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Vegan Diets Are Healthy For Growing Children, as Well as Pregnant and Nursing Mothers

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Probably not the title that you’d expect from my blog, huh? Well, I was being a bit facetious. I came across an article in the US News Health section yesterday that literally made my blog boil and I felt obligated to post on it.

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I want to premise this post with a few statements:

1. There is a severe lack of education in this country in regards to what constitutes proper nutrition. This is ESPECIALLY true when it comes to women’s health during their pre-conception and conception time frame, as well as pregnancy, birth, and then the postpartum period.

2. Anything the mainstream medical community tells us is good should be examined closely (see low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-salt fads from the past). Since mainstream medicine is now starting to hop on the veganism bandwagon, then I think we need to review the basics.

3. I do understand that there are times when a vegetarian/vegan diet may be necessary, but those times are going to be during a serious illness or healing crisis and are typically only done for a short amount of time. There’s a lot that goes into obtaining all the nutrition you need when you’re on a vegan diet and it is not something to be done lightly. You’re talking a full-time job just to make sure you get everything you need. It is a huge responsibility for the sake of your health.

4. I am not telling you to eat meat every single day, for every single meal, despite what some people might think. I sometimes go several days without eating meat. But I do eat grass-fed butter, cultured dairy, pastured eggs, coconut oil, etc., daily. These are all items that vegans do not eat, yet they are powerhouses of nutrition, especially for growing children and pregnant and nursing mothers.

5. Put your money where your mouth is. I advise making sure you only eat grass-fed, pastured meat, butter, milk, and eggs for the biggest nutritional bang. Believe me, I know that these items are more expensive. Believe me, I know times are tough right now — my grocery budget is just as tight as everyone else’s. However, if you look at the long-term benefits of eating higher quality foods, it’s worth upping the grocery budget now and cutting back elsewhere. You will not regret it. And frankly, if you shop around and make friends with your local foodies, farmers, and ranchers, you’d be surprised how well you can eat on a budget. There are ways to eat very nutritiously on a small budget. Cooking Traditional Foods recently wrote a fantastic article about how not to go into debt for food.

6. I support personal choice, but I think that people are uneducated and misinformed as to the dangers of these diets. I cannot stress the importance of certain nutrients for women who are trying to conceive, who are pregnant, and who are nursing that simply CANNOT be obtained from a vegan diet. The same goes for children, both in the womb and out. I also understand that people often choose veganism because of moral and social issues regarding animals, but I am not going to delve into that aspect in this post.

Nutritional Problems With Vegan Diets

Problem #1

Sheth added that research has found vegan diets to be appropriate for people at all stages of the life cycle — even people at crucial stages, such as growing children, pregnant or lactating women, and highly active athletes.

There are NO vegan societies in the world (there are vegetarian), past or present, because a vegan diet is not healthy long-term. This is exceptionally scary that they are advocating its safety for pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as growing children. You can read material by the Weston A. Price Foundation, Nina Planck, Write on Jana!Nourishing TreasuresCheeseslave, The Healthy Home EconomistNourished Kitchen, Mercola, The Food Renegade (here and here), Holistic Kid, Mommypotamus, etc., that will all establish the serious issues that come along with this lifestyle, especially for women and children (but men are greatly affected too).

Problem #2

Sheth and Giancoli also noted that certain vegan “super foods” like soy products and quinoa have been found to contain proteins that break down all the essential amino acids.

Quinoa is awesome, soy is not and is most certainly not a super food. Unfermented soy (which is pretty much everything that mainstream society eats) is NOT safe, no matter what people say. Read my soy dangers series, Part 1 and Part 2. You can also read countless articles from the Weston A. Price Foundation, Cheeseslave, Mercola, Food Renagade, Nourished Kitchen, etc.

Problem #3

Nutrients that vegans do have to keep careful track of in their diets, according to Sheth and Giancoli, include vitamin B12, a key nutrient in cell metabolism, nerve function and blood production, and calcium, which is needed for healthy bones. Animal products are rich in vitamin B12, and dairy products contain loads of calcium.

However, vegans can get B12 and calcium from fortified cereals and fortified dairy substitutes such as soy or rice milk. “You need to be a smart consumer and read labels to make sure you’re buying products that are fortified,” Giancoli said. Dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, collard greens or kale also are good sources of calcium.

