Have you thought about bringing your children up on a vegan diet?
Many people are considering cutting down their intake of animal products, or tried Veganuary at the start of the year to trial a different way of eating.
Young people may be fired up about the environmental impact of meat production or children begin to link the animals they love with meat on their plate.
It is possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, but it does take careful planning.
These are some important nutritional factors to consider for children.
Protein sources for vegan children
Children need between 14-19g of protein per day depending on their age.
Vegan sources are beans, pulses, nuts, seeds and tofu.
If you child doesn’t eat this kind of food they may struggle to eat enough protein. This is important to consider, do they actually eat the protein that you’re providing?
Meat replacement products are also available, although these can be high in salt and quite processed.
Healthy fats on a vegan diet
Generally vegan diets are low in fat.
Offer your child sufficient plant based fats because children require 25-35% of total calories from fat to support growth, hormones, skin health and neurotransmitters.
Assuming a 1000 kcal diet, that is around 250-350 kcals from fat. This is equivalent to around 30g fat every day.
Nuts and seeds, avocados, coconut oil and olive oil are a great source of vegan fats so offer these throughout the day.
Vegan Milks For Kids
All alternative milks are relatively low in protein, and some are fortified with essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.
Children can have any of the alternatives; try oat, soya, coconut or hemp. Rice milk isn’t recommended for children under 5.
Soya and coconut yoghurt also make quick, easy puddings.
Vegan Supplements – Vitamin B12
This vitamin must be supplemented for anyone on a vegan diet.
Children only need a small amount, but it’s critical for health. Supplement directly because fortified foods and nutritional yeast won’t be sufficient amounts for your children.
Signs of deficiency in children are multi-factorial and can take between a few weeks and 3 years to develop.
Deficiency can result in fatigue, poor digestion, nerve damage, or developmental delays so it’s important to include in a vegan diet for children.
Vitamin A supports DNA health and eye health, as well as interactions with other nutrients. It’s found in a form we can absorb and use in animal products like meat and dairy.
Betacarotene, found in orange and yellow foods can be converted into Vitamin A, but the conversation rate is dependent on the type of food, and individual’s genetics so it’s hard to say how much betacarotene a child needs to make sufficient vitamin A.
Children need 400-600mcg vitamin A depending on age.
Include vegetables butternut squash, sweet potato and carrots to maximise opportunity for vitamin A production.
The NHS recommends all children take vitamin A supplements up to age 5, and you may consider continuing longer if vegan.
What about a vegan Omega 3?
Omega 3 fats are found in oily fish. Some plant-based foods like seeds contain traces of Omega 3 but plant based sources need to be converted to the bioavailable form so we can use it. Chia seeds, hemp seeds and linseeds can be added to meals as a boost.
Vegan algae based supplement are available to support fatty acids, which are required for anti-inflammatory processes, brain health, skin, and hormones.
Choline for brain health
Found in egg yolks and meat, choline is an important nutrient involved in brain health and memory.
We can make some choline ourselves, but we also need to have enough B12 to make it.
Vegans can eat broccoli, edamame beans, tofu and quinoa.
Calcium sources for vegan children
Support strong bones and teeth with calcium rich foods.
Aim for 3-5 portions of calcium rich foods a day.
Including sesame seeds, curly kale, baked beans, spring greens, dried figs, almonds, orange and broccoli.
Ensure vitamin D is sufficient to make use of the dietary calcium.
Iron rich foods for children
Eating leafy green vegetables, wholegrains, and nuts may provide enough iron for children.
Also include dried fruits, pulses and seeds. Include vitamin C rich foods with sources of iron to aid absorption.
Vegan sources of this key mineral are found in seaweed which can be added to soups and stews.
Most people get iodine from milk, however it’s only in milk due to farming practices using supplements for cows and iodine for sterilisation.
This is why levels of iodine are lower in organic milk.
So is a vegan diet healthy for children?
You can build a well rounded vegan diet for your growing children, with careful planning.
Aim for a wide variety of foods each week to cover all bases.
Nutritionists can offer functional testing to identify nutritional deficiencies as well as diet diary analysis.
Anna Mapson supports busy parents to get family nutrition right, taking away the stress if feeding your family. In Bristol or online via video call
- Weaning Consultations & Group Classes
- Children’s Nutrition Consultations (e.g. fussy eating, constipation, eczema, healthy growth, behaviour)