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 The Food Movement Vegan D3 1000 IU Spray.
Here’s why: Vegan D3 made from lichen – cool! It’s a better dose for older kids (1000 IU). 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.

~~~

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!

~~~



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 . . .

~~~

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!

  • coconutandberries

    Another fantastic post. Please don’t ever take this blog down, it’s an amazing reference for vegans out there and I imagine in years to come when I have my own little ones I’ll come back here for advice :)

  • The Cookie Fairy

    Thank you, this is so informative! I was reluctant to take supplements at first, but in the end I decided to start taking calcium and a multi-vitamin because I suffered an injury whilst running, and apparently that was due to hormone imbalance – and I’ve been plagued by hormone imbalance since wayyyyyyy before I went vegan. I don’t need B12, funny enough. Other than that, all’s well and good with me! I know that when the day comes I get lucky enough to raise my own children, I’ll have your blog and book to rely on for information.

  • Sarah C.

    Thanks for this. It’s a nice reminder to revisit my own supplementation routine (which I neglect more often than I follow). Interesting about the K2. I tracked all my nutrient intake before and during pregnancy and even though I eat more greens than the average person I was still low on K on an almost daily basis (though everything else in my diet was meeting the RDA, and I was eating vegan at the time!). I took a prenatal multi, but never a separate K (and I didn’t know the difference between K1 and K2). I think that’s the one I’m going to pay the closest attention to from here on. Thanks!

  • Rachel from The Vegan Mishmash

    Thanks for posting about your supplement routine. I loved reading it. It’s always interesting to see what other people are doing. Currently, I take B-12 a few times a week, though admittedly sometimes less when I forget. I found the information on vitamin K especially interesting. Again, thanks for sharing!

  • http://dresseduplikealady.com/ Cammila

    Okay so, this is a really, really great and informative post and I can tell it probably took some serious time. So with that as a given, can I just use this comment space to focus on how much I love the way you FRAME your discussions regarding veganism? In general, people are often so strangely delusional — they apply these almost pseudo-religious tones to their beliefs about food: literalizing examples, obeying the letter of the law rather than the spirit, and expecting magic-bullet life perfection out of a complex system that only exists as a *relationship with* their body as a fallible organic life form.

    So thanks for keeping your wits about you, Sayward, and spreading clear thinking among the filthy masses.

  • http://twitter.com/lovalatte1 Emily

    What a fantastic post. I learned so much. Thank you!!!

  • Taylor

    Vitamin K is fat-soluble, right? So if I decide to start taking it as a supplement, how mush should I take? A capsule each day or every other? Thanks so much for informing me on the power of supplements. I already take B-12 in a sublingual form every morning, as well as DHA-EPA and a GABA (for my anxiety). What other supplements do you suggest I take to make sure my bones, brains, and heart are healthy?

  • Taylor

    *Much

  • Sheena

    Yes, thank you! and also what Cammila said :)

  • Sarah

    Oh, and I forgot to ask about what I brought up yesterday in regard to my choice to feed my kid eggs/cheese – the cholesterol issue. It was a point that I kept getting stuck on while my babe was an infant and we were thinking over the vegetarian v. vegan thing – the need for cholesterol (and not just other healthy fats in general) in a developing brain. We can supplement with DHA/EPA and make sure they get avocados and nut butters regularly, but (and I’m no scientist here) I thought the brain specifically needed the cholesterol that I know of no way to supplement. What did your research (and being a scientist I’ll trust you understand it better than I do) tell you about this? (And do I remember correctly that this was also part of your own health problems? How did your naturopath suggest you remedy it?). Thanks for any thoughts you have on this.

  • Alejandra

    Thank you for this post! I’m so glad you are blogging again and putting this important information out there (I read your survival guide when I was pregnant and it was so useful! ).

    My daughter is one. I took B12, vegan D3, DHA and K2 (I buy Mercola’s one) throughout my pregnancy and I’m still taking them now as I am breastfeeding. My daughter takes her D3 directly but I have found the rest a bit of a challenge to give her so thank you for the linking the B12 in spray and DHA in drops (I put UDO’s oil in her food).
