November 19, 2018
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Leigh Ettinger, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics.
Meaghin Svenson, RDN contributes to topics such as Nutrition.
It can be challenging to teach children healthy eating habits. If you are looking for them to embrace a vegan diet, there can be obstacles as well. Despite the challenges, this plant-based eating program also has some significant health benefits for kids.
“Plant-based eating comes with several known health advantages,” said Leigh Ettinger, M.D., a pediatric nephrologist at Hackensack University Medical Center.
The main benefits of vegan eating include lower cholesterol and fat intake, and a higher consumption of fruits, vegetables and fiber compared to children who consume animal products.
“Adopting this lifestyle can also help a child develop lifelong healthy eating habits,” said Meaghin Svenson, RDN a clinical nutrition manager at Riverview Medical Center. Some studies indicate that vegan children have a leaner body mass compared to non-vegans.
Just because a child is vegan doesn’t guarantee better health, though. Actress Alicia Silverstone recently said her vegan son has never needed medication because of his healthy lifestyle, but Svenson said there would need to be studies to validate the claim.
“If your child is eating healthy, vegan or not, it’s important they get daily exercise and play time in an environment that promotes learning and growth. This well-rounded approach leads to having a child that is more likely to be healthy and stay healthy,” she said.
A CASE FOR VEGAN KIDS
Ettinger and Svenson outlined a few things to keep in mind to assist children to adopting vegan eating habits.
- Be nutrient-aware. “Vegan diets can meet the nutritional needs of infants, children and adolescents, however it requires careful attention to ensure specific nutrient needs are being met,” Svenson said. The American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics say that well-planned vegan diets can support adequate nutrition in the growing child. Vegan children must make sure to get enough vitamin B12, she and Ettinger noted. Vegans may be at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency, especially if they live in places with limited sunny days, so parents should talk to their pediatrician about giving their child a vitamin D supplement.Other nutrients of concern for vegan kids include calcium and iron, which can be found in fortified nondairy milks, juices, dark green leafy vegetables and fortified ready-to-eat cereals. Parents should ensure vegan children get enough protein as well. Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns about helping your child adopt a healthy eating plan.That said, vegans are likely eating more nutrient-dense foods, so they probably won’t have to worry about getting enough of vitamins that omnivorous eaters may lack.
- Teach the cause. As children grow and learn more about animals, it gives parents the opportunity to discuss why some people chose to adopt a vegan diet. Children love animals and may be more receptive to following a vegan diet if they are thinking about animal rights and animal equality. “If anything, kids identify more with the animals,” Ettinger said.
- Expand little palettes. Parents should look at some of the meat substitutes on the market, and explore transition foods that can switch an omnivore into a vegan if their child wants to become vegan. “It [a vegan diet] opens up the menu to so many different things,” Ettinger said. Vegan eating gives children new options they may not have considered if they consumed animal products, he said.
- Odd kid out? It may be difficult for some children to cope with having different eating habits than their friends, especially in group eating situations. This is where the parent can educate and assist the child in embracing their diet. Try not to make veganism feel like a restriction, and keep vegan options accessible, Ettinger noted.
Dr. Ettinger is a pediatric nephrologist who practices in Hackensack, NJ. For an appointment, call 551-996-8228. To learn more about the Pediatric Nephrology program at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, click here. Meaghin Svenson, RD is the clinical nutrition manager at Riverview Medical Center. To learn more about Riverview Medical Center’s clinical nutrition program, click here.
The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
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