Should babies be raised on a vegan diet?

Marie Claire Dorking

A parenting debate has been sparked following a GMB discussion about whether babies should be raised on a vegan diet.

During the segment, two mothers with opposing views debated whether it was ok to bring babies up on a vegan diet.

Following the discussion, GMB released a poll revealing that 79 per cent of people say babies should not be raised vegan.

And the debate continued on social media.

Many agreed with the majority of the poll that there were health risks associated with babies adopting a purely plant-based diet.

READ MORE: Marks and Spencer accused of cultural appropriation over vegan biryani wrap

But others didn’t see anything wrong with parents bringing their children up on a vegan diet.

Others argued that it should be down to the child to decide whether they wanted to be vegan or not.

With increasing numbers of adults switching to plant-based diets, there are now thought to be 540,000 vegans in Britain, up from 150,000 a decade ago, many parents are choosing to raise their babies and children in the same way.

But what are the health implications of bringing up a child as a vegan and is it still possible for them to get the nutrients they need?

While many experts note that a vegan diet can be perfectly healthy for children, some also warn that it must be done properly.

Should babies be brought up vegan? [Photo: Getty]

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) could lead to malnutrition and “irreversible damage” to their nervous systems, the Daily Mail reports.

READ MORE: Aldi called out for selling ‘flexitarian’ burgers – containing meat

According to the NHS babies and young children on a vegetarian or vegan diet can get the energy and most of the nutrients they need to grow and develop from a well-planned varied and balanced diet.

But they might need specific supplements (such as vitamin B12) in addition to the usual vitamin supplements recommended for all babies.

“Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods including eggs, cheese and milk,” the site reads.

“If your baby or child has a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet that does not include dairy or eggs, they’ll need to take a supplement that contains vitamin B12 or eat foods fortified with B12.”

Foods that may be fortified with vitamin B12 include breakfast cereals, yoghurts and milk alternatives, such as soya, oat, coconut and almond drinks.

READ MORE: Twitter in uproar over pub charging £28 for vegan cauliflower ‘steak’ deal

The NHS goes on to discuss the importance of other nutrients including Omega-3, calcium, iron and protein often found in animal products, but offers plant-based substitutes for parents raising their children as vegans.

Calorie-intake is another consideration for vegan parents. “A vegetarian or vegan diet can be high in fibre,” the NHS explains. “This can mean your child feels full up before they have taken in enough calories and nutrients.”

The site suggests that in addition to the higher fibre wholegrain and wholemeal versions, should have some lower fibre foods, such as white bread and rice, until they’re 5.

“If you’re concerned your child is not getting enough energy, offer them higher calorie foods, such as hummus, smooth nut and seed butters or full-fat yoghurt (dairy or dairy alternatives), and use vegetable oils or vegan fat spreads in cooking,” the NHS adds.

Veganism has been on the rise of late, so it makes sense that more parents will therefore likely opt to bring up their children on a vegan diet.

“We have seen a notable rise of vegan meal ordering on our platform since we launched in 2016, reflecting the wider growing trend,” explains Riya Grover, Co Founder of Feedr.

Riya says that over a quarter (27%) of food vendors added to the Feedr platform in 2018 had predominantly vegan menus.

“This highlights that more and more restaurants are now looking at innovative and nutritiously dense vegan options to feed this growing demand,” she explais. “The same can be said for supermarkets, which are beginning to sell more high-quality replacements for non-vegan products.

“This in turn is making it easier for people to access increasingly varied vegan food both at home, in the office and when out for a meal.”