Raising Vegans: Is A Vegan Diet Healthy for Children?

A significant percentage of children in today’s world are in a pathetic shape. And no, I’m not talking about starving kids in Africa; I’m referring to the kids here in ‘our own backyards’. Recent stats show that one in five school-going kids in the United States is obese [1]. Let that just sink in.

It’s even worse for the adults. With nearly 70% of adult Americans obese or struggling with some form of weight issues [2], it’s easy to see that we’re looking at an epidemic. So, we need to be honest about the elephant in the room (pun intended) and give it a pre-emptive shot in the ass. Otherwise our kids can count on an inheritance of depression, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, stroke and even dementia.

Not exactly the legacy we’d want to leave them, is it?

Recently, on a trip to Illinois, I stayed at a family wilderness resort. There were gorgeous hiking trails, tennis, a mini-golf course and all manner of outdoor sports available so you could be active and soak up nature at the same time. But was that what anyone was doing? No. They were hanging out by the indoor water slide or sitting at the ice cream parlor/ candy shop overdosing on sweet treats. When I first walked in I was struck by all the noise and activity but all of a sudden that gave way to a horrified awe: full on two thirds of the people there including the children were seriously overweight. A little girl of no more than eight years old was sitting at a table near the pool area  slurping at a two scoop ice cream cone covered with chocolate and sprinkles with her younger brother eating more of the same as their mother sat by and watched, munching on caramel corn. They were all morbidly obese and getting more so by the second, I would assume. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, they were all talking about what they were going to eat next. You can bet it wasn’t fruit. It was like you could See The Future and it was (definitely) Fat.

And then I come up with this super controversial idea that sets my family and friends to gaping in complete disbelief.

“What we need here are work camps”.

Yes; you heard me. Work camps.We send all these obese, unhealthy people and their kids to participate in growing healthy, organic food for our country. They are enlisted to serve as farm laborers during which time they are only exposed to healthy foods that they have helped to produce. It’s kind of like getting drafted. They stay there till their weight and general health has been brought to levels that benefit themselves and their kids and all the while they contribute to the greater good.  Everyone comes out ahead.  They come out of it with better health and better health translates to a better life. All the rest of us come out of it with better quality food.

Appalling, right?

Everyone was staring at me as if I’d just announced that I was a Nazi.

Maybe it’s extreme but what really is so appalling about manifesting health in whatever way you can?

I felt sorry for those children. Imagine being so young and in that kind of shape. Every year spent like that just makes it more difficult to ever migrate to a healthful, active life. And, down the line, statistics support that everything will be harder for them: finding a mate, getting a good job, just being happy.

Encouraging kids to eat and live well, from as early on as possible, will positively impact them in the future. No doubt.

But is it fair to restrict children to a vegan diet? Is it healthy for them?

Obviously my vote would be a resounding yes! I would be lying, however, if I didn’t mention that there has been lots of chatter about whether vegan diets are healthy for children or not. And it goes back quite awhile. Even when the 7th edition of Baby and Child Care by Dr. Spock came out in favor of kids adopting vegan diets in 1998, a lot of people were ready to shoot the poor doctor down. They were pissed off! Of course, a lot has changed since then, but it is still a touchy subject.

Even as the likes of Mike Tyson and former US president Bill Clinton join the ranks of Pamela Anderson, Ellen de Generes, and Al Gore in going vegan, many parents are facing jail-time and the threat of their children being whisked away by Social Services for adopting vegan diets. In 2016, for instance, the Italian Parliament came up with a law prohibiting parents from raising their kids on a purely vegetarian diet. It absolutely floors me that the government should have any say in a parents right to provide what could only be constituted as a nutritionally superior diet to their children!

Just across the pond, a Lewisham, UK couple had their 5-year-old boy taken by social workers because he seemed to have rickets due to a highly restricted vegetarian diet. In the US, such cases are also popping up all over the place. Elizabeth Hawk, a Penn. woman, is now fighting a court case to keep her children on a vegan diet [3].

Not all of these cases are unfounded, though. In 2005, for example, Kimura Parker and Blair Parker, a Florida couple, were jailed for 30 years and 15 years respectively on charges of child endangerment. In the state’s defense, the two nearly starved their little ones to death on what they called a “vegan diet.” [3] Just another case of people taking things to extremes and making everyone that’s doing it right look bad.

In some cases, however, people are just misinformed.

A fair share of the population view the vegan diet as being highly restrictive. It’s easy to do when the majority has been chowing down on meat and cheese for at least two meals out of three. Thats what many of us have been programmed to believe is normal and even healthy. Anything else seems to represent deprivation. So it’s really no big surprise that many believe that all vegan diets lack essentials like protein and healthy fats. As far-fetched as it might seem, there’s more than a handful of folks out there who are convinced that those on vegan diets are malnourished. What the deal really is is that none of us wants to confront the idea that giving up the stuff we’re used to might actually be better for us and for our kids.

