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Pregnant mothers and mothers of young children and teens might be interested to learn about a recent statement made by Belgium's Royal Academy of Medicine, which recommends that people in these groups refrain from a vegan diet because it creates "unavoidable" nutritional shortcomings that could lead to vitamin deficiencies, stunted development, and more.
A vegan diet is one that cuts out meat, dairy, and eggs, and focuses instead on plants, beans, legumes, and whole grains. According to the statement, published online last week, about 3 percent of Belgian children follow a vegan diet. The statement called the diet "restrictive."
The Royal Academy of Medicine is an advisory agency to Belgium's government. Georges Casimir, M.D., a pediatrician at Queen Fabiola Children's Hospital, headed the commission appointed to research veganism and issue guidance on the diet. In the statement, he said that a vegan diet poses "irreversible" harms to pregnant women, children, and teens who follow it—due to the diet's potentially insufficient proteins and essential fatty acids necessary for brain development. He also noted that it can be difficult to get vitamins D and B12 when following a vegan diet.
Statement co-author Isabelle Thiebaut also adds that "weight-loss and psychomotor delays, undernutrition, [and] anemia" can be effects of a vegan diet. The academy suggests parents and children who do decide to follow this diet take supplements and schedule regular check-ups.
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This recommendation does contradict several large-scale studies of veganism in children. A recent study of German children published in the journal Nutrients concluded "A vegan and vegetarian diet in early childhood can provide the same amount of energy and macronutrients, leading to a normal growth in comparison to omnivore children."
And, of course, there are health benefits to a vegan diet: Studies have shown that eating a vegan diet can help you lose weight, keep your heart healthy, and even prevent cancer. A plant-based diet also helps the earth, reducing greenhouse gases and using less water.
A Mediterranean diet could help those unsure of what to do split the difference. It focuses on lean meat and fish, and is heavy on plant-based nutrients such as legumes and whole grains. (Research has shown it's also one of the healthiest diets to follow, and there are a lot of reasons for kids especially to eat more fish.) If you'd like to try it out, here are eight ways you can follow the Mediterranean diet for better health.