Over the last few years, the number of people following vegetarian and vegan diets have been on the rise. Research from Roy Morgan Research found that between 2012 and 2019, the number of Australians eating a vegetarian diet went from 1.7 million to 2.5 million. We can only assume that by 2021, this number would be significantly higher.

This increased popularity in plant-based eating is not only seen in adults, with many children adopting this way of eating as well. As a time of critical growth and development, it is important to consider both the benefits and risks of eating this way.

In this article we take a deep dive into whether vegan children are as healthy as non vegan and look at the important nutrients for parents to consider.

What is a vegan diet

Veganism is a dietary pattern that abstains from eating all animal products. This includes milk, yoghurt, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, eggs and honey. The motives behind adopting a vegan diet are often because of one or a combination of three factors. These are; environmental, ethical and/or health-related.

Vegans typically consume a diet from the following five core food groups:

  • Fruits – apples, bananas, oranges, mandarins.
  • Vegetables – broccoli, brussel sprouts, lettuce, tomato, cucumber
  • Plant Proteins – chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, tofu and tempeh.
  • Calcium-rich dairy alternatives – calcium-fortified plant milk, calcium-set tofu, tahini, almonds, bok choy and vegan yoghurt/cheese alternatives.
  • Wholegrains – brown rice, quinoa, pasta, bread, wraps.

What does the research say above vegan children

In 2013, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council recognised that well planned vegan and vegetarian diets are healthful and nutritionally adequate for all individuals at all stages of the life cycle. This position is supported by peak nutrition associations such as Dietitians Australia, British Dietetic Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Unfortunately, there has only been a small number of studies that have looked into the nutritional intake of vegan children.

Studies in the Germany, the United States and United Kingdom have found that vegan children experience normal growth and development. The studies highlighted the importance  of appropriate supplementation and ensuring the children had sufficient calories, macro and micronutrients. They did also note that vegan children were leaner in body fat.

A recent study released in 2021 from Poland looked into the growth, body composition and heart health of plant based children. It also found that overall vegan children were leaner, had better heart health, but also had a lower bone mineral density and increased risk of nutritional deficiencies.

This study reinforces the positive attributes we find from plant-based diets such as reducing risk of chronic disease, but indicates that it is essential for these diets to be well planned and appropriately supplemented.

What should parents be aware of:

When adopting a plant-based diet, there is a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies. As children are in a critical stage of growth, it is beneficial to work with a dietitian or health care provider to ensure they are meeting all their nutritional requirements.

Some of the most important nutrients to consider for vegan children include:

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is not naturally found in plant-based foods. Deficiency is serious as it can impact growth and development. It is essential that vitamin B12 be supplemented to breastfed infants from six month of age. Speak with your healthcare provider about the appropriate supplementation regime for your child.

Vitamin D

Plant based foods are routinely low in vitamin D. This important nutrient plays an essential role in the absorption of dietary calcium, and deficiency can affect appropriate bone growth. Vitamin D is traditionally provided largely through the sunlight on bare skin. Due to the wide-spread sun-safety action due to the increased risk of  skin cancer in Australia, there is unfortunately also an increased prevalence of young children with vitamin D deficiency. Speak with your healthcare provider about the appropriate supplementation regime for your child


Iron is rich in plant-based foods such as spinach, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans. This is an important nutrient which helps provide oxygen to body cells and deficiency can lead to increased risk of infection and developmental issues. Unfortunately, plant-based iron is not always well absorbed due to the presence of phytates. These compounds are rich in almost all plant foods and reduce iron absorption. You can reduce the presence of phytates by soaking, fermenting and sprouting grains and legumes. Iron absorption can also be enhanced by adding vitamin C to meals. This could be as simple as including tomato in a chickpea curry.


Calcium is traditionally found in dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese. It is essential for building healthy bones and teeth and deficiency can affect bone formation. For infants under 12 months of age, calcium needs can be met from breastmilk and formula. After 12 months, calcium rich foods should be incorporated regularly such as calcium fortified soy milk, calcium-set tofu tahini, almond butter and kale.


Plant based foods are rich in omega-6 fatty acids but have limited amounts of omega-3. They are especially low in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an important fatty acid for brain and eye development. DHA supplements are routinely derived from fish, however this is due to fish obtaining their DHA from algae. Algae based DHA supplements are appropriate for vegans and supplementation should be discussed with your healthcare professional.

The bottom line

Plant based eating has a multitude of health benefits and is appropriate for all individuals throughout the lifecycle. However, due to the increased risk of nutritional deficiencies, diets in children must be carefully planned and appropriately supplemented to ensure they meet all nutritional requirements.


Kiah Paetz

Kiah is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist. She runs the PNW Clinic, a boutique nutrition consultancy specialising in plant-based, vegan and vegetarian diets. Her nutrition philosophy is to encourage everyone to “eat more plants” due to the strong link between plant-based diets and reducing risk of chronic disease. (please hyperlink)

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