04/30/2012 04:54 EDT

Vegan Diet For Kids A Good Idea?: Quick Study


Quick Study [kwik stuhd-ee]: The Huffington Post Canada's tips to make your life a little sweeter, five minutes at a time. Think of it as a cheatsheet for your general well-being.

Apparently 'Old McDonald Had A Farms' doesn't cut it when it comes to early childhood education any more. Vegan is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action isn't the typical bedtime story you'd find parents reading to their kids before kissing them goodnight -- unless that parent likes to leave images of bloody steaks in meat lockers lingering in the dreams of their six year old.

The picture book, which was released last week, is being slammed as inappropriate, with experts saying the graphic images are akin to brainwashing children to think that veganism is the only lifestyle capable of "standing up for yourself and all other living beings and that is love."

The book also reignites the debate of whether a vegan diet is right for young children. A diet that's free of meats or foods produced by animals has been found to have benefits like lowered risk for diseases, physical perks, and an overall healthier lifestyle. But many parents and nutritional experts question whether the same applies to those who are still growing.

The vocal vegan community online appears to be quite supportive of the idea -- as one woman wrote on Twitter:

Babies and children THRIVE on plant-based diets! “@snobunni101 RT @EuroVegan: #vegan is safe for all ages!”

For Timi Gustafson, a clinical dietician based in Seattle, Washington, it's a question of nutrition. As he wrote in, infants and toddlers are at a stage of rapid growth and development and shouldn't face any dietary restriction.

Gustafson also noted, however, that a vegan diet differs from the typical North American diet, which is typically calorie laden and high in sugar and fats. By adopting a vegan diet, children and their parents could lay down the framework for a healthier style of eating in the future.

Other risks potentially faced by children on a vegan diet are a lack of calories, as the diet tends not to be calorie-dense, as well as a lack of protein, which is consumed primarily from meat. Both calories and protein are prime sources of energy.

SEE: The 5 nutrients vegans need to keep in mind. Story continues below:

Photo gallery Five Nutrients Vegans Need To Keep In Mind See Gallery


While the vegan diet certainly presents inherent risks and benefits for kids, Gustafson said it's ultimately the child's choice as to their everyday diet.

"What matters most is that children don’t feel forced to stay within strict dietary limits that don’t allow for some flexibility... it’s the same with all diet and lifestyle changes – if [the habits] don’t become natural, they won’t last long," said Gustafson.


  • Ask any pediatrician and they'll tell you that calcium is key to the growth of strong and healthy bones in children. The problem is that since most Canadians get their calcium from dairy products, vegans are often left to find alternative source, such as through pills or supplements.
  • Skip out on iron and you'll probably have to skip out on most of life. That's because you'll be feeling tired, weak, breathless, or suffering from headaches-- all signs of iron deficiency. Fortunately for vegans, dark leafy vegetables can provide a good source of iron if meat is off the table.
  • Protein plays an important role in any diet. It not only serves as a source of energy but also as a building block to keep your body in tip-top shape. It's a nutrient that provides amino acids which helps repair injuries such as tears to muscle tissue or cuts to the skin. For an animal-free source of protein, vegans can look to nuts and beans.
  • Think of Vitamin D as the precursor to calcium. While calcium helps with the development of strong bones, the body still needs something to help absorb all that calcium. That's where vitamin D comes into play and vegans can look to the sun and supplements for their animal-free sources of vitamin D.
  • For vegans, vitamin B-12 is tough to come by since it's a vitamin that only occurs naturally in animal products. Fortunately, an increasing number of products -- like soy milk and cereals -- are being fortified with synthetic vitamin B-12 which can lower the risk to to brain damage and damage to the central nervous system.