Vegan Diets Not Recommended for Children or Pregnant Women, Belgian Officials Say
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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.