GAH!!! If you have to buy food that says “fortified” then something’s wrong. First, it’s not real food. Second, it’s overly processed in a factory, hence the reason it’s “fortified”. “Fortified” simply means that it has no nutritional value without the important stuff, like vitamins and minerals being added back in. REAL FOOD DOES NOT REQUIRE YOU TO ADD THINGS BACK IN! In addition, most of the time, these “fortified” nutrients are not assimilable because they don’t come in their natural form with all of the other stuff that they need to be absorbed by your body. Vegans are chronically deficient in fat soluble (i,e. they need fat like butter or coconut oil to do what it needs to do in your body) vitamins A, D, E & K, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), iron, stearic acid, zinc, B vitamins, and more, and they pass these deficiencies along to their children, whether it be through the food they put on the table or the food the mother puts in her body. Again, countless articles on the deficiencies that vegans face from Nourished Kitchen (here, here, here, and here), the Healthy Home Economist (here, herehere, and here), Kitchen Table Medicine, the Weston A. Price Foundation, etc.

OK, that’s enough. Pretty sure I made my point.

It is truly scary what is happening in this country. We have such a fundamental loss of the basics of nutrition and with articles like this, I am nervous to see what the future as a race is like. There is a reason that there are no vegan-based societies now or in history. There is a reason that animal products like roe, raw dairy, cod liver oil, organ meats, etc., were prized in traditional cultures and given to women before they conceived, during and after pregnancy, as well as to growing children. There is a reason that historically, certain animal products were reserved for pregnant and nursing women and growing children, if quantities were scarce. There is a reason that tribes who lived in the high mountains would send their young men on a trek to the ocean to get fatty fish, roe, etc., for their young women. History is our best teacher. It’s time that we start looking at the history books to save us from the sickly, malnourished future that we are setting ourselves up for.

Let’s discuss – what are your thoughts?

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About Jessica Espinoza

Jessica is a real food nut, coconut everything enthusiast, avid reader and researcher, blossoming yogi, and animal lover. She has had a life-long passion for food and being in the kitchen is where she is the happiest. Jessica started Delicious Obsessions in 2010 as a way to help share her love for food and cooking. Since then, it has grown into a trusted online resource with a vibrant community of people learning to live healthy, happy lives through real food and natural living.

Discussion

24 comments

  1. Firstly, I would not recommend quoting sources that denounce a vegan diet when said sources are funded by meat and diary industries; not exactly balanced :P

    A small percentage of people are vegan, and EVERYONE, from doctors to nutritionists, to random people we barely know (who know nothing about nutrition) tells us to look out that we’re eating a balanced diet and getting enough protein, B12, CLA, DHA… you name it! As a consequence, we’re all (or at least most of us) paranoid and thus have a more balanced diet and get more of the necessary nutrients than omnivores.

    I know many people of all ages who have been vegan their whole lives, and are completely healthy and happy. I know many people who’ve had healthy kids (even healthy twins!) while being vegan.

    If people aren’t comfortable with staying vegan while pregnant, that is their decision. But you don’t need to eat meat to be healthy, quite the opposite. If you’re worried, you can easily get ethically sourced eggs for protein, B12 and a whopper dose of cholesterol.

    I also have no idea why you think vegans don’t eat coconut oil?

    A vegan diet is appropriate for all stages of life, but it may not be so for all people, so it’s up to them, in consultation with their doctor and nutritionist (or several, if they want a variety of opInions) to decide what is right for them, whether that’s just for their pregnancy, or for their whole life.

    reply 

    James
    Posted 12/28/11

    • I’ve heard the comment about anti-vegan stuff being funded by meat and dairy a few times, and I’d love some sources on it. Considering the food conglomerates who are behind those industries also are the companies making fortified foods and soy milk and fake meats, I find it hard to believe. They’re going to make money no matter what you eat.

      reply 
      • Thank you for stopping by and commenting Soli!

        reply 

        Jessica
        Posted 12/28/11

    • Hi James – Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      First and foremost, can you please tell me which sources I quote that “are funded by meat and diary industries”? I’m curious. Also, it’s important to understand that I in no way support the commercial meat and dairy industry. I support the eat local movement and encourage people to get their meat and dairy products from local, sustainable sources. If you notice point #5 in my post, I stress that importance there. Commercial meat and dairy is pretty much worthless nutritionally when you compare it with grass-fed and pastured meats and dairy products.

