… Professor Mary Fewtrell warned: ‘It is difficult to ensure a healthy and balanced vegan diet in young infants. The risks of getting it wrong can include irreversible cognitive damage and, in the extreme, death’…
Have mothers who make their babies go VEGAN lost the plot? They insist it's a healthy and ethical choice - but experts say they could cause lasting harm
Experts warn that a healthy vegan diet can be healthy but must be done right
A study of veganism found a lack of nutrients such as vitamin B12 is damaging
Paediatric dietitian Lucy Upton agrees that vegan diet requires careful attention
By Sadie Nicholas for the Daily Mail (UK)
5 March 2019
To the parents of fussy eaters, the idea of a child who begs for broccoli and happily tucks into a pile of beans, pulses and tofu sounds like an impossible dream. Surely, such a child does not exist?
Well, he does. One-year-old Dylan Bammeke’s favourite meal is dahl curry with rice or sweet potato mash, and you’ll never see him pulling a ‘yuck’ face when given a veggie stir-fry.
Dylan eats this way because it’s all he has ever known. He may not be old enough to pronounce the word ‘vegan’ — but he is one. Toddler staples such as chicken nuggets, fish fingers or boiled egg and soldiers have never made their way on to his plate.
Dylan’s mother, Layla, admits her decision to feed her son a plant-based diet has raised eyebrows. Is it morally right, or even healthy, to enforce such a strict eating regime on a growing child, many ask.
Layla, 39, says raising her baby to be vegan has been met with derision from some.
‘I’ve had people accuse me of child abuse, and had comments such as, “You should let him have the choice to eat meat,” and, “He won’t grow properly,”’ says Layla, a business studies student who’s been vegan since 2016.
She lives in Woolwich, South-East London, with Dylan, 16 months, and her fiance Eddie, 50, a film director, who’s also vegan. Before weaning her son, Layla sought advice from her GP — and certainly her little boy is a picture of health, with sparkling eyes, glowing skin and weight and height just as they should be.
Even so, Layla’s been stigmatised and has lost friends. ‘I’ve lost three friends who don’t agree with what they see as my “militant” ways. They were vile on social media, too, telling me I’d make my baby ill and that I’m denying him a choice in life.
‘It’s interesting because my view is that I didn’t have a choice as a child. I was given meat and fish to eat and told to clean my plate. I expect Dylan to be curious and maybe even rebellious about meat in the future. I hope he understands why he’s vegan, and I will try not to freak out if he tries meat and dairy when he’s older.’
There are an estimated 3.5 million vegans in the UK — 7 per cent of the population — who eschew meat, fish, dairy and any other products that derive from the killing of an animal or from agricultural practices that exploit living creatures.
This includes honey and foods containing such ingredients as gelatine or animal fats.
Food manufacturers have also responded to soaring demand for vegan foods, with companies such as Babease and Piccolo offering vegan food for little ones. But while there are milk alternatives for adults, there is still no vegan baby formula milk in the UK.
But just how safe is it to raise a child as a vegan and is it really possible for them to get the vital nutrients they need? While many experts note that a vegan diet can be perfectly healthy for children, they also warn that it must be done properly.
A study of veganism in children at University College London concluded that a lack of nutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and high-quality protein (found in meat and dairy) can lead to malnutrition and ‘irreversible damage’ to their nervous systems.
Professor Mary Fewtrell warned: ‘It is difficult to ensure a healthy and balanced vegan diet in young infants. The risks of getting it wrong can include irreversible cognitive damage and, in the extreme, death.’
Paediatric dietitian Lucy Upton agrees that while a vegan diet shouldn’t be labelled good or bad, it requires very careful attention.
‘Children need lots of energy and very nutrient dense foods in order to grow, for bone and teeth accrual, and for their brains to develop.
‘A wholefood vegan diet is typically low in fat and high in fibre, and essentially low in calories, which has the potential to affect how much energy and nutrients children are able to consume.
‘When reviewing the diet of a vegan child, I scrutinise it to ensure it includes the nutrients which are essential for children — namely iron, calcium, vitamin B12, iodine, selenium, vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids. They are harder to obtain from a vegan diet, so many youngsters require supplements.
‘Iron deficiency can also impact on children’s weight, appetite and energy, and increase the risk of coughs and colds.
‘Too little protein can lead to stunted growth, while too much fibre can cause children to feel full too quickly, stopping them getting enough food’…
... However, dietitian Lucy Upton points out that there’s a misleading perception that the vegan diet is super-healthy. ‘Data shows that a lot of people quote health as the reason why they become vegan and certainly it can be healthy,’ she says. ‘But there are also plenty of processed and high-calorie vegan foods on the market now, plus “accidental” vegan foods which would be unhealthy in large quantities, such as certain cookies, crisps and sweets.
‘It’s so important that parents become familiar with food labels and look for vegan-friendly foods that contain good amounts of protein and calcium, and are fortified with iron and vitamin B12.’