Risks and benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets in children

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Kiely, Mairead E.
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Cambridge University Press
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In parallel with increased public awareness of the health and environmental benefits of consuming a plant-based diet, the numbers of people who identify as vegan has increased sharply. The question of whether vegetarian and vegan diets are appropriate for children is a longstanding and unresolved controversy. The more restrictive the diet and the younger the child, the greater the risk of nutritional deficiency. Nutrients of potential concern are protein quantity and quality, iron, zinc, selenium, calcium, riboflavin, vitamins A, D, B12 and essential fatty acids. While intakes and status of some nutrients (e.g. vitamin D and iron) are low in many children, vegan children are particularly susceptible due to inadequate supply and/or excess dietary fibre as well as other components that limit bioavailability. While position papers from North America state that well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets, supplemented appropriately, are suitable for all life stages, European statements include strong recommendations to parents that vegan diets should not be adopted by children without medical and dietetic supervision. Case histories of malnutrition and serious harm persist, including irreversible neurological damage due to vitamin B12 deficiency among unsupplemented children. The evidence available to evaluate the nutritional appropriateness of vegetarian diets for children is inadequate and dated. Although nutritionally adequate vegetarian diets are more easily achieved, successful provision of a complete vegan diet for a young child requires substantial commitment, expert guidance, planning, resources and supplementation.
Vegan diet , Vegetarian diet , Child , Infant , Paediatric nutrition
Kiely, M. E. (2021) 'Risks and benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets in children', Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. doi: 10.1017/S002966512100001X
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