Avoid vegan diets during pregnancy and for children!
Despite the pseudoscience tries to spread the message that meat is not necessary for a correct diet, there is new bad news for those who insist on wanting to make people believe that vegetable-based diets are healthy and suitable at all stages of life.
There are people who are convinced that, at every stage of life, meat and animal foods in general can be eliminated from their diet. It doesn’t matter if the health of unarmed children is unacceptably compromised. Yet science, the serious one, is practically unanimous in not recommending a diet like vegan, especially in certain age groups (even Umberto Veronesi wrote it).
In fact, during pregnancy, breastfeeding and with young children it would be better not to follow these diets, especially vegan ones, because the consequences for the health of the mother and the child could be serious and irreversible. As happened (again) these days in Australia, where due to the vegan diet set by her parents, a girl of almost two years was found so weak that she could not even sit up.
Although in theory vegetarian and vegan diets, when well-planned and integrated, have been assessed as suitable to meet all nutritional requirements, in practice it is not so simple. There is a high risk of not following properly the advice of the nutritionist doctor and not being able to cover the daily requirements of nutrients, by integrating correctly with fortified foods and supplements, especially in delicate life stages such as pregnancy, lactation and in growing children, causing irreparable cognitive damage and in the most extreme cases even death.During pregnancy, breastfeeding and with young children it would be better not to follow vegan diets. The consequences for the health could be serious. Click To Tweet
Recent and increasingly frequent cases of malnourished children, with rickets, stunted growth, anemia and permanent brain damage due to inadequately supplemented vegan diets have reopened the debate on the suitability of plant-based diets, bringing several countries, such as the Denmark, Germany and Switzerland to discourage this type of diets in their guidelines. In particular, in the 2019 recommendations for proper nutrition of the Danish National Health Authority, parents are urged to avoid vegan diet completely.
The Danish recommendations are in line with those of 2017 of the European Pediatric Gastroenterology Society for Hepatology and Nutrition, which state: “Vegan diets were generally discouraged during complementary feeding. If a parent chooses to wean the child on a vegan diet, this should be done under expert medical dietary supervision, and mothers should regularly receive nutritional advice and follow it to the letter “.If a parent chooses to wean the child on a vegan diet, this should be done under expert medical dietary supervision. Click To Tweet
The firm position of the Society is also reflected in the German and Swiss guidelines, which confirm that it would be better to avoid vegan diets in pregnant and lactating women. Also in Italy, on the occasion of the congress of the Italian Society of Preventive and Social Pediatrics, in a position paper by Sipps, the Federation of pediatricians and the Italian Perinatal Medicine Federation states that “vegetarian or vegan diets are not adequate in children and in pregnancy women and cannot be recommended in developmental age”.
In fact, the most serious damages are mainly due to the lack of vitamin B12, which is the most frequent in a plant-based diet, given that this vitamin is found exclusively in foods of animal origin. But it is not only the lack of vitamin B12 that is of concern: there is also a risk for other important nutrients, including iodine, calcium, iron, long-chain omega 3 DHA, vitamin D and protein, and this should be taken in consideration when planning a vegetarian or even vegan diet.
During pregnancy, vitamin B12 deficiency has been associated with several adverse clinical effects, including fetal loss, intrauterine growth retardation with low birth weight, premature birth and neural tube defects, while childhood deficiencies