Nutrient status and growth in vegan children

Nutr Res. 2021 May 18;91:13-25. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2021.04.005. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Vegan diets have risen in popularity over the past 9 years. However, few studies have examined nutrient status and the effect of a vegan diet on the growth of children. This study analysed the existing literature on the health impact and growth impact of selected nutrients in vegan children. We assessed the intake of calories and protein, as well as the nutrients iron, calcium, vitamin D, cobalamin and folate. With a small percentage of outliers, vegan children showed normal growth and were less often obese. We found limited evidence that children on a vegan diet can obtain all the examined nutrients. Furthermore, as proper planning and supplementation by caregivers is needed, it is currently unknown how often vegan children follow well-planned diets. Deficiencies in cobalamin, calcium, and vitamin D seem to be the biggest risks associated with a poorly planned vegan diet. For a more definitive assessment, data on the intake and nutrient status of omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iodine, and selenium in vegan children are needed. Future research should account for demographic shifts in those following a vegan diet, and should discriminate between vegan sub-populations that are open or closed towards scientific approaches, towards health in general, and toward supplementation. Studies should assess the modes and dosages of supplementation and the use of fortified foods or drinks, as well as adherence to the diet itself. Plant ferritin as a source of iron and endogenous cobalamin synthesis warrants further scientific inquiry. In summary, the current literature suggests that a well-planned vegan diet using supplementation is likely to provide the recommended amounts of critical nutrients to provide for normal progression of height and weight in children, and can be beneficial in some aspects. However, data on 5 critical nutrients are still missing, hampering a more definitive conclusion.

Keywords: Children; Nutrients; Nutrition; Vegan diet; Veganism.

Publication types

  • Review