{Vegan Children} An interview with Ginny Messina, Registered Dietitian (AKA The Vegan R.D)

Are vegetarian kids less robust?

A fortnight ago, someone entered the above question into a search engine before navigating to Made of Stars. 

I have not written a post that discusses the ‘robustness’ of vegetarian or vegan children. I did, however, write an article called Raising Children as Vegan: A Healthy Alternative a couple of years ago.

The term ‘robust’ means ‘full of health and strength; vigorous’.

Perhaps this individual was seeking to determine whether vegetarian children are smaller and weaker than their peers. Maybe they were trying to find information about the well being of vegetarian children, and whether they are as healthy as their non-vegetarian counterparts.

What is the collective noun for a group of vegan children?

What is the collective noun for a group of vegan children?

Recently, I received an email from a fellow blogger and reader of Made of Stars, Nat

In the email, Nat provided a link to the blog post of a decade-long vegan blogger and raw food advocate who had recently abandoned veganism. One of the blogger’s main motivations for embracing animal based foods again was, apparently, her toddler daughter. More specifically, she expressed concern that a vegan diet was not providing adequate nutrition for her growing daughter.

Although this blogger’s story partly inspired my current blog post, I don’t feel comfortable commenting publicly on other people’s reasons or motivations for abandoning veganism. Especially people I have never met!

I prefer to keep my comments directed at my motivations for embracing veganism and raising vegan children.

Readers of this blog know that my husband and I, both long-term vegans, are raising vegan children. Mat and I have chosen veganism for our family for ethical reasons.

Robust is my middle name!

Robust is my middle name!

We also believe that children thrive on a healthy vegan diet. We have seen it with our own eyes.  But don’t just take my word for it…..

Are vegan diets healthy for kids? 

Personal stories and anecdotes can be interesting and inspirational. However, I encourage parents and parents-to-be to do their own research. Peer-reviewed studies are a good starting point.

In relation to vegan diets for children, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states:

‘…appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes’.

veganchildren2

An article in Pediatrics in Review, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, discusses vegan diets for children:

‘Multiple experts have concluded independently that vegan diets can be followed safely by infants and children without compromise of nutrition or growth and with some notable health benefits’.

In order to discuss an ‘appropriately planned’ vegan diet, and determine the possible ‘notable health benefits’, I contacted Ginny Messina, registered dietitian and ethical vegan.

I was thrilled when Ginny agreed to answer my questions!

You can read more about Ginny, and her educational and professional experience, on her blog the Vegan RD.

I started by asking Ginny if there was any validity to the claim that vegan diets are unsafe for children.

Ginny: No, there is no validity to this claim. We know that vegan diets can meet the nutrient needs of children, and see that children eating healthy vegan diets grow and develop well. Children have no requirements for compounds like cholesterol or preformed vitamin A.
***
Ally: Are there any particular vitamins or minerals that parents of vegan children should particularly focus on? For example, ones that are challenging to obtain on a vegan diet? How can parents ensure that their children receive sufficient amounts?
Ginny: Since most people are used to getting calcium from dairy foods, parents of vegan children need to identify good sources of this nutrient. While leafy greens like collards and kale are good sources, these are foods that aren’t always popular with children.
Fortified plant milks and juices, calcium-set tofu, and almond butter are all good kid-friendly calcium sources, though.

Parents also need to make sure that children are getting plenty of zinc, by including whole grain bread and seeds in menus.

And while iron is found in a wide range of plant foods, it’s important for children to have a good source of vitamin C at as many meals and snacks as possible to enhance iron absorption.

***

Ally: What is the best way to ensure sufficient intake of Omega 3’s? Is it best for parents to provide their children with whole food versions (eg. flaxseeds) or oils (flaxseed oil), or a combination? Should parents give their children a DHA supplement, or rely on conversion from ALA?