Honestly there’s not really that much that you can’t eat on a vegan diet. No animal products. Big deal. Once upon a time it was only the wealthy who really got to partake of meat. And they’re also the ones that ended up with gout and all kinds of other illnesses that are associated with overindulgence.. Globally, it’s primarily in the areas where people eat the least animal products that they are the healthiest.

Veganism isn’t a fad diet. It’s more like a lifestyle choice. And for most it’s as much about ethics as it is about health, In fact it’s really the ethics part that keeps vegan converts from straying. In our house the kids have been told from day one what exactly they were eating. Identifying beef as a cow and bacon as a pig puts a bit of a different spin on things. There need not be much fanfare to this: it’s information, pure and simple. But I think it’s important for kids to know that. when they eat meat, they’re eating what was once a living being. It can certainly provoke interesting conversations. A lot of questions too. Kids are never too young to be informed.

Numerous studies that have shown that vegan diets are clearly right for you. your children and everyone else in the bargain. They are not just for people with allergies or dieters or participants in strange religious sects.

Benefits of Raw Vegan Diet to Kids

Children of all ages can stand to benefit from high raw and vegan diets. Here are some reasons why going vegan is your best shot at raising healthy and active kids.

 

1. Kids Can Get All Essential Nutrients from A Vegan Diet

Dairy isn’t a necessity for children after they are weaned. Calcium is easily obtained through a plant based diet in the form of kale, broccoli, collards and spinach (to name a few). Incorporating some kind of vegetable into every meal whether it’s on the plate or in a glass as a well-blended super-smoothie will ensure a constant supply of everything needed for growing brains and bodies. And, besides being natures candy, fruit is no slouch when it comes to vitamin content. Beans, nuts and nut butter, quinoa, lentils, hemp and chia all pack protein punches but don’t forget that even greens contain protein! Carrots, beets, bananas, apples, pears, leafy greens, squash, sweet potatoes and figs are some of the most delicious and nutritious carbs out there.  You don’t have to think too hard to provide a child with a healthy vegan diet; nature really has given us everything we need. And as for the Vitamin B12 , nutritional yeast is a great go-to but you can also opt for fortified cereals and non-dairy yogurts.

2. Vegan Diets Reduce Hypertension

Vegan diets can help your kids keep hypertension at bay. Well, don’t just take my word for it. A study on Seventh Day Adventist found that prevalence of hypertension in vegans was a mere 7% compared to 22% of non-vegans [4].

3. Raw Vegan Diets Lower Cholesterol

Keeping the cholesterol level in your blood in check is vital for everyone. Lucky for you, vegan diets are known to dial down the level of LDL (the bad kind) in your blood.

4. Raw Food and Vegan Diets Help Children Manage Weight

A vegan diet high in raw foods is a vital way for your child to keep their weight at healthy levels. How so? Raw food and vegan diets, for one, often have less carbs and bad fats. This way, the kids can keep off belly-fattening calories and fatty acids. Fat is one our greatest dietary addictions.

5. Reduce the Risks of Cancer

Most studies have shown that the cancer rates among vegans, especially those on that include a greater amount of raw foods, are 25%-50% below average in the population. With cases of cancer among young adults on the upsurge, this news is another reason to keep your kids on the straight and vegan.

6. Say Goodbye to Obesity

Vegan children are typically 10%-20% leaner than their non-vegan counterparts. With obesity now at pandemic proportions, going vegan with your children feels like extra insurance. Oh and by the way vegan children are on average 1 inch taller than their meat eating counterparts at the same age!

Take Home Message

It’s easy to make raw  and vegan meals that satisfy the whole family. And, as for snacks, children have a natural affinity for most raw fruits and vegetables; encourage it! Keep raw living snacks available and keep fatty, chemical laden processed foods out of your cupboards!

Over the years I have met a significant number of young women who were raised vegan. None of them look malnourished. And they’re not weird either. Having been brought up this way they have no cravings whatsoever for the foods that many of us, as adults coming late to the healthy eating game,  have to work so hard to avoid. Eating healthy has emerged as part of their nature. It is the status quo. Shouldn’t good health be every child’s birthright? What better way to ensure it than by encouraging good eating habits from the earliest possible age?

There are always going to be naysayers out there but it’s now common knowledge that a plant based diet is the best for anyone – no matter what those people are saying to justify their own habits! It’s just hard for most people to get on the vegan bandwagon when they’ve been eating meat, dairy and processed foods for their whole life under the misguided assumption that it was the right thing and what the hell, everyone else is doing it.  Let’s make every effort to steer our kids away from that path and onto the “road less travelled.”

Because that will – really – make all the difference.

 

Reference

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

[3] http://nypost.com/2016/10/21/these-parents-are-fighting-to-keep-their-babies-on-vegan-diets/

[4] Melby CL, Goldflies DG, Hyner GC, Lyle RM. Relation between vegetarian/nonvegetarian diets and blood pressure in black and white adults. Am J Publ Health 1989;79:1283-8.

[5]West RO, Hayes OB. Diet and serum cholesterol levels: a comparison between vegetarians and nonvegetarians in a Seventh-day Adventist group. Am J Clin Nutr 1968;21:853-62.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: