Vegan diet in young children remodels metabolism and challenges the statuses of essential nutrients

EMBO Mol Med. 2021 Feb 5;13(2):e13492. doi: 10.15252/emmm.202013492. Epub 2021 Jan 20.


Vegan diets are gaining popularity, also in families with young children. However, the effects of strict plant-based diets on metabolism and micronutrient status of children are unknown. We recruited 40 Finnish children with a median age 3.5 years-vegans, vegetarians, or omnivores from same daycare centers-for a cross-sectional study. They enjoyed nutritionist-planned vegan or omnivore meals in daycare, and the full diets were analyzed with questionnaires and food records. Detailed analysis of serum metabolomics and biomarkers indicated vitamin A insufficiency and border-line sufficient vitamin D in all vegan participants. Their serum total, HDL and LDL cholesterol, essential amino acid, and docosahexaenoic n-3 fatty acid (DHA) levels were markedly low and primary bile acid biosynthesis, and phospholipid balance was distinct from omnivores. Possible combination of low vitamin A and DHA status raise concern for their visual health. Our evidence indicates that (i) vitamin A and D status of vegan children requires special attention; (ii) dietary recommendations for children cannot be extrapolated from adult vegan studies; and (iii) longitudinal studies on infant-onset vegan diets are warranted.

Keywords: development; metabolism; nutrition; vegan; vitamin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet
  • Diet, Vegan*
  • Diet, Vegetarian*
  • Humans
  • Nutrients
  • Vegetarians