Ginny: It’s important for children to have a good source of the essential omega-3 fat ALA, which is found in walnuts, walnut oil, flaxseed, flax oil, or canola oil.
Kids need only a very tiny amount of these foods to meet needs–just a teaspoon or so–so it really doesn’t matter whether they get it from whole foods or from oil.
Whether or not children need a supplement of the other type of omega-3, DHA, is something we don’t know. To be on the safe side, it’s fine for kids to have a small supplement–around 100 mg per day.
***
Ally: Are there any circumstances in which you would recommend vitamin and/or mineral supplements – in addition to B12 -for vegan children?
Ginny: Many vegan (and non-vegan) children need a supplement of vitamin D unless they are getting adequate sun exposure year round.
And, if children don’t have a little bit of iodized salt on their food, they many need a small iodine supplement.
***
Ally: Are there any particular health benefits to raising children as vegan?
Ginny: Since vegans tend to have lower blood pressures, cholesterol levels and body weights, we can assume that children raised on vegan diets will reap some of those benefits.
***
Ally: Thank you Ginny. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions.
veganchildren1
Veganism is more than a diet
Of course, for ethical vegans, our food choices are a daily manifestation of a deeply held belief system. It is one way of reducing suffering, of taking a stance against violence and exploitation.
It is only natural that we seek to impart our vegan values to our precious children.
While teaching our children about compassion and respect for animals – and choosing not to serve animals on our dinner plates – we can rest assured that our children’s growing bodies are receiving adequate nourishment from plant foods.
***
What is your favourite resource for information about vegan nutrition? Please share the link (or book title) in the comment section. 
I have a much-loved copy of Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis, R.D  & Vesanto Melina, M.S, R.D . 
Ally
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About Ally
Mamma. Vegan. I blog at Made of Stars.

14 Responses to {Vegan Children} An interview with Ginny Messina, Registered Dietitian (AKA The Vegan R.D)

  1. susykat says:

    Great piece! It’s unfortunate that there is that misconception that veg kids are weaker than their non-veg counterparts. “Healthy”, “energetic” and “full of life” are some of the ways I would describe your beautiful vegan children! 😀

  2. Awesome post, Ally! It is amazing when people are amazed to see vegan children thriving, and I always love to read more positive thoughts and personal stories on raising vegan children even though I see how beneficial it is everyday with my little guy :).

  3. Linda says:

    My favourite resource on vegan nutrition is Ginny Messina’s website! I’ve been waiting on delivery of a copy of her book Vegan For Life since the start of February…Fishpond has let me down. We think it’s lost. :-/

    • Ally says:

      I’m glad you find Ginny’s web site informative. I do too! I really like her approach. I value her opinion as an RD, and I value her ethics as a vegan!
      Oh, I’m sorry to hear about your book being lost. Fishpond is great when it all works out. I am looking forward to Ginny’s new book (co-authored) Vegan For Her.
      Have you read the recent interview that Ginny did with Vegan Views magazine? (It’s on her web site). Very interesting.
      I hope your book turns up.

  4. Fantastic post! Really enjoyed reading this.

  5. Sophie33 says:

    What a great & very interesting interview! 🙂 Thanks for sharing with us! 🙂

  6. Ally, I just love this. I plan to point many people to your blog just so they can read this well-researched and captivating piece on raising one’s children vegetarian or vegan. Thank you for your enthusiasm and your dedication to living cruelty-free and HEALTHY!

  7. uberdish says:

    Hi Ally! I’m thrilled to see you are back after a wee break from the blogging world. I’m not sure how I missed this post from last year. As always, I enjoy reading your articles. I would love to share this with others. (Where we live, dairy and animal-based protein are so heavily promoted for “health reasons” in our schools and medical facilities. It drives me batty!)

    • Ally says:

      Hi Angela! Thanks for the warm welcome back to the blogging world. I hope you and your family are well.

      Yes, how did you miss this?!! 🙂 haha. If you are like me, your WP reader is so full of blog posts, it is hard to keep up.

      I was thrilled when Ginny agreed to answer my questions.

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