Before we start talking about veganism and children, we should establish what veganism is. According to the Vegan Society, “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
It is clear that veganism is not only a diet, but also an overall lifestyle that incorporates several other aspects of a person’s life. However, the discussion led on the topic of veganism and children is only ever focused on diet, because the belief is that it might be harmful to the children. For that reason, the focus of this article will be on this aspect as well.
When it comes to veganism, there are many opinions regarding the topic. There are people who praise this lifestyle to the moon, and there are people who shudder at the very thought of it. However, if we want to look at veganism from a rational and not emotionally coloured point of view, we have to look at the facts – the results of studies. And that is the reason for this article.
There are a lot of people who become furious just at the mention of parents raising their children vegan or deny a child’s wish to become vegan since “they have heard that someone said that without meat and milk one cannot survive”. There are also people who think that any type of vegan diet is healthy and appropriate for a child. Both of those views are wrong.
In recent years, many of the world’s largest medical and dietetic organisationshave agreed that an appropriately planned vegan diet is suitable for all stages of life – including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence and older adulthood. Some of them even claim that the diet can be beneficial to human health and protect a person from several civilization diseases.
A person who is against raising children vegan often counters such statements by mentioning occurrences of children who have suffered on a vegan diet. When investigated, however, these stories commonly produce a reason for these unfortunate events that has nothing to do with veganism per se. These are cases of parents feeding their children an inappropriate diet, and they happen all over the world with many different types of diets, not only vegan ones. Therefore, the medical organisations do not discuss the health aspect of any type of vegan diet, they talk only about the appropriately planned ones. But what is an appropriately planned vegan diet?
Vegan diets are somewhat restrictive, since the animal-based part of the diet is missing; thus, there are specific requirements that must be followed in order for someone to thrive on one.
The only vitamin that vegans cannot get the natural way. Although there are plant-based sources of B12, there are no studies proving that these sources provide adequate absorbable amounts of it. This vitamin is very important for the normal function of the nervous system and the formation of cellular components in the blood. Vegans have to supplement this vitamin in the form of pills, drops or injections. However, most people in the western world obtain this vitamin through supplements as well, only they consume it filtered through an animal: animals in factory farming ingest the vitamin through supplements, since they cannot get to it naturally.
If there was a survey asking vegans about the most frequent question they get asked, it would probably turn out to be “Where do you get your protein?” The answer is very simple. Every vegetable, fruit, nut, seed, grain and legume contains protein. Of course, they contain it in various amounts and in various ratios of the amino acids. However, if a person has a varied diet with an adequate amount of calories for one day, there is no reason for them to be protein-deficient. The general advice is to eat legumes every day, because these are high in protein, plus some grains to complete the spectrum of amino acids.
Iron is not as much of a problem for vegans as some people might think. There are many good sources of iron, including lentils, molasses, most seeds, broccoli, spinach, beetroot, tomatoes, tempeh and tofu. However, people should be aware of the vitamins that help with absorption of other vitamins and minerals – in this case, iron is best absorbed with vitamin C. Ideally, there should be sources of both in your meal.
Calcium is not only very good for children and their bone growth, it is important for everyone and the health of teeth, nails and bones. Poppy seed is the richest in calcium. It contains oxalic acid which inhibits the absorption of calcium, meaning that we can absorb only a tiny fraction of the promised amount of calcium. Vegans must be aware of plants containing higher amounts of oxalic acid and try to get their daily intake from other sources, such as sesame seed, broccoli, almonds, dark leafy greens, tofu made with calcium sulphate, calcium-fortified plant-based milk etc. Calcium is also better absorbed with other vitamins, namely vitamin D and K.
The main source of vitamin D for the majority of people should be the sun. However, as people are spending less and less of their days outside, people are advised to get vitamin D through a supplement or certain fortified foods, such as plant-based milk. Vegans are not the only people who should take a vitamin D supplement. Everyone should do it, since even when we go outside, we should not spend too much time in direct sunlight and use sunscreen as much as possible. Every exposure to the sun damages our skin and can lead to skin cancer.
Omega 3 fatty acids are very important for the health of the brain and heart during pregnancy and the early stages of childhood. They are also highly beneficial to human health in later stages of life. The main sources of omega 3 fatty acids for vegans are flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and canola oil.
When adult vegans learn some of the main sources of these important nutrients and include them in their everyday diet in an appropriate amount, they are almost bound to thrive on the diet, unless they suffer with certain digestive issues. Wholefood legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits should be the staples of a healthy, balanced vegan diet, accompanied by occasional processed foods such as meat and cheese substitutes and sweets.
Vegan child nutrition is somewhat different from vegan adult nutrition. Adults may thrive on any kind of ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fats, provided that their daily needs for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are met. Children, however, need a diet higher in fat that gives the body more energy to grow, nourishes it with essential omega acids and helps to develop healthy eyesight and nervous system. Children also need to take a vitamin D supplement every day, right after birth – if they have a deficiency, they might develop a bone disease such as rickets, the consequences of which are partially irreversible.
When we look at all the information vegan parents learn in order to raise a healthy child, we might say that the average vegan parent is much more highly educated in nutrition than the average meat-eating parent. This kind of education may also have caused vegans to be the group whose average BMI is the healthiestand to have the lowest chronic disease risk.
Still, there are many doctors in the Czech Republic who are against children being vegans. Why? One major reason is probably given by the fact that paediatricians are not nutritionists and their education involves very little or no study of nutrition; and if it does, it is several years behind modern findings. As a result, there will continue to be situations that are very uncomfortable for both parents, who cannot rely on their child’s doctor in every aspect of the child’s health, and doctors, who must admit their lack of knowledge and start learning again. And they do have to learn, because the number of vegans is growing every day.
Having presented you with all this information, I have to ask: Would you let your child be vegan?
 Unknown author(s). Definition of Veganism. Retrieved from https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism. Accessed on 14thNovember, 2018
 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, British National Health Service, British Nutrition Foundation, Dietitians Association of Australia, United States Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
 Spencer, E. A., Appleby, P. N., Davey, G. K., Key, T. J. (2003). Diet and body mass index in 38000 EPIC-Oxford meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, 27 (6), 728-34.
 Craig, W. J. (2009). Health effects of vegan diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89 (5), 1627S–1633S. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736N