There are numerous pros and cons to children following a vegan diet, particularly throughout an important stage of life. As parents, it is important to consider the benefits and risks of veganism and to seek professional help if unsure as to whether this will pose a risk to the health of your child. If appropriately planned and nutritional requirements are accounted for, a vegan diet can be perfectly healthy for humans in all stages of life, including children!
What is Veganism?
Veganism is a dietary pattern that abstains from eating all animal products. This includes, but is not limited to, dairy products such as milk, yogurts and cheese, meats, poultry, eggs and fish. Some people choose to follow a vegan diet due to either ethical and environmental reasons, or health-related reasons.
Let’s take a look at both the pros and cons of children adopting a vegan diet..
Pros of Veganism
Increased consumption of nutritious food
Vegan diets, if primarily made up of wholefoods, can be significantly more nutritious than a typical Australian diet. Vegan diets typically consist of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, plant-based proteins such as legumes, beans, tofu and tempeh which are all nutritious food options, rich in essential vitamins and minerals.
Seeing as vegan diets are primarily based on whole, nutritious food options and must be consumed in larger quantities to replace the missing food groups (dairy and meats), it is assumed the vitamin and mineral content of the diet will increase in certain areas also.
Improved body composition and reduced risk of disease
Due to the lower consumption of saturated fats, sugars and salt, veganism can reduce the development of some diseases. Although more research is required, recent research into the comparison of growth, body composition and cardiovascular health of children favour a vegan diet over an omnivorous diet (1). This means following a vegan diet could reduce the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity later in life (2).
Veganism in children is completely safe if children are under the guidance of an Accredited Practising Dietitian and are making sure all essential nutrients are accounted for through fortified foods and/or supplements.
Cons of Veganism
Limits food choices for children in social settings
Restricting food choices can be manageable in a home environment where the control of the children’s food is in the hands of parents, however, children are naturally going to attend different social events as they age and having to restrict what they eat on these occasions can be putting children at risk of social isolation.
Vegan diets can still be high in sugar, salt and saturated fats
There is a common misconception that if someone is vegan, they are automatically healthy.
A vegan diet based on wholefoods – fruits, vegetables, legumes and beans, nuts and seeds, tofu and tempeh, can be very healthy, and the researched benefit of veganism applies to this population. However, the packaged and processed vegan products in supermarkets are growing rapidly, particularly meat and dairy substitutes that often contain higher amounts of saturated fats, salt, sugar, flavourings and preservatives. Consuming a vegan diet heavily based on these processed products makes it quite unhealthy and any potential benefits of consuming a vegan diet would no longer apply. These packaged and processed vegan options could pose more risk than benefit to the health of children.
Eliminating whole food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies
Eliminating whole food groups in children at a critical time of growth and development, if not done properly, can lead to deficiencies and long-term health risks such as weaker bones, lack of energy and stunted growth (1). Calcium and vitamin D are two nutrients which are essential for healthy bone growth and development, most abundant in dairy products which are eliminated on vegan diets. Additionally, vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient only found in animal products and must be supplemented or sourced from fortified products on a vegan diet.
Seeking the help of an Accredited Practising Dietitian is important for those following a vegan diet at all ages, particularly for children in such a critical period of growth and development to prevent any deficiencies and adverse health effects.
A wholefood, healthy vegan diet for children can be great to lower the risk of developing certain diseases by reducing the consumption of unhealthy foods containing added fats and sugars and increase consumption of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans.
However, carefully planning meals and using supplements and/or fortified products is essential to prevent any nutritional deficiencies and potential long-term complications.
Consulting with a Dietitian for support and guidance is essential for all children following a vegan diet. Children undergo different periods of growth and development which require different amounts of certain nutrients to support each phase. Having this assessed by a Dietitian and closely monitored with suggested supplements and/or fortified food options will help prevent any nutrient deficiencies and support growth and development.
- Małgorzata A Desmond, Jakub G Sobiecki, Maciej Jaworski, Paweł Płudowski, Jolanta Antoniewicz, Meghan K Shirley, Simon Eaton, Janusz Książyk, Mario Cortina-Borja, Bianca De Stavola, Mary Fewtrell, Jonathan C K Wells, Growth, body composition, and cardiovascular and nutritional risk of 5- to 10-y-old children consuming vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore diets, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 113, Issue 6, June 2021, Pages 1565–1577, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa445
- Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec;116(12):1970-1980. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025. PMID:
By Ellen Kessling
Accredited Practising Dietitian & Nutritionist
Ellen Kessling is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, qualified Nutritionist and Exercise Scientist. She currently works as a Private Practice Dietitian at the Medical Super Clinic on the Gold Coast, and is also a Nutrition Consultant for clients online. Ellen is well-studied and passionate about all areas of Nutrition and Dietetics, however, her main interest areas include vegan and vegetarianism, paediatric health, irritable bowel syndrome and the low FODMAP diet, holistic health, women and pregnancy health.
Ellen founded The IBS Program which aims to help those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome take control of their symptoms and improve their quality of life through dietary therapy.
Her nutrition philosophy is to encourage people to listen to their bodies and consume predominantly a wholefood, plant-based diet to optimise their health and wellbeing.
Instagram @ellen_dietitian & @theibsprogram
(website is currently being updated – www.nutritiondieteticservices.com)