Is a vegan diet safe for children? A pediatrician gives his opinion

Despite the growing popularity of vegan and plant-based diets among parents raising their children with these dietary approaches, some pediatricians are critical of practicing a vegan diet for children. Their main concerns with the vegan diet relate to nutritional insufficiency, as they believe that a plant-based diet without dairy or meat does not provide enough vitamins and minerals that children need to grow.

The latest research shows that people of all ages who follow a vegan diet are at risk for deficiencies in vitamin D, calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, as these are key nutrients in a complete plant-based food. diet and require you to eat a range of foods to get all your nutrients daily. New research outside France suggests that a vegan diet for children and toddlers can be safe as long as children get all of these nutrients, whether through food or supplements.

This study said precisely: “Regular dietary monitoring is essential, [to make sure the growing child is getting] vitamin B12 and vitamin D. The study also indicated that supplementation is often necessary because children need iron, calcium, [omega-3] fatty acid and zinc. So parents wanting their children to follow a plant-based diet should monitor them for deficiencies and these micronutrients may need to be supplemented with supplements on a case-by-case basis.

A 2018 study published in Nutrients recommends health care providers encourage a vegan diet and emphasize the consumption of nutritional supplements, which can be fortified as needed.

the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Nutrition and Dietetics Academy h considered a safe plant-based diet for children and toddlers. Research has shown that a plant-based diet can be a healthy way for children and teens to establish lifelong healthy eating habits with plenty of fruits and vegetables. A 2018 study published in Nutrition advice found that a plant-based diet during childhood reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthoodpromoting longevity and good health.

To learn more about plant-based food and child safety, we spoke to Dr. Jackie Busse, MD, FAAP, a board-certified physician specializing in evidence-based lifestyle and preventative medicine. On his platform @plantbasedpediatrician, she seeks to educate others about the power of plant-based nutrition for kids while sharing delicious recipes and moments from her own little ones. In this exclusive interview,

Dr. Busse discusses the safety of a plant-based diet for children, tips for parents on getting children to adopt a plant-based diet, and his recommendations for getting children to eat more plant-based foods. nutrients.

Beet : How has living a plant-based lifestyle influenced your role as a doctor?

Dr. Busse: My husband and I switched to a plant-based diet 9 years ago, about a year after completing my residency in pediatrics. It completely changed the way I practice medicine, focusing on the power of diet and lifestyle to prevent and reverse disease. I have seen several diabetic patients completely stop their medications, chronic hypertension cured, chronic joint pain resolved, migraines, acne, allergies and asthma dramatically improved, and constipation cured. Patients experience increased energy, better sleep, and less anxiety and depressive symptoms. These patients are not anomalies. I have seen this over and over again over the years that I have taught plant-based nutrition. He never ceases to amaze me with all the good he can do.

I have since had two herbal pregnancies and have two healthy and thriving herbal children, now ages 4 and 6. A whole, plant-based diet should be the cornerstone of healthy lifestyle changes for children and adults. This is the most powerful change we can make.

VG: What do pediatricians say about the safety of a plant-based diet for children?

J.B.: Pediatricians all want the best for children cared for, but many lack the familiarity and training to properly advise families on vegan and vegetarian diets. The most common concerns I hear from my co-workers relate to calcium, vitamin D, protein and fat. These nutrient needs can all be easily met with plant-based foods.

In fact, studies show that children who follow a plant-based diet have higher intakes of almost all vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and a diversity of foods. They have adequate calorie and protein intake and lower saturated fat and cholesterol intake – all healthy differences!

VG: Do you recommend a vegetable diet for children?

J.B.: Absolutely! Herbal Kids benefit from decreased rates of a myriad of acute and chronic diseases including obesity, asthma, eczema, allergies, constipation, heart disease, diabetes and more cancers. They have improved immune function and optimal gut health and have normal growth and development. It’s also a great way to teach kids about compassion for all living things and environmental stewardship.

The most important vitamins and minerals for children

  • Vitamin B12: There are plant-based foods fortified with vitamin B12, but these are less reliable sources than a supplement.
  • Vitamin D: 400 IU daily for breastfed infants and 600 IU daily for children over 1 year without adequate sun exposure
  • Omega-3 fatty acids daily (flax, chia, hemp, walnuts) or take an omega 3 seaweed supplement.

How children can benefit from a vegan diet

J.B.: As with any diet, quality really matters. A highly processed junk food vegan diet is no better than the standard American diet. It is important, especially for children, to focus on whole, unprocessed foods.

For young children, it is also important to offer plenty of nutrient-dense foods. Per pound, they need more calories, fat, and protein than adults and also have small stomachs and short attention spans. It’s important to make every bite count and build their meals with bases of whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans, tofu, and healthy fats.

Is iron deficiency something to worry about?

J.B.: Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in children, but rates are the same regardless of diet. Vegan and vegetarian children do not have higher rates of iron deficiency or anemia than omnivorous children. Plant-based infants and children need to have iron-rich foods in their diet from the start, just like all children.

Children with significant impairment may need to take a supplement but many children can correct mild deficiencies by reducing or eliminating cow’s milk intake and including more iron-rich foods in their diet. Meat is not necessary in case of iron deficiency or any other condition. There are many great plant sources of iron, including leafy greens, fortified cereals, apricots, tofu, and beans. Additionally, iron absorption can be increased up to 5 times by combining these foods with foods rich in vitamin C.

The best non-meat sources of protein for kids

  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Tofu

Key Factors to Consider When Switching Children to a Vegan Diet

J.B.: Check Pediatric Quick Start Guide I wrote with The Plantrician Project. This is a brief summary of plant-based diets for children, including an overview of the evidence, questions about specific micronutrients, answers to the most common questions and tips for picky eaters. It also covers pregnancy. I have links to the quick start guide at My website plus lists of all my other favorite books, websites, and other resources regarding plant-based nutrition for kids.

How to Switch Kids to a Vegan Diet

JB: Whenever you talk about a major dietary change for a child, the whole family needs to be involved.. We never want to isolate a child by asking him to eat differently from the rest of the family. Everyone must come on board. Parents often reap unexpected benefits when they make changes for their children!

Sometimes the opposite happens and an older child leads the family’s dietary change. These are some of my favorite stories. Young people are often driven by a passion for animal welfare or environmental protection. Hesitant parents sometimes come to the clinic worried about the health consequences of their child’s new veganism. It’s really fun to share the proof that a plant-based diet is not only the best choice for animals and the planet, but also for the health of their child!

Bottom Line: Feeding children plants is easy and healthy.

Keep in mind that once they go to school and eat away from home, with peers (and peer pressure), it can get messy. And it gets harder and harder as they get older and you have less and less control over their food choices. It’s a great reflection of parenthood in general! You do your best to educate and guide them, and then hope they make good choices.

Regardless of the diet, we want every child to have a healthy relationship with food and with their parents! Explain to them why you make the choices you do, why it matters to you, and how it affects their health, the health of the community, the environment, the planet, and animals. Talk about the pros and cons of each choice. And then, at some point… letting go.

For more expert advice, check out The Beet’s health and nutrition articles.