Raising Vegan Children, Part II – Why I Supplement The Way I Do

April 30th, 2013 - filed under: The Food » Food and Health



Yes! The long-awaited supplements post! If you haven’t read Part I of this miniseries – in which I outline my general thoughts on raising vegan children – I encourage you to do so. As for this post, I’ll say that I’ve done a *lot* of research, and a great deal of consideration has gone into the choices I outline below. It’s what works for my family, but I do feel the need to remind you that I am not a health care professional of any kind, and this post should not be taken as a prescription for your family.

Also, I just want to acknowledge that there are different schools of thoughts regarding supplementation, whether it’s for children or adults or whatever. Some people believe that if a diet requires supplementation, then it’s somehow flawed. And, well, I just disagree. I don’t supplement because I’m vegan, I supplement because modern food is crap and has been on a nutritional decline for decades. These are not your grandmother’s potatoes, know what I mean? So being vegan only determines which kind of supplements I focus on, not whether I need to supplement at all. Because all the paleo parents I know are supplementing, and all the T.F. parents I know are supplementing, and most of the parents who couldn’t care less about food/nutrition are still giving their kids at least a multivitamin. Because most parents understand that kids need a little extra insurance – and that’s in no way a related to the validity of veganism.

One last thing, before I get into the nitty gritty of vitamins and minerals. I want to put in big bold flashing letters: the links in this post are affiliate links! (as are many of the links throughout my blog). That means that if you click on them, I will receive a very small portion of any purchase you end up making. If you like my site and want to support my work, then this is an awesome thing. But if affiliate programs freak you out, fair enough – just avoid the links and google around for the products on your own. Alright, now buckle up. This here’s a long one . . .


Vitamin B12
Well obviously, right? I mean come on. We’re vegans here!

Formula-fed babies will get B12 through their formula, and thus won’t have to start supplementing until they wean. But Waits was breastfed, and so as per the recommendation of Davis and Melina in the bible Becoming Vegan, I began supplementing with vitamin B12 very early. They suggest you start at 2 weeks old. I didn’t begin that young, but it was definitely before 6 months (don’t remember exactly – postpartum haze).

We use the Pure Advantage B-12 Methylcobalamin 500 mcg Spray.
Here’s why: It is methylcobalamin as opposed to cyanocobalamin (and why that’s important). It is certified vegan. It is free of all common allergens and free of sugar. It only has three other ingredients besides B12. And finally, it’s a spray! For getting sups into a kid, spray is the way to go.

When Waits was very wee, I would just spray a bit on my nipple before he nursed. Then, around a year or so, I began spraying directly into his mouth. The dosage is higher than he needs, but B12 is water soluble which means any excess is just passed in the urine. I don’t spray every day – I did once or twice a week when he was younger, every other day or every three days now (at age 3).

Don’t mess around with B12. There are NO naturally-occurring reliable sources of adequate B12 in the vegan diet. Vitamin B12 deficiency is serious, life-threatening business. If you only supplement your child with one thing, make it B12.


Vitamin D
Formula-fed babies will get vitamin D through their formula. However, Waits nursed exclusively, and we lived in the sun-starved Pacific Northwest. Even for those who live in equatorial climates, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends supplementation of 400 IU for all breast-fed (and to be on the safe side, formula-fed) infants, beginning after the first week of life.

There are two forms of vitamin D: vitamin D2 is ergocalciferol – vegan, and vitamin D3 is cholecalciferol – animal-sourced. Some people have argued that vitamin D2 is inferior, but here is a paper that shows supplementation with D2 to be just as effective as supplementation with D3. Which is awesome, but in case you want to hedge your bets, a new lichen-derived VEGAN vitamin D3 has recently been released.

I have used a few different vitamin D products for Waits, although to be honest, now that he goes to an outdoor preschool, I supplement much less frequently.

When he was younger I liked Pure Vegan Vitamin D2 400 IU Spray.
Here’s why: It’s the proper dose for infants and babies (400 IU). It is certified vegan. It is free of all common allergens and free of sugar. It only has three other ingredients besides vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). And of course, it’s a spray – the very best way to get sups into a kid.

Now that he’s older, I like Global Health Trax Vegan D3 400 IU Spray.
Here’s why: Vegan D3 made from lichen – cool! It only has two other ingredients besides vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). And same as above, it’s a spray.

When Waits was tiny I would spray directly onto my nipple before nursing. As he grew, I transitioned to spraying into his mouth. I supplemented every day when he was little, then switched to the higher dose and began alternating days. I also supplement higher in winter and lower in summer.


DHA/EPA and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
I won’t get into a big discussion of DHA versus EPA versus ALA in this post, but if you’re interested, I cover the whole omega-3 issue very thoroughly here. Long story short, children are busy growing big brains, and those brains require the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA – which are not easily found in vegan foods. ALA is available and can be converted, but conversion rates are low and it’s not a chance I was willing to take with my kid’s brain. Many people use fish oil to secure their DHA/EPA, but I prefer to go directly to the source and get it the same place as the fish get theirs: algae!

