VeChi study proves it: Vegan child nutrition works
Vegan child nutrition is a controversial topic. A German study has now confirmed what vegan parents have known for a long time: children can also grow up healthily on a vegetarian or vegan diet. The Vegetarian and Vegan Children Study (VeChi study for short) scrutinised the diet of German children and asked how children on a vegetarian, vegan or mixed diet (including meat) differ. To this end, the data of 364 children were analysed with regard to their vitamin and mineral intake. The study leaders presented the initial results last week.The results of the VeChi study at a glance
It is essential for a healthy vegan lifestyle to take avitamin B12 supplement. 94% of the vegan study participants adhered to this recommendation. The results of the study indicate that vitamin B12 supplementation also makes sense for vegetarian children. This is because almost half of the vegetarian children were found to have an inadequate intake of vitamin B12. When it came to the nutrients iron and folic acid, however, the vegan children came out on top: only they achieved the recommended intake values, meaning that they were significantly higher than the other two groups. However, all children were adequately supplied with vitamin C and zinc. In contrast, all three groups had an inadequate supply of the minerals iodine and calcium as well as vitamin B2.
In addition, it appears that unfortunately not all parents are sufficiently informed about the aspects of a balanced diet for children: 10% of vegan and 6% of vegetarian children were too small for their age, and 3% of mixed dieters were overweight. However, exactly how these malnourishments came about has not yet been analysed. A more detailed analysis of the study data and specific nutritional recommendations derived from this will be published towards the end of the year.
It is not new that children who do not drink milk are smaller than their milk-drinking peers. Numerous studies show that milk consumption has an effect on height. It is assumed that this is due to the growth factors it contains. However, a high level of growth factors such as IGF-1 in the blood not only promotes growth in length, but is also suspected of favouring certain diseases (e.g. acne, obesity, diabetes, cancer).
Balanced child nutrition:
How to ensure my child has an optimal supply of nutrients
Regardless of the diet, parents should consider the following points:
- Only consume sweets and sweetened drinks (e.g. soft drinks, fruit juices) in moderation. The same applies to special children's foods (e.g. muesli, yoghurt), which are often high in sugar. It is better not to trust the advertising promises here, but to read the list of ingredients critically. Eat wholemeal products (e.g. type 1050 wheat flour, oatmeal, wholemeal pasta) several times a day to increase your vitamin B2 intake.
- Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
- If dairy products are consumed, then only in moderation due to the growth factors.
- Use iodised table salt.
- Drink calcium-rich mineral water (at least 300 mg/l).
- Almonds, soya beans, broccoli, kale or spinach are also goodsources of calcium. However, green vegetables contain oxalic acid, which inhibits calcium absorption. However, the cooking process reduces the oxalic acid content. The cooked version should therefore always be preferred for spinach, broccoli and co. Avoid ready meals and industrially processed products and favour fresh and regional foods, as these have the highest vitamin content. A good alternative to fresh vegetables is frozen food (e.g. spinach, peas). As the vegetables are frozen immediately after harvesting, few vitamins are lost.Eat a varied and diverse diet.
- Vegans and vegetarians should also make sure that their child takes a daily vitamin B12 supplement.
There is no doubt that a vegan diet for children is feasible. The basic prerequisite for this - as with other diets - is informed parents. Even one of the most important professional associations, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, certifies that the vegan diet is suitable for all stages of life (including pregnancy, breastfeeding and infancy). However, in Germany we are unfortunately still a little behind the times: The German Nutrition Society (DGE) e.V. still adheres to its old recommendations and is against a vegan diet in childhood. Perhaps the VeChi study offers an opportunity to reconsider this.Sources:
- Melnik B (2009). Height development and puberty in German children - Is there still a positive secular trend? Milk consumption - an important factor in height development. Dtsch Arztebl Int 106(40): 65
- Melina V et al. (2016) Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet 116(12): 1970-80