As a result of these dietary differences, vegetarians are
likely to have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and a lower body mass index. There is

also some evidence that has been found in studies that vegetarians may have a lower risk for

heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes (Harvard Health Publishing, 2018, October 23).

Veganism also has a positive effect on the environment. Cattle farming creates a large amount of

methane and carbon dioxide. Both of those are greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate

change​ (Vegan diet can benefit both health and the environment, 2019, January 08).

However, even though there are many health and environmental benefits to a vegetarian

or vegan diet, following one does require planning in order to obtain essential nutrients such as

iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and Omega-3. Plant sources of protein and iron, like

lentils and beans, are also rich in fiber. This can making it hard for children to eat enough to get

their needed amount of fiber, because they become full quicker, meaning that they are not eating

as much. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is very hard to include in a vegetarian or vegan diet. It is

only naturally found in meat, eggs, fish, poultry and dairy. Those on a vegan diet will most likely

need to take a supplement. However, it is possible that vegetarians might be able to get enough if

they are eating dairy or eggs. As for calcium, alternative milk sources such as coconut and

almond milk do not supply calcium like dairy milk does. A milk alternative that is fortified with

calcium should be selected to ensure that the needed amount of calcium is being taken. Soy milk

is the best alternative to actual dairy milk because it is very nutritionally similar to dairy milk

except for the calcium. Omega-3s can be found in foods other than fish, such as walnuts,

flaxseed and chia, but the Omega-3s are not in the same form as they are in fish. This makes it

less potent, because the body has to convert it into the same form that is found in fish (Paula

Goodyer, 2018, April 17).


Some medical professionals have expressed concerns over children following a vegan

diet. They are concerned about low levels of vitamin B12 that can occur when a child is

following a vegan diet. Having a low level of vitamin B12 can lead to developing varying brain

symptoms, including muscle weakness and epilepsy. More severe consequences can occur to the

child if the deficiency is long term (​Observer (Gladstone),​ p. 16. 2018.). Having a low level of

vitamin B12 can also cause negative effects on the blood (​Education Journal​, (303), 14. 2017).

In a recent systematic review of literature focusing on children using vegetarian diets,

multiple studies were evaluated. These studies mainly focused on the dietary intake of infants,

children and adolescents that follow a vegetarian diet. After reviewing all of the selected

literature, it was found that growth and body weight of those included in the study were on the

low end of the spectrum. They also appeared to have a high intake of vitamin C and dietary fiber

compared to those that were in control groups. One study found that the subjects had a low

amount of vitamin B12, and two studies found a low amount of vitamin D (Schürmann, S.,

Kersting, M., & Alexy, U. 2017).

Vitamin B12 is not the only nutrient that needs to be monitored when feeding a child a

vegan diet. Ensuring that the child is eating, and taking in enough, protein in their diet is also

important. Protein is essential in a child's diet in order for them to reach their height potential.

Making sure that they are getting enough protein is can be a challenge though, because protein

from plants is harder for the body to absorb than the protein that comes from meat, poultry or

dairy (Children's Health Team, 2018, January 16).

It is also important to look after a child’s emotional well being when following a vegan

diet. Partaking in a restrictive diet, such as a vegetarian or vegan diet, can have a negative impact
on their emotions. It is possible that the child will feel left out due to not following a diet similar

to that of their peers. Also, following a vegetarian or vegan diet could possibly lead to restrictive

eating behaviors, or issues with dieting, when they are older. It is important to identify if your

child is feeling this way. If the child does feel negatively about the vegetarian or vegan diet that

they are following, discussing why they follow the diet, and the benefits of it could be helpful

(Children's Health Team, 2018, January 16).

When following a vegan diet, many benefits can come from it. Having improved health,

and a possibility of lower risks for some diseases is appealing to many. Also, the knowledge that

your diet does not have a negative impact on the environment is a major reason for many people

to choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. However, it is important to be aware of the nutrients

that your body needs, especially the nutrients that can be difficult to obtain from a vegetarian or

vegan diet. Missing some of these crucial nutrients can have a devastating impact on the

development of a child.
Works Cited

Children's Health Team. (2018, January 16). Is a Vegan Diet Safe for Growing Children?
Retrieved from ​https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-a-vegan-diet-safe-for-growing-children/

Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Is a vegetarian or vegan diet for you? Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/is-a-vegetarian-or-vegan-diet-for-you

Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, October 23). Becoming a vegetarian. Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/becoming-a-vegetarian

Paula Goodyer. (2018, April 17). Can kids thrive on a vegan diet? ​Age, The (Melbourne),​ p. 14.
Retrieved from
https://setonhill.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=
n5h&AN=DOC6ZQE6A0FI4L188F3J6X3&site=ehost-live

Poor vegan diet ‘can slow children’s development’ . (2018). ​Observer (Gladstone)​, p. 16.
Retrieved from
https://setonhill.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=
n5h&AN=apn.JK1BO13P&site=ehost-live

Schürmann, S., Kersting, M., & Alexy, U. (2017). Vegetarian diets in children: a systematic
review. ​European Journal Of Nutrition​, ​56​(5), 1797–1817.
https://doi-org.setonhill.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s00394-017-1416-0

Vegan diet can benefit both health and the environment. (2019, January 08). Retrieved from

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/vegan-diet-health-environment/

Vegan diet can cause irreversible damage to children’s nervous system. (2017). ​Education
Journal,​ (303), 14. Retrieved from
https://setonhill.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=
afh&AN=123102329&site=ehost-live