There are a number of vegan algae-derived DHA/EPA products on the market, but there’s only one I’ve used for Waits, and that’s Deva Vegan Liquid DHA-EPA.
Here’s why: It is made by a 100% vegan company. It contains both DHA and EPA, and it comes from algae grown outside of the ocean, which guarantees that it’s free of common oceanic pollutants (like mercury, PCBs, etc). It is free of most common allergens and free of sugar. And most importantly, it’s a liquid! This makes it much easier to get into a child.

Waits loves the lemon flavor and even though I think it tastes like fish-y grossness, he adores it. Supposedly you can hide it in smoothies, but I’ve never needed to. He slurps it right up and I . . . take my DHA in a capsule, haha.

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So that’s my big three: vitamin B12, vitamin D, and DHA/EPA. I believe that at the minimum, every vegan kid should be taking vitamin B12, vitamin D, and DHA/EPA. But that’s just my opinion.

There are a few other supplements we take as well, which I’ll outline below. These are pretty optional, and could be covered by a simple multivitamin instead. Waits nursed until he was 3 so I never used a multi, and just supplemented where I thought he may need the extra boost. Now that he’s weaned I’m looking into multivitamins – I’ll update when I find the right one!

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Vitamin K2
Vitamin K1 is abundant in leafy greens and other plant foods, and can be converted into K2 by the body. However, conversion rates vary and may be lower in children. Vitamin K2 is very important in skeletal and dental health – it basically tells calcium where to go (that’s a super simplified explanation, but you get the point). So, vitamin K2 works synergistically with calcium, vitamin D, and other minerals to build strong bones and teeth.

I use the Now Foods Vitamin K2 100 mcg Vcaps.
Here’s why: It comes in a vegan (non-gelatin) capsule which is easy to open and pour out. It is free of all common allergens and free of sugar. It is free of preservatives. It’s cheap!

We do not use this every day. I typically add 1/2 a capsule to a smoothie that we then share between us. Waits eats lots of greens and I assume he’s converting his K1 into K2. I just use this supplement as a little extra booster. I also use this in my homemade fortified plant milk recipe.


Zinc
In Becoming Vegan, Davis and Melina stress that zinc can be a bit tricky to obtain on a vegan diet – especially for children. Zinc is essential for proper growth, and it has many other rolls in the body as well. Zinc is important for wound-healing and immune function, so I always give us a boost when we’re fighting a bug.

I use Now Foods Zinc Gluconate 50 mg Tablets.
Here’s why: It’s vegan. It is free of most common allergens and free of sugar. It’s cheap!

The dosage on these is too much for a child, so I break each pill in half and add that to a smoothie, which we then split between us. I don’t supplement with zinc every day, and rarely more than once or twice a week. Like I said, it’s good for when we’re feeling under the weather, and otherwise I just use it occasionally as added insurance (maybe more when Waits is being a super-picky-eating toddler). I also use this in my homemade fortified plant milk recipe.


Calcium-Magnesium
Calcium and magnesium are essential to many metabolic functions, but are most notable in children for the roll they play in building bones and teeth. Kids can be so dang picky with their foods, that it’s nice to have a cal-mag complex on hand for those “lean” weeks.

I use Deva Calcium Magnesium Plus (chelated form).
Here’s why: It’s made by a 100% vegan company. The minerals are chelated, which allows for maximum absorption by the intestine. It’s an entire bone-building complex which also includes zinc, vitamin D, boron, vitamin C, and copper. It is free of most common allergens and free of sugar. It’s cheap!

This is another one I throw into smoothies when I feel like Waits’s diet has been otherwise lacking. The serving size for these is 3 pills, so I usually use 1 pill and split the smoothie between us. Just a little extra boost! I also use these in my homemade fortified plant milk recipe.




My goodness gracious! So, I was totally intending to include a whole section entitled “Is it a food or is it a supplement?” but man, this post has gotten epically long already. I’ll have to save that for a Part III, I guess? So apparently, coming soon: all the additional edibles we use for food-based vitamins and minerals . . .

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I like to order my supplements in big batches and all from the same place, which means I usually choose Amazon (if I’m getting other stuff too) or Vitacost (they have killer prices). If you’re interested in ordering through Vitacost, you can use this link – you’ll save $10 on your order, and so will I. Win-win!

And with that, CHEERS!

Edited to add:
Part I: Let’s Talk Honestly, Shall We?
Part III: Food-Based “Supplements” For Super-Charged Children

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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!

  • Anonomous

    A lot of people take supplements whether they are vegan or not. Also people might say it’s not natural to take supplements but we don’t live in a natural world anymore. Our lives and our world is highly artificial and that is what we supplement against.