Firstly and most importantly, I want to make myself very clear: I believe that raising children on a vegan diet can provide absolutely every vitamin, mineral, and nutrient necessary for optimal growth and development. No two ways about it. Please do keep that in mind if you feel like yelling at me a few paragraphs down.
So yes! I believe that a vegan diet is appropriate for every stage of life including infancy and childhood, into young adulthood, and forever after. I believe this because I have seen it. There are lots of awesome examples of people who have been vegan their entire lives, and who have clearly grown into vibrant, impressive individuals: Adair Moran (actress and professional stuntwoman), Ayinde Howell (chef and entrepreneur), Milani Malik (pro basketball player) and her sister Jehina Malik (pro body builder), and of course, Joaquin Phoenix (that’s just a link to the google image search because, well, it’s worth looking at, amiright? yowza!). You know, just to name a few.
So clearly, it is quite possible to create adult humans made entirely out of plants. (And brilliant, athletic, inspiring adults to boot!) However – and this is a big caveat of a HOWEVER – as parents raising vegan children, I believe that it’s important to be intellectually honest with ourselves. We should recognize that, really, this is all one big experiment. Because the truth is there’s still a whole lot that we don’t know about nutrition, and there are no (count them, zero) long-term scientific studies to guide us. There are no studies on vegans-from birth.
So we’re all sort of flying blind here, in a sense, just doing the very best we can with our current nutritional knowledge. And for the most part that’s totally good enough (see examples above), but since there are things we still don’t know, it’s also possible that some vegan diets could potentially, accidentally, be lacking in something. Because we just don’t know everything yet.
As parents – ALL parents, regardless of diet – it’s important that we keep close tabs on our children’s food intake and on their overall health. And that’s exactly what I do. In all honesty, I have had moments of great doubt and moments of intense fear and oh my god, when you are responsible for such an incredibly precious person, it’s just so important not to mess it up! (Ah, parenthood . . . ) So I have thought about this a lot (maybe more than some, after dealing with my own illness), and I have decided to use Waits and his own health as my barometer. That’s the agreement I came to with my inner hand-wringer, once I realized that I would be worried sick no matter what I was feeding him – vegan or paleo or traditional or somewhere in between.
I watch him closely. I look for all those little markers of health that I’ve amassed in my mind after endless hours of research in both academic and alternative venues. So far, he has been nothing short of exquisite: healthy; happy; strong and muscular; agile and co-ordinated; and exceptionally intelligent. He is above average height and below average weight, which is something that I do keep an eye on.
If his health ever became a concern, if his development slowed or his fire dulled or I if felt that he wasn’t reaching his full genetic potential in some way, well, I would not hesitate to re-examine his diet – and the dietary choices I make for him. And if for some reason it seemed that he was unable to thrive as a vegan, and if I had exhausted all the other avenues, then yes, I would be open to introducing animal foods.
I am not saying this because I believe a vegan diet is insufficient or inherently lacking. As I said above, I firmly believe just the opposite. What I want to make very clear, though, is that I will never put dogma or my own personal beliefs, no matter how deeply they are held, before my child’s health. Period.
The good news is, I don’t have to make that choice. It’s not one or the other, because they are one in the same! Waits is thriving on his vegan diet, just like so many other vegan children around the world are thriving as a new generation of plant-built people.
And I’ve seen that new generation, too. I think that part of my confidence comes from living in Portland Oregon, where literally every single one of Waits’s friends was vegan. I’ve seen so many vegan children, had the pleasure of spending time with so many pregnant vegans and lactating vegans and vegan infants and vegan toddlers and vegan sassy pre-teens. No, veganism does not prevent the sass.
So I’ve had a lot of opportunity to compare and contrast all these vegan kiddos to their omnivorous counterparts. Oh yes I did. I’ve analyzed bone structure and I’ve scrutinized height/weight and I’ve examined hair and eyes and skin and smiles and everything else I could think of. I’ve searched for patterns, sought to find some difference between vegan kids and omni kids. Maybe that’s just the scientist coming out in me.
But the best I can come up with is that on average (but not always, by any means), vegan children tend to be a bit leaner than their omnivorous peers. Which obviously makes sense. And maybe – though this is still under review – just maybe vegan kids tend to have a bit more energy. I could be biased though, since I did, in fact, birth a Tasmanian devil.
Bottom line, vegan diets can be perfectly healthy for growing children, and children can be perfectly healthy growing up vegan – BUT – that doesn’t mean every version of a vegan diet is healthy for every child. So keep a close eye on your kids and use their own health as your measuring stick.
Children are notoriously picky, which can make a well-rounded diet difficult regardless of restrictions. In my next post, I’ll talk about how to cover your bases. Yes – the much-anticipated supplement post!
Hey-o! I am super duper not a doctor, or a nurse, or a health care practitioner of any kind. This post represents my personal thoughts and opinions and is in no way meant to be taken as medical advice. Whew!