    I’ll be more than happy to buy through the affiliate links so that you get something out of it. Anything that will keep this blog going!

    I’m hoping you’ll write about how you talk to Waits about being vegan so that he is ready to handle social situations where he is not surrounded by vegans… We are not quite there yet with our daughter but this is a big question I have.

  • http://twitter.com/lovalatte1 Emily

    I thought up a question when taking my vitamin this morning. I’m vegan and take Deva brand vegan multivitamin everyday. I know it has the vitamins you talk about above, but all in one pill. In your opinion, do you think that’s enough? I know you seem to take them separately so now I’m wondering if the vitamins are better for you that way when taken separately? Thanks for any thoughts you can offer! :)

  • Jan

    Wonderful info., but wondering if this is what you take? No young children of my own and I’m older. so much conflicting info out there. Interesting regarding the B12. I’m in Canada so that limits what is available.

    Changing the topic, but wondering what you use on your dog for fleas? Did you not post awhile ago that Harley had fleas? It’s hot and dry here already and I’m getting anxious about flea season. One of our dogs had them for the first time, last year. I think I’ll do the initial spray of lavender oil but from there….
    Thanks for all your amazing posts and info.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vedged.out Somer Vedge

    We supplement too, though probably not as often as we should. This is a great list.

  • bohemianmatka

    Thank you so much for this post; I actually recently bought Davis and Melina’s Becoming Vegan for the sole purpose of figuring the dietary supplements I would need for my daughter’s diet (as well as my own!). As you know, kids are finicky eaters, and as a toddler, I know she has not been getting the vites she needs with her diet alone. I have been giving her Nordic Naturals vitamins in the meantime.

  • D.jankowski

    Great post! I’ve been giving my toddler a multi, but it lacks DHA and k2. Now I know about supplementing my infant as well, thank you. Placed my first order with vitacost. Thanks for the $10. Discount!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692392402 Joselle Palacios

    Thanks for such an informative post. I’ll definitely be referring to it. Do you have any plans for writing a post on transitioning to solid foods? I’m interested in baby-led weaning versus starting with cereal and puréed and what foods you relied on for specific nutrients. Thank you so much. This series and anything about Waits’ diet is very helpful and timely!

  • Argos

    It actually makes me really happy to know that you and other paleo/vegans supplement. I’ve been adding supplements to my diet lately and I keep thinking “well if I ate better I wouldn’t need these” or whatnot, but you’re right, today’s food is not yesterday’s food. I can have the perfect diet for me and supplements would still help. I think it can sometimes be hard for people to accept that taking supplements is okay, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re diet is flawed, and hearing about it from very health-minded individuals such as yourself really helps! Thanks!

  • unethical_vegan

    “ALA is available and can be converted, but conversion rates are low”

    when you say “conversion rates are low” you are obliquely making a claim that there is a human dietary requirement for dha. there is no known dietary requirement for dha. billions of human beings have given birth to perfectly healthy babies (for generations) with no dietary source of dha. moreover, even double blind randomized control studies of sick individuals show decreasing efficacy as larger (and better) studies have been conducted. this is a recurring theme in supplementation. for example, despite plausible biochemical mechanisms for how supplementation with vitamin D or E might ameliorate disease virtually every large DBRC study of these “supplements” has shown either a lack of efficacy or a mildly harmful effect.

  • bohemianmatka

    Oh, I was looking at my Nordic Naturals-Nordic Berries multivit since I need to reorder…. it has Vit D3 as cholecalciferol…. bummer :(

  • unethical_vegan

    i also want to emphasize that there are 100% natural sources of vegan B12. moreover, its just a matter of time before vegan B12 is available in a non-supplement probiotic form (e.g. natural nooch):

    http://www.google.com/patents/US7427397

  • Tracy

    Thanks for this post. I just ordered the Vitamin B12 spray for my 6 month old. I supplement but now I will for her too. My problem is that my 3 year old is an impossible eater and usually refuses vitamins, smoothies, basically anything I ask him to eat. I hope you avoid this horrible phase with Waits. It is so frustrating to make a smoothie with everything he needs and he continues to refuse to even try it. But I will keep trying! Thanks again…

  • http://twitter.com/rachelkyle0402 Rachel Jacobs

    This is a great post and definitely appeals to me as I am always curious what others are doing as far as supplements. Does Waits ever have his vitamin levels checked? I am just wondering if he levels are good or if for any reason he might be receiving too many?
