Is it healthy for kids to eat vegan? Experts weigh in
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Following a plant-based diet has become common.
It’s no longer something that people are shocked by.
People who follow a vegan diet eat plant-based foods and avoid animal products for various reasons.
For some it’s ethical, for others it's health-related or a trend they are trying out.
Following a vegan lifestyle can be beneficial for adults, but is it suitable for children?
We spoke to dietitian Ezette Oosthuizen and cookbook author Chantal Lascaris about the benefits and risks of raising a vegan child.
Lascaris said the main danger when children follow a vegan diet is nutrient deficiency, so parents need to be well informed to ensure their children get sufficient nutrients such as protein, calcium, omega 3 fats, iron, and vitamin B12, among others.
“Without enough calcium, kids run the risk of low bone density during their key growth period before eight years of age.
“Omega 3 is important for their brain development as well as their vision and heart health.
“Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products but is essential for the nervous system.
“Protein is a key nutrient for overall growth and development in children,” she said.
Lascaris added that children tend to have small appetites so ensuring they consume sufficient calories and adequate nutrients can be more challenging.
She said, however, that this can also be a plus factor as most vegans have a lower body mass index.
“A vegan diet is known to diminish the risks of obesity, lower levels of cholesterol and blood pressure.
“In our modern lifestyles, most people struggle to consume sufficient fruit and vegetables, but following a vegan diet ensures your kids are getting at least their 5 a day,” said Lascaris.
Oosthuizen said certain nutrients might be lacking in a vegan diet, including Vitamin D, iron, omega 3, and vitamin B12.
When it comes to the benefits, she said as a parent you are creating awareness in your child of the environment and the positive impact a vegan diet will have.
They will be exposed to a variety of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes which most kids do not eat enough of; and a vegan diet can prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes later in life as it is low in saturated fat.