Fostering a Gentler, Healthier and more Compassionate World for all Living Beings

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The study showing lower calcium intakes by vegan pre-schoolers was conducted before calcium-fortified products were readily available, so calcium intakes of vegan children may be higher now. Calcium is important for bone development. Around 45% of adult bone mass is accrued before 8 years of age, another 45% is added between 8-16 years of age and a further 10% accumulates in the next decade. Given the importance of calcium intake during childhood, all parents should ensure that their children’s diets contain calcium-rich foods and meet current recommendations for calcium for their age group.

Regrettably, there have been few recent studies looking at the long-term effects of a vegan diet*, especially as it is believed that the foundations for many chronic diseases of adulthood have their beginnings in childhood. For instance, processes initiating atherosclerosis and high blood pressure are thought to start very early in life, and blood pressure and cholesterol levels have been shown to track from early childhood and to be related to childhood nutrient intakes (5,6). Body mass also tracks from early childhood, with obese children being at an increased risk of obesity in adulthood (7)

When we look at potential long-term health benefits of vegan diets, we find that vegan children have higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, foods that are important for health. Vegan children have been shown to have lower intakes of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than non-vegetarian children (9-10). This may be important in reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and obesity. Finally, vegan diets may introduce children to a greater variety of whole plant foods, thus establishing healthful lifelong eating habits.

Vegan Infants

Up to the age of four to six months, the diets of many infants of vegan and of non-vegan parents are identical. The perfect food for the young infant is breast milk and supplementary foods should not be introduced until after four to six months of age. Breast-fed infants of well nourished vegan women tend to grow and develop normally(11). The infant receives many benefits from breast feeding, including some immune system enhancement, protection against infection, and reduced risk of allergies(12). Moreover, as human breast milk is the natural food for baby humans it also probably contains substances needed by growing infants which are not even known to be essential and are not included in infant formulas. Meanwhile, nursing mothers derive benefits such as reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer, release of stress-relieving hormones and, for some, sheer convenience (12). For all these reasons, we strongly encourage breast feeding.

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