If you put your kids on a trendy vegan diet, they’ll get small and with weaker bones, a study found.
Researchers found that children between the ages of five and ten who eat a plant-based diet are, on average, three inches shorter than those who eat meat.
Their bones were also smaller and less strong, putting the children at risk of fractures or osteoporosis later in life.
The study by the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health at University College London found parents need to be aware of the risks of a vegan diet.
The authors said that vegan children should receive vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements to reduce potential long-term health consequences of plant-only growing.
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If you put your kids on a trendy vegan diet, they’ll get small and with weaker bones, research found (stock image)
Healthy eating as a vegan
You get most of the nutrients you need from a varied and balanced vegan diet.
For a healthy vegan diet:
1. Eat at least 5 servings of different types of fruit and vegetables every day
2. Basic meals made from potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates (choose whole grains if possible)
3. Have some dairy alternatives like soy drinks and yogurts (choose low fat and low sugar options)
5. Eat beans, legumes, and other proteins
6. Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts
7. Drink plenty of fluids (the government recommends 6 to 8 cups or glasses a day)
If you choose foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar, you will consume them less often and in small quantities.
The number of vegans in the UK has quadrupled to around 600,000 in four years as concerns about animal welfare and the environment grow.
Vegans forego all animal products, including dairy products, eggs, and even honey. However, there is little evidence of the potential harm this does to children’s health.
Lead author Professor Jonathan Wells of UCL said, “We know that people are increasingly attracted to a plant-based diet for a number of reasons, including promoting animal welfare and reducing our impact on the climate.
“Indeed, it is now recognized that switching to a plant-based diet around the world is critical to preventing climate change and we strongly support these efforts.
“We also know that research into the health effects of this diet on children has been largely limited to height and weight measurements and has only been carried out on vegetarian children.
“Our study provides an essential insight into the health consequences of children who follow a vegetarian and vegan diet.”
The new study looked at 187 healthy five to ten year olds in Poland. Of these, 63 children were vegetarians, 52 vegans and 72 omnivores.
Children on a vegan diet were three centimeters shorter on average. They also had four to six percent lower bone mineral levels and were more than three times more likely to be vitamin B-12 deficient than omnivores.
Co-author, Professor Mary Fewtrell added, “Maximizing bone health in children is recommended with the aim of reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures in the future.
“We found that vegan children had less bone mass despite their smaller body and bone size. This means that they can enter adolescence, a phase when the bone-specific nutritional needs are higher and there is a pre-existing bone deficit.
“If such deficiencies are caused by a diet that persists into adolescence, it could increase the risk of adverse bone damage later in life.”
On the positive side, however, the vegan children had 25 percent less “bad” LDL cholesterol and less body fat.
Children on a vegan diet were three centimeters shorter on average. They also had four to six percent lower bone mineral content and were more than three times more likely to be vitamin B-12 deficient than omnivores (stock image)
Co-author Dr. Małgorzata Desmond said, “We found that vegans had higher nutrient intake, suggesting an ‘unprocessed’ plant-based diet, which in turn is linked to lower body fat and a better cardiovascular risk profile.
“On the other hand, their lower intake of protein, calcium, and vitamins B12 and D could explain their less favorable bone mineral and serum vitamin concentrations.
“We were initially surprised by the poor cardiovascular health profile of the vegetarian children, but their nutritional data showed they ate a relatively processed type of plant-based diet with less healthy fiber and sugar compared to the vegans.
“So we are learning that just a plant-based diet is not a guarantee of health. We still have to choose healthy foods.”
The researchers hope their results will clarify the need for more advice to the public regarding healthy eating with a plant-based diet.
‘This is especially relevant for children as they may have higher nutritional needs as they grow, ”added Professor Wells.
“Our goal is to conduct further research to maximize the health benefits of a plant-based diet in children.”
ARE VEGAN DIETS SAFE FOR BABIES?
Around 3.5 million people in Great Britain are vegan – that’s around seven percent of the population according to estimates.
And as the diet becomes more popular, more and more mothers are choosing to make their baby vegan.
The NHS says babies and toddlers on a vegetarian or vegan diet can get the energy and most of the nutrients they need for growth and development.
However, the plant-based diet is known to contain few essential nutrients for babies, such as vitamin B12 – milk and eggs, iron, calcium and zinc.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a rare and treatable cause of failure to thrive and delayed development in infants, researchers write in the journal Pediatrics.
It can also lead to malnutrition and “irreversible damage” to your nervous system, experts at University College London once concluded.
Iron deficiency can prevent a child from gaining weight, affect appetite and energy, and lead to anemia, which in severe cases can be life-threatening.
Eating too little protein can lead to stunted growth, nutritionists have warned over the years. But beans, lentils, and chickpeas are rich in nutrients.
And eating too much fiber can make kids feel full faster and prevent them from eating enough, pediatric nutritionist Lucy Upton told the Mail in March.
Two senior nutrition professors at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Shirley Hinde and Ruth Fairchild, said nutrition was “not ideal” for babies.
In The Conversation, however, they wrote that it was “not impossible” that the diet could be healthy for a baby.
And they claimed there was “no reason” why a baby on a high-nutrient vegan diet could not survive if his parents were sensible.