      I do understand that there is a small percentage of people who are actually vegan when you compare it to the dietary choices of the rest of civilization. However, I am absolutely appalled that the diet would be considered safe for pregnant and nursing women, as well as children. I have read about and spoken to too many people who were once vegan and have since left the lifestyle because of the damaging effects that it had on them. I would venture to state that there is a teeny, tiny percentage of people who are vegan who are truly able to get everything they need from their diet. Perhaps you know some of those few people. I would say that your friends who have had healthy babies on a vegan diet are lucky. However, we don’t know what long term effects that diet will have on their physical and physiological development. Considering that your brain is made of fat and cholesterol and those are two of the building blocks for cellular function, I would be hard pressed to believe that these children will be 100% healthy throughout their entire life without these, and other vital nutrients.

      Regarding the coconut oil. I have been told by several vegans, including a very well known proponent of veganism, that coconut oil should not be consumed. Perhaps that’s one of those “depends on who you talk to” rules?

      I fully support personal choice, but at the same time, I don’t think most people who choose a vegan lifestyle are aware of the risks and when they start bringing pregnancy, nursing, and developing children into the mix, it’s cause for alarm. I cannot stress the importance of looking at history as our teacher and there are no and have been no vegan societies for good reason.

      reply 

      Jessica
      Posted 12/28/11

    • It’s interesting that you bring up CLA, B12 and DHA. These nutrients are not naturally occurring in a vegan diet. Vegans typically supplement their diet to ensure they’re ingesting enough of them. If a diet needs supplementation, it is fundamentally inadequate.

      reply 

      Jenny
      Posted 02/06/12

      • I was apalled reading the comments that were posted to think that anyone has the right to decide what is and is not healthy for another person. All diets contain supplements. Lots of food has them added. Milk for instance has Vitamin D added. Does this mean it is not a good part of a balanced diet.

        It occurs to me that people who choose to be vegan take the time to fully research and try and get all vitamins and nutrients, you cannot tell me the average person does. are they eating a variety of vegetables to get everything they need. I feel as if we are content as a society to follow blindly along with what government or research tells us.
        If you are not Vegan then why do you care what they eat or dont eat, it in no way affects you. How can you compare a vegan pregnancy to a diet rich in animal product or junk you cannot.

        reply 

        Clara
        Posted 02/15/12

  2. Excellent post!! Bravo, bravo. I totally agree. I hope your post spreads like wildfire and people’s eyes are opened to the dangers of long-term veganism, especially in children!

    reply 
    • Thank you Lea! I appreciate you stopping by and reading!

      reply 

      Jessica
      Posted 12/28/11

  3. I have never been a vegan, but I did believe all the stuff about low-fat/low-salt diets when I was pregnant. My son has some issues and I wish I had a time machine to go back and eat lots of grass fed butter and milk when I was pregnant. I did crave and eat a lot of ice cream. It was store bought, but I think it was a of my body telling me that I needed milk fats.

    reply 

    michelle waite
    Posted 12/28/11

    • Hi Michelle – great comment. I think that our bodies will tell us what we need, if we just learn to listen to them. There seems to be a big disconnect there for a lot of people. Your body was probably telling you to eat more fats during your pregnancy. Hindsight is always 20/20 and we certainly can’t beat ourselves up for what we didn’t know. We have been duped by doctors, because we thought we could trust them! Hopefully you’re making up for lost time now and eating lots of butter! :)

      reply 

      Jessica
      Posted 12/29/11

  4. After following the rules of mainstream low-fat nutrition advice (thankfully early enough in my life that I was able to reverse the osteoporosis and life-threatening depression), I trusted my intuition to find a more healthy way of eating. Experience taught me that I could not survive as a vegetarian… my husband was the one who finally gave me the motivation to try reintroducing some red meat, nuts and saturated fats (like butter and coconut oil) to my diet. After only several months on my new “diet,” I was able to eliminate all pharmaceutics and I became pregnant with the child we “tried” for 4 years to conceive.
    My biggest issue with veganism is the amount of “fake” food that must be consumed. My daughter has egg, nut and dairy allergies so finding a “whole foods” alternative to milk and cheese is a serious challenge. I feel much safer purchasing and consuming foods as close to their original/intended state as possible. Give me a grass-fed burger over a 400-ingredient veggie burger any day!

