Is a vegan diet safe for children?

The simple answer is no. A quick internet search reveals that parents from all over the world have been convicted in court of causing either the death, or severe malnutrition, of their own young children as a result of their vegan diet.

In Canada – Religious Vegan Parents Convicted in Starvation Death of Son. This boy was fed a strict vegan diet and died at 14 months old. At the time of death, the child suffered from a rash on 70% of his body, gangrene, hypothermia, and a staphylococcus infection.

In Belgium –  Baby Death: Parents convicted over Vegetable Milk Diet. The baby, Lucas, weighed just 4.3kg (9.5lb) when he died aged seven months, dehydrated and malnourished. The parents ran a ‘health food shop’ and fed him for four months with milk made from oats, buckwheat, rice and quinoa.

In America – Vegan couple sentenced to life over baby’s death. The couple were found guilty of malice murder, felony murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children for the death of their malnourished 6-week-old baby boy, who was fed a diet largely consisting of soy milk and apple juice.

In France – French vegans face trial after death of baby fed only on breast milk. The baby died from vitamin deficiencies because the vegan mother’s milk was deficient in the nutrients vital for infant development.

in UK – Baby death parents spared jail. A nine month old girl died of malnutrition and pneumonia because her vegan parents fed her a diet of only vegetables, fruit and nuts.

In Australia – Toddler fed vegan diet so malnourished she had no teeth. The parents of this 19 month old girl have pleaded guilty to ‘causing danger of serious injury’. After feeding her oats, potatoes, rice, tofu, bread, peanut butter and rice milk she had grown no teeth and looked like she was three months old.

These are tragic cases but they are not freakish anomalies. Malnutrition among young children of vegan parents is widespread.

I am extremely concerned that, for some people, veganism has become a quasi-religious doctrine and they feel compelled to follow their ideology even when it causes clear and significant harm to their own children. I am not the only one who thinks it is completely unsuitable for children. The Federal Commission for Nutrition in Switzerland stated, in their 2018 report, “The positive effects of a vegan diet on health cannot be proven, but there are relevant risks regarding nutritional deficiencies. Children and pregnant women are advised against adopting a vegan diet due to those risks.” Across the border from Switzerland, the German Nutrition Society have stated, “The German Nutrition Society does not recommend a vegan diet for pregnant women, lactating women, infants, children or adolescents. Persons who nevertheless wish to follow a vegan diet should pay attention to an adequate intake of nutrients, especially critical nutrients, and possibly use fortified foods or dietary supplements.” On May 16, 2019, the Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium issued an opinion that will make it possible to imprison parents who enforce a vegan diet on their children.

Why do children fail to develop on a vegan diet?

Vitamin B12 This essential vitamin is nowhere to be found in plant foods. It is abundant in animal-sourced foods. Studies show that women with vitamin B12 deficiency in early pregnancy are up to five times more likely to have a child with birth defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly, compared to women with high levels of vitamin B12. Anencephaly is a fatal condition in which the brain fails to develop. B12 is required for the formation of red blood cells and the creation of myelin. Myelin is a fatty substance that surrounds and protects all of our nerve fibres and without it our nerves cannot transmit signals.

Iron. Most people know that we need adequate levels of iron to enable haemoglobin to transport oxygen around the blood stream. However, iron is also essential in brain development. Iron-containing molecules are required for the production of the myelin sheath and of the neurotransmitter dopamine. While iron does occur in many plant foods, it is in a form with very low bio-availability. The iron found in animal foods, which is referred to as heme-iron, is much for readily absorbed. Vegans and vegetarians are much more likely to be anaemic than people who eat meat and consequently, their babies do not get enough iron in the womb.

DHA. DHA stands for Docosahexaenoic acid, which is why we refer to it as DHA. It  is an omega-3 fatty acid that is a primary structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. It is the most abundant molecule in the brain and is essential for our thought processes. It can only be found in animal-sourced foods especially fish. There is none of it in plants, although they do contain a fatty acid known as ALA, which can be converted to DHA. However, the conversion process is very inefficient and vegans and vegetarians invariably have much lower levels than omnivores.

There are many other components of a healthy diet missing from plant-based foods. A vegan diet cannot provide all the nutrients for the development of a fully functioning, optimised human brain. There is more comprehensive information in the members’ area.

References: The Role of Iron in Neurodevelopment: Fetal Iron Deficiency and the Developing Hippocampus

Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life.

Effects of folate and vitamin B12 deficiencies during pregnancy on fetal, infant, and child development.