Veganism is a popular lifestyle that has grown over the years, with more and more families raising their children on a vegan diet. As a result of this increase, many people wonder if, and how, you can raise healthy children on a vegan diet.
Calgary Journal reporters Holly Maller and Hillary Ollenberger produced this short documentary that delves into the topic of "Raising Little Vegans."
Maller and Ollenberger spoke with local experts and one Calgary mom to find out more about this new and evolving lifestyle choice.
There are a lot of reasons as to why someone might switch to the vegan lifestyle, including preventing the exploitation of animals, health reasons, and lowering their carbon footprint. The vegan diet is believed to have many benefits such as promoting weight loss, improving kidney function, and reducing the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
According to Vegan.com, Veganism can be defined as cutting out every item of animal origin including not only just food, but everything from apparel, furniture, and cosmetics that may contain or cause harm to animals.
With veganism growing, there is also a growth in children being raised on the vegan diet. Some experts advise that it could be a harmful diet for children if they do not receive the adequate amounts of nutrients such as vitamin B12 and protein.
The vitamin B12 is essential in a child’s development, especially in brain and cognitive functions. In a 2016 study from PubMed Central, they found that deficiency of B12 is closely linked to cognitive and behavioral impairment.
Choosing a vegan lifestyle
Many people in Calgary are living the plant based and vegan diet including Amber Vylette who is a vegan mother and is raising her daughter to grow up vegan.
“When I was 19, I tried vegan because I was working at a natural food store here in Calgary called Community Natural Foods and there was a whole group of us that decided to go vegan together as a little challenge and it stuck.”
Vylette says that becoming vegan was a good learning experience and in just the first few weeks she felt more energy than ever.
“In terms of the thought of raising Felicity was that I had already been vegan for coming up on a decade, 8 or 9 years, so I had all of that knowledge and experience behind me,” says Vylette.
“With all the knowledge, especially that I had accumulated over the years of how to combine nutrients and make sure that I’m getting what I need to be getting, I knew how I was going to go about feeding her.”
What do the experts say?
Although there are still some doctors questioning whether or not children are receiving the adequate amount of nutrients that they need for a vegan diet, local pediatrician Dr. Peter Nieman backs up Vylette’s decision to raise her daughter vegan.
According to Dr. Nieman, getting advice from a professional source such as a pediatrician, dietician, or even a reputable website like PCRM.org, can make all the difference.
“It’s pretty clear that the most important thing about feeding your child a vegan diet is staying educated and informed.”
In order to raise your child vegan, Dr. Nieman believes that it is important to make sure they are getting enough vitamin B12 in their diet, monitoring their blood work, and making sure that their protein levels are good.
“If you take care of the basics, the foundational things like just monitoring the blood tests you don't have to do it regularly too. Usually with the B12 supplements, you should not have to look over your shoulder just move forward and be happy, peaceful and relaxed about the whole thing.”
Jennifer House, a registered dietician, nutritionist, and owner of First Step Nutrition also believes that it is possible to raise your child vegan.
“The more variety of foods you can offer your baby, obviously the easier it is to meet their nutrient needs and vegan diets are somewhat limited, but it certainly is possible with extra planning and supplementation to raise a healthy vegan baby.”
House says that a lot of doctors have a variety of opinions on nutrition and if they come across a patient who wants to raise their baby vegan, she suggests referring them to a dietician who would know more about how their baby can receive the proper nutrients with this diet.
To know if your vegan baby is getting enough calories, House says that following the baby's growth on the growth chart is helpful.
“As long as the baby's following along their growth curve on the growth chart and you know they're getting enough to eat. But as for the nutrients, of course you want to watch for developmental milestones, you'd want to look for an energetic baby. Some signs of iron deficiency could be they're getting sick a lot, they're looking pale [and] they have low energy. As long as you have a happy, healthy baby, then they're likely getting what they need.”
With Vylette’s daughter Felicity, born at 6 pounds 7 ounces, she says that her daughter is following the growth curve.
“Even if you’re not vegan, you want them to always be growing and following that curve so the fact that she wasn’t just following the curve, but was going straight up, it felt awesome. She’s stayed there and continues to be there so I and the doctors have no worries that she’s a healthy baby.”
For Vylette, feeding her daughter vegan is not much different from feeding herself. By knowing the proper nutrients and making sure her daughter is receiving enough iron and vitamin C rich foods, Vylette knows that Felicity is a healthy and happy baby.
“To me, I don’t even think of it as a vegan diet when I think of myself because it's just the way I eat and it's just the way that I’ve eaten for so long that nothing else really crosses my mind and it's pretty easy to feed her.
- By Hillary Ollenberger and Holly Maller