Trendy ve­gan di­ets can wreck a child’s health

Daily Mail - - Election 2017 - By Colin Fer­nan­dez Sci­ence Cor­re­spon­dent

FASH­ION­ABLE ve­gan di­ets can be dam­ag­ing to chil­dren’s health, nu­tri­tion­ists will warn to­day.

Ve­gan di­ets, de­void of meat, fish or dairy, can lead to ‘dev­as­tat­ing’ health ef­fects and, in the worst cases, death.

Chil­dren fol­low­ing ve­gan di­ets are ‘leaner and smaller’ than chil­dren who eat meat – or even those on veg­e­tar­ian di­ets which al­low milk, eggs and cheese.

But ve­g­an­ism is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in the UK. The num­ber of ve­g­ans has risen 360 per cent in the past ten years to 542,000 peo­ple – now 1 per cent of the UK pop­u­la­tion – from just 150,000 in 2007.

it is not known how many child ve­g­ans there are, but based on the adult fig­ures it could be as many as 110,000 un­der-16s.

ex­perts note that ve­gan di­ets can be per­fectly healthy – but they can cause se­ri­ous health prob­lems if pur­sued with­out pre­cau­tions.

A lack of nutri­ents such as vi­ta­min B12, cal­cium, zinc and high­qual­ity pro­tein can lead to ‘ir­re­versible dam­age’ to chil­dren’s ner­vous sys­tems or mal­nu­tri­tion, ex­perts warn.

Pro­fes­sor Mary Fewtrell of Univer­sity Col­lege lon­don will is­sue the warn­ing to­day at the meet­ing of the euro­pean Society for Pae­di­atric Gas­troen­terol­ogy, hep­a­tol­ogy and nu­tri­tion in Prague.

Pro­fes­sor Fewtrell, the chair­man of ESPGHAN’S nu­tri­tion com­mit­tee will say: ‘it is dif­fi­cult to en­sure a healthy and bal­anced ve­gan diet in young in­fants. The risks of get­ting it wrong can in­clude ir­re­versible cog­ni­tive dam­age and, in the ex­treme, death.

‘Our ad­vice is that if par­ents pur­sue a ve­gan diet for their child, they must seek and strictly fol­low med­i­cal and di­etary ad­vice.’

The great­est hazard, she warns, is of vi­ta­min B12 de­fi­ciency which ‘can have dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects’ on the brain, ner­vous sys­tem and blood. Too lit­tle pro­tein can lead to stunted growth while too much fi­bre – another con­cern in ve­gan di­ets – can cause chil­dren to feel full too quickly, stop­ping them get­ting enough of other nutri­ents in their food.

Also speak­ing at the con­fer­ence, Pro­fes­sor Myr­iam Van Winckel will add: ‘The more re­stricted the diet of the child, the greater the risk of de­fi­ciency and this is by far high­est in ve­gan chil­dren.

‘Ve­gan moth­ers who breast­feed also need to be aware that their chil­dren can de­velop vi­ta­min B12 de­fi­ciency be­tween two and 12 months be­cause of the lack of re­serves in their body at birth, even if the mother is not show­ing any signs of de­fi­ciency her­self.’

The nu­tri­tion­ists said that ‘par­ents can be mis­led by milk sup­ple­ments’. rice milk, al­mond milk and soy milk have a lower ‘nutri­tional value’ than dairy milk and as such should not be called milks, but ‘drinks’, the re­searchers warn. A lack of cal­cium can lead to the bone disease rick­ets in chil­dren who con­sume ‘large amounts of non-sup­ple­mented soy drink’.

The nu­tri­tion­ists said var­ied veg­e­tar­ian di­ets that al­low milk or eggs are ‘gen­er­ally safe’ – and have health ben­e­fits such as lower lev­els of fat, more an­tiox­i­dants and less risk of be­ing over­weight.

heather rus­sell, a di­eti­cian at the Ve­gan Society, said it was recog­nised that cer­tain nutri­ents need ‘spe­cial at­ten­tion’ when fol­low­ing a ve­gan diet, such as B12 and also io­dine. Pro­tein can be found in beans, chick­peas, lentils, soya mince and tofu.

She added: ‘The Bri­tish di­etetic As­so­ci­a­tion and the Amer­i­can Academy of nu­tri­tion and di­etet­ics recog­nise that well-planned ve­gan di­ets can sup­port healthy liv­ing in peo­ple of all ages.’

in a sep­a­rate warn­ing, the con­fer­ence will hear that gluten-free foods could im­pact chil­dren’s growth and in­crease obe­sity. in a study of 654 gluten-free prod­ucts they found gluten-free breads had ‘sig­nif­i­cantly higher’ con­tents of sat­u­rated fats, gluten-free pasta had sig­nif­i­cantly lower con­tents of su­gar and pro­tein, and gluten­free bis­cuits had sig­nif­i­cantly lower amounts of pro­tein and higher lev­els of fats.

‘Strictly fol­low med­i­cal ad­vice’

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