Can kids really thrive on a vegan diet?

11 April 2018

Sightings of vegan pizza (usually in the inner-city hipster heartlands) used to be rare. Now it's on the menu of pizza chain Domino's, reflecting the rising numbers of Australians whose diet is all or almost vegetarian.

Between 2012 and 2016 their numbers climbed from 1.7 million to almost 2.1 million, according to consumer research organisation Roy Morgan, and enough people are ditching all animal foods to make Australia the third fastest-growing market for vegan foods in the world, strategic market research company Euromonitor International has found.

But are these diets good for growing kids?

Yes, says the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the professional organisation of dietitians in the US, which gives a tick to well-planned vegetarian diets, including vegan, for all life stages from infancy to old age.

So far, so good – unless you're a parent under fire for feeding toddlers lentils and not lamb.

[PLUGIN type="quotation" quote="Some people react as if raising children on a vegetarian or vegan diet is a health crisis – when the real crisis is childhood obesity."]

"Some people react as if raising children on a vegetarian or vegan diet is a health crisis – when the real crisis is childhood obesity," points out Amber Sewell-Green, a Sydney dietitian specialising in plant-based nutrition.

"No one cares about protein until you say you're vegetarian or vegan – then everyone wants to know where your protein comes from. But adults and children can meet their protein needs with high-protein plant foods like legumes, tofu, nuts and wholegrains."

There are instances of children having health problems as a result of vegetarian diets but they're usually extreme diets such as macrobiotic or fruitarian, says dietitian Kate Marsh, co-author of a number of papers on vegetarian eating published by The Medical Journal of Australia.

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