    reply 

    Write On, Jana!
    Posted 12/28/11

    • Thank you for commenting Jana! I totally agree with you on the fake food. Fortified food is not real food. Anything that has to have vitamins and minerals added back in is not real food. Food should be consumed in its most natural state! I’m not telling people they need to eat meat every single day either. I think some people have a misconception of that. I don’t eat meat every single day. But, I do eat cheese, butter, eggs, etc., pretty much every day. It’s rare that a day goes by without butter! :)

      reply 

      Jessica
      Posted 12/29/11

  5. Looks like James is regurgitating vegan propaganda. He makes statements with no proof to back them up. WAPF is constantly being accused of getting funding from meat and dairy industry. However, it’s simply not true. They have never gotten a dime from those industries.

    As far as a vegan diet being appropriate for every stage of life, James offers no proof of that. In fact, the opposite is true. There are mountains of evidence that vegan diets are harmful and nutritionally deficient. There are really no good plant sources for many essential nutrients. And has been pointed out, there are NO indigenous vegan diets in the world. Plants are only consumed in place of animal products to prevent starvation. I would like James to tell me just how our Cro Magna and Neaderthal ancestors survived the Ice Age on a vegan diet.

    reply 

    Kim
    Posted 12/28/11

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting Kim. Good point about our ancestors during the Ice Age. The biggest things for me regarding the dangers of vegan diets is (a) there are some nutrients that simply cannot be obtained or absorbed without animal products and even the ones that can be obtained have to be converted by the body and that is often not sufficient, (b) how much highly-processed food you have to rely on — fortified foods are not real food, and (c) I have watched too many interviews and spoken to too many people who have once been vegan and have since left the lifestyle because of the horrible effects it had on them. I do think that some vegetarian diets might be OK, as long as there is a lot of consumption of raw dairy, pastured eggs, and perhaps fish (I know some vegetarians eat fish). However, I do think that grass-fed/pastured meats, have a lot of nutrition that cannot be replaced elsewhere.

      reply 

      Jessica
      Posted 12/29/11

  6. It is scary to think that this is going to be promoted as healthy. I always look for the money angle when the gov’t gets behind something. You make a good point that a vegan diet is highly processed. James is correct in that the public is getting more informed, but we are doing it on the internet, not through the FDA approved and big-Ag/pharma funded mainstream media. Big Ag, the mega food corps and big pharma could get filthy stinking rich if we all converted to a vegan diet! …oh, wait, they already are filthy stinking rich….

    reply 

    Anne
    Posted 12/29/11

  7. The reason most veg*ns are sick is because they’re ignorant; they eat a bit of boiled broccoli and the occasional slice of tofu and hope their good intentions will sustain them! And then they wonder why they get health problems! We eat an extremely balanced diet and are alway satisfied, and we rarely even get the flu.

    Re: vegan diets are super processed. So are the diets of a huge majority of the first world. People love junk and convenience food and, funnily enough, vegans are people too! We like to indulge occasionally as well, but most of the food we eat is made in our kitchen, not bought from the freezer section. If you’re having trouble finding a non-400-ingredient veggie burger, look in different places or make it yourself (most vegan burgers bought in supermarkets are gross anyway :P). Many of our “fake” foods are made with reap ingredients (obviously I’m not talking about tofutti, which freaks me out too), and soy milk made from whole soybeans shouldn’t be too difficult to find.

    Additionally, no one “has” to eat “fake foods”; everything we eat is a choice.

    Re: coconut oil. I think you’re confusion nutritional advice with veganism. Coconut oil is plant-based and thus is vegan, but many nutritionists recommend that it be avoided because of the ridiculously high fat content. Others say we should eat more of it because it’s “good fat”, but let’s leave that alone.

    WAPF has been criticized by many nutritionists, not just vegans. I should have researched before saying what I did, but for every insane vegan website, there’s at least 10 insane omnivore websites. And I can’t tell you how many times events or informative pamphlets or whatever else have looked so official until you discover the meat and dairy industry is behind it. People with an interest in food industries should stay out of seeming “scientific” health studies.

    And vegans need to be wary of the same thing. Neil Barnard needs to distance himself from animal rights groups so he can maintain credibility; his personal interest in animal rights needs to take a backseat to him doing what he says he’s doing.