    Just curious not trying to be nit picky :)

    Have a great day Sayward!

  • Mel

    I’m a bit late here, but thanks for this post….not supplementing, especially the B12, is so dangerous. I applaud you for promoting it (because I’ve seen many vegan websites that say it’s unnecessary. Cheers!

  • Frugal Vegan Mom

    Another thank you! I just went and ordered some stuff off Vitacost, great site, much cheaper than my local co-op. My daughter is just over 2 and I’ve been pushing supplementation to the back of my mind b/c she takes a multi, still breastfeeds, AND supplements with toddler formula, but we’ll wean off the latter two soon, so this was extremely helpful – trying to choose between everything that’s out there is so overwhelming.

  • Skeptic

    If you need this many supplements to ensure a child is healthy, it is not a natural, healthy diet for a person to be on.

  • Lauren

    Why do you have to take all those supplements if veganism should be the best way?

  • Pablo

    Literally millions of people (all of those who hadn’t access to sea foods till the invention of fridges) haven’t get “enough” DHA/EPA from the diet and most off them did very very well (most of my ancestors, my grandparents, my parents etc, etc).

    Conversion in vegan is even better.

    Of course if the kids is not heavily vaccinated, then the problems begin for the rest of (our) their lives.

    I have a vegan daughter from a vegan mother, no DHA/EPA ever (and she is very smart and never ill), even no b12 (neither her mother since 11 years before being born), but we live in mexico, far better production (most not oficially organic).

    So how is that my daughter have a superior health with no know source of b12? the answer is obvious, even the last test had normal levels.

    Humans can obtain b12 from organic plants and from bacteria synthesis (There are studies about b12 producing bacteria living in small intestine of some populations) , but I agree that nowaydays aren’t reliable sources for most people.

    heck, even omnivores should consider taking b12 now.

    k2 the same, 3/4 of people haven’t taken dairy products since humans appeared on earth, and meat hasn’t enough of k2 (based on paleos’ theories) and many populations didn’t eat many animal products anyway.

    Except maybe b12, all the other nutrients are for people with compromise health and metabolism (most?) and their vaccinated children.

  • Laura Machell

    This post was SO incredibly helpful to me!! I just changed our diet to vegan and I am nervous about the nutrients my very young kids will be able to receive. I can’t wait to learn more things that you have to share : )

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    So glad to hear that Laura! And I know it can seem overwhelming at first, but I promise it’s not so hard. It’s just different so there’s an adjustment period for you. But children thrive on a vegan diet! I see it every day. =)

  • Pingback: What We Ate Wednesday: Family Fun | Bonzai Aphrodite

  • Pingback: What We Ate Wednesday: I Heart Santa Barbara (Plus A Giveaway!) | Bonzai Aphrodite

  • Spitfire

    How old was Waits when you started giving DHA/EPA? My naturopath says babe (6weeks) should get it from my milk (I’m supplementing for myself) but wondering at what point I should be giving some to babe also. Thanks!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    It was around 2 years I think? He was still nursing but mostly getting his nourishment from food, so I began supplementing. But I agree with your naturopath – if you are supping and your baby is still exclusively breastfed, they should be getting enough from your breastmilk

  • April

    Does b12 not pass through breast milk and on to the child? My 15 month old is still breastfeeding and I’ve never worried about it because I’m still taking a vegan prenatal with tons of b12.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    It should pass through the breast milk, but the levels are unreliable. Vegan experts suggest supplementing infants and children since B12 deficiency is so dangerous, and can have a very sudden onset. I say better safe than sorry. Hope that helps!

  • April

    Yes it does help! Thank you! The spray seems easy enough:)

  • Pingback: Raising Vegan Children, Part I – Let’s Talk Honestly, Shall We? | Bonzai Aphrodite