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A Vegetarian Diet – How Does it Impact my Growing Child?

Vegetarian diets have become increasingly more popular over the past several years. Some view it as a way to preserve the environment or to follow religious and personal beliefs. Other reasons include concerns for animals, use of hormones in livestock, health benefits, availability of plant-based foods, or cultural norms. Plant-based diets have come to be recognized as nutritionally adequate if done appropriately and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of some chronic diseases.(1)

a vegetarian child

What is the difference between a Vegetarian Diet and a Vegan Diet?

A vegetarian diet does not include any meat, poultry, or seafood. It is mostly made of plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. A vegan diet is similar but excludes animal products such as dairy and eggs.

How does a Vegetarian Diet influence children?

Since this diet’s popularity, there has been little or no research done on its impact on growing children who follow this eating plan. (2)

If you are wondering how a vegetarian diet will influence your child, there is a recent study that will give you some things to consider. The TARGet Kids! study took place between 2008-2019. (3)

The objective of this study was to look at the relationship between vegetarian/vegan diets vs non-vegetarian and growth, micronutrient levels and serum lipids in healthy children. They looked specifically at body-mass index, weight, height, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, vitamin D levels and serum ferritin (an indirect measure of blood iron levels).

Interesting results were produced. Through follow-up with these children, it was discovered that there weren’t any significant differences between the vegetarian/vegan vs non-vegetarian in the following areas: body-mass index, height, serum ferritin levels and vitamin D. However, the vegetarian group was nearly twice as likely to be underweight than the non-vegetarians. Being underweight can be indicative of malnutrition and shows that the diet is not enough to support growth that is appropriate for that child.

child

What kind of diet should I feed my child?

When considering a suitable diet for your child, be sure to learn how it will impact your child’s growth and nutritional intake.

Children go through phases of rapid growth in which bones become stronger, brain advances, and emotional development takes place. Eating preferences and habits can carry on through adulthood. Be sure that whatever you choose is modified to fit the individual child’s needs in terms of nutrition for proper growth and development.

If you choose a vegetarian/vegan diet, consider meeting with a dietitian for valid information on foods that will be adequate for your growing child.

Article references:

1. Becoming a vegetarian. Harvard Health. (2020, April 15). Retrieved May 5, 2022.

2. Rogers, K. (2022, May 2). Vegetarian and meat-eating children have similar growth and nutrition but not weight, study finds. CNN. Retrieved May 5, 2022.

3. Elliott, L. J., Keown-Stoneman, C. D. G., Birken, C. S., Jenkins, D. J. A., Borkhoff, C. M., & Maguire, J. L. (2022, May 2). Vegetarian Diet, growth, and nutrition in early childhood: A longitudinal cohort study. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved May 5, 2022.

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