    I’m not sure your comment makes sense, Anne? At no point on my Health Department Approved education have I been told to “eat more meat”. Funnily enough those promotions have been run by the meat industry! None of those organizations would get rich if we converted to veganism; show we a “filthy stinking rich” big pharm corporation that’s entirely vegan, or a big food corporation. And a lot of vegans are lefty greenies who buy local when they can anyway!

    And you know what? We’re NOT Neanderthals! And has anyone who’s commented here followed their diet? Eating a lot of poorly cooked meat, lately? There are good plant sources for all nutrients; read The Vegan RD, JackNorris RD, veganhealth.org. What “essential nutrients” aren’t available from plant sources? And do you only eat plants when there’s no animal left in the house? We eat plants because we can’t survive on an entirely meat diet; we aren’t felines!

    reply 

    James
    Posted 12/29/11

    • And I can’t tell you how many times events or informative pamphlets or whatever else have looked so official until you discover the meat and dairy industry is behind it. People with an interest in food industries should stay out of seeming “scientific” health studies.

      Again, I’d like to see SOURCES for such statements.

      reply 
    • BRAVO!

      reply 

      Clara
      Posted 02/15/12

  8. We had a conference for food bloggers in the city where I live this year; it was all meat and cheese and guess what? Sponsored by meat and livestock. How many ads for milk have you seen that haven’t had a major milk producer behind it? How many times has anyone other than the meat industry and WAPF said “Eat more animal fat!” I don’t know what it’s like in the states, but here on Australia the government is doing it’s level best to make sure people actually eat less meat and more veggies, along with doctors. Where do you think the anti-cholesterol craze came from?

    reply 

    James
    Posted 12/30/11

    • 1. The anti-cholesterol hype is based in bad science.

      2. WAPF is not about to get money from conventional farms since their method of feeding the cattle is antithetical to their mission.

      3. Was this a general food conference? What was the point of it? If it’s being sponsored by big agriculture it’s NOT in the spirit of traditional food and outside of this debate.

      4. I drink only raw milk from cows grazing in my state. The farm has no association with major dairies and certainly does not have much of an advertising budget.

      reply 
  9. Jessica –

    I share your concern about the promotion of vegan diets for pregnant and nursing mothers, babies and small children. While I recognize that many vegan parents and babies are ostensibly healthy, I’m deeply concerned by the number of vegan baby deaths that occur every few years, and it doesn’t seem to me that the vegan community as a whole has emphasized the importance of prenatal nutrition or the importance of nutrition for children.

    Instead, when a vegan baby dies and that death is attributed to the vegan diet, they throw up their hands and say, “Well … the parents just weren’t doing it right.” Should I diet be so complicated and convoluted that babies risk death by malnutrition if it isn’t “done right?”

    Also, many vegan children (especially in northern latitudes) are coming down with rickets. Rickets!

    reply 

    Jenny
    Posted 02/06/12

    • Jenny – thanks for stopping by!

      Rickets? Wow! I am shocked. It is so sad. I understand that it is every person’s right to choose a lifestyle and diet that is appropriate for them, but when you start adding growing babies (both in and out of the womb) into the mix … Well, that’s where it gets dicey. It is every adult’s right to choose the best way of eating for them. But children can’t choose and if their parents are vegan, than those children run a very high risk of being nutritionally deficient. It breaks my heart.

      reply 

      Jessica
      Posted 02/07/12

  10. Thanks so much for the post. I eat a diet like you–grass fed local food (and butter and coconut oil!) This Veganism rage is making me crazy. I live outside of Cleveland Ohio where the now famous Dr. Esselstyn practices. I cannot tell you the people I know who have jumped on this bandwagon. He advocates a vegan NO-OIL diet, which I believe you are talking about. My cousin (who is still nursing) and husband are on it. You should see the quantity of food my cousin eats because she can’t stay full while nursing. She is going to put her 1 year old on it because Esselsttyn says ALL oil is the cause of artery inflamation and heart disease. I am worried about her little boy. Our bodies need fats and oils for brain development and cell metabolism. I am almost positive she has not discussed this with her pediatrician–because she knows what he’ll say. Esselstyn knows all.
    Thanks again for venting what I’ve been wanting to!

    reply 

    Tkraft
    Posted 02/27/12

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