Implementing Vegan Diet
Some regions had already applied vegetarian and vegan diets and they do have a long cultural-religious based tradition. These diets recently have become more prevalent in Europe and some Western countries. Recent survey in Switzerland found that the majority of vegans (76%) has been following this diet for <5 years and only 2% is above 11 years. Also reported from that survey that most vegans are young adults with higher socioeconomic status and having an urban lifestyle.
For some people, they still mistake between vegan and vegetarian diet. Vegetarian diets are also known as plant-based diets where they only omit meat and fish. Vegan diets do not include any foods that originate from animals and its derivative products such as milk, milk products, eggs and honey.
In young children and adolescents, not just weight and height that is affected by the quality of foods and nutrition that is taken. Neurocognitive and psychomotor development is also influenced by it. Besides that, dietary menu also influence the diversity of the gut microbiota and it may play a role in allergy emotional and cognitive aspects of a person.
Nutrient Coverage of a Vegan Diet
Nutrition that comes from plant or we call it plant-based nutrition is characterized by rich coverage of β-carotene, vitamin C, folate, and magnesium along fiber and phytochemicals. On the other aspects, diet that originate from animal source contains critical source of energy, protein quality, long-chain fatty acids, iron, zinc, vitamin D, iodine, calcium, and especially vitamin B12.
Plant-based proteins has lower quality and less diversified amino acid composition than those who comes from animals. It is very important to be aware that specific sources of amino acids and to increase the intake in order to prevent amino acids deficiency. This issue is very important because children need more amino acids to compensate the building of the cells.
Vegan foods have higher content of fiber thus leading to deficiency in energy intake especially in infants and toddlers due to safety. For vegan-fed infant, breastmilk is still recommended for the first 6 months then after that can be replaced with soy-based infant formula.
For essential polysaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids, alpha linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid. Those are vital for neurological development and since docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid is only available in animal products, vegan children need to be sufficiently supplied with alpha linolenic acid precursor. It can prevent the shortage of omega-3 fatty acid intake.
Besides synthesizing haemoglobin, iron is also important for the mechanism of the nervous system. The requirement of iron in childhood and adolescence is higher compared to adults. The absorption of iron found in animals (Fe2+) is better than non-animal iron (Fe3+) meaning that iron inhibitors are not to be consumed at the same time to increase the absorption rate.
Vitamin D are found in several foods that originate from animals such as dairy or fatty fish that are rich in calcium. Lack of milk and dairy products reduces the supply of calcium. Sufficient calcium intake is important to achieve optimal bone density (peak bone mass) and reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life.
Vitamin B12 in its active form is only available in animal sourced foods and as a vegan, it must be continuously supplemented. Vitamin B12 is critical for our body to carry out its essential functions with deficiency can lead to neurological damage and delayed development.
In conclusion, when a vegan diet is chosen due to several reasons, it requires a well-planned menu with additional intake of vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine and other micronutrients which are crucial for development. The younger the child, the more awareness we need and before implementing this diet, please consult with your nutritionist.
Figure 1. Points to Consider When Adopting Vegan Diets to Children (Müller, 2020)