Feeding your kids a trendy vegan diet will help them grow up short and with weaker bones, a study finds.
Researchers found that children ages five to 10 who eat plant-based foods are on average three inches shorter than those who eat meat.
Their bones were also smaller and less strong, putting the children at risk for fractures or osteoporosis later in life.
The study, conducted by the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health at University College London, said parents should be aware of the risks of vegan diets.
The authors said vegan children should be given vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements to reduce the potential long-term consequences of growing up on plants.
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Putting your kids on a trendy vegan diet will help them grow short and with weaker bones, a study has shown (stock image)
Eating healthy 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 fruits and vegetables every day
2. Basic meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates (choose whole grains if possible)
3. Have some dairy alternatives, such as soy drinks and yogurt (choose low-fat and low-sugar options)
5. Eat some beans, legumes and other proteins
6. Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts
7. Drink plenty of fluids (government recommends 6 to 8 cups or glasses a day)
If you choose to include foods and drinks high in fat, salt, or sugar, consume them less often and in small amounts.
The number of vegans in Britain has quadrupled in four years to around 600,000, due to rising concerns about animal welfare and the environment.
Vegans cut out all animal products, including dairy, eggs and even honey. But there is little evidence about the potential harm this causes to children’s health.
Lead author Professor Jonathan Wells of UCL said: ‘We know that people are increasingly drawn to plant-based diets for a variety of reasons, including promoting animal welfare and reducing our impact on the climate.
Indeed, a global shift to plant-based diets is now recognized as critical to preventing climate degradation, and we wholeheartedly support this effort.
“We also know that until now research into the health effects of these diets on children has been largely limited to measurements of height and weight and has only been conducted in vegetarian children.
‘Our study provides substantial insight into health outcomes in children following vegetarian and vegan diets.’
The new study looked at 187 healthy five- to 10-year-olds in Poland. Of these, 63 children were vegetarians, 52 vegans and 72 omnivores.
Children on a vegan diet were on average three centimeters shorter. They also had four to six percent less bone mineral content and were more than three times more likely to be deficient in vitamin B12 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 lower bone mass, even if they took into account their smaller bodies and bone size. This means they can enter adolescence, a stage when bone-specific nutritional needs are higher, with a bone deficiency already established.
“If such deficiencies are caused by a diet that persists into adolescence, it may increase the risk of adverse bone outcomes later in life.”
On the positive side, however, the vegan kids had 25 percent lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower levels of body fat.
Children on a vegan diet were on average three centimeters shorter. They also had four to six percent less bone mineral content and were more than three times more likely to be deficient in vitamin B12 than omnivores (stock image)
Co-author Dr. Małgorzata Desmond said: ‘We found that the vegans had higher nutrient intakes, indicating an ‘unprocessed’ type of 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 may 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 that they ate a relatively processed type of plant-based diet, with less healthy fiber and sugars compared to the vegans.
‘So we learn that only plant-based food is no guarantee for health, we still have to choose healthy food.’
The researchers hope their findings will show a need for more advice to the public on how to eat healthily on plant-based diets.
‘This is particularly relevant for children as they may need more nutrients as they grow up,” added Professor Wells.
‘We want to conduct further research to maximize the health benefits of plant-based diets in children.’
ARE VEGAN DIET SAFE FOR BABIES?
About 3.5 million people in the UK are vegan – the equivalent of about seven percent of the population, according to estimates.
And as the diet has become more and more popular, more mothers are choosing to make their babies vegan.
The NHS says that on a vegetarian or vegan diet, babies and young children can get the energy and most of the nutrients they need to grow and develop.
However, the plant-based diet is known to be low in important nutrients for babies, such as vitamin B12 – found milk and eggs, iron, calcium and zinc.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a rare and treatable cause of stunted growth and delayed development in infants, researchers wrote in the journal Pediatrics.
It can also lead to malnutrition and ‘irreversible damage’ to their nervous systems, experts at University College London once concluded.
An iron deficiency can prevent a child from gaining weight, affect their appetite and energy and can lead to anemia, which in severe cases can be life-threatening.
Consuming too little protein can lead to stunted growth, nutritionists warn over the years. But beans, lentils and chickpeas are high in nutrients.
And eating too much fiber can make kids feel full faster and keep them from getting enough food, pediatric dietitian Lucy Upton told the Mail in March.
Two senior nutrition professors at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Shirley Hinde and Ruth Fairchild, said the diet was “less than ideal” for babies.
However, write in The conversation they added that it’s “not ruled out” that the diet could be healthy for a baby.
And they claimed there’s “no reason” why a baby couldn’t survive on a nutrient-dense vegan diet, if their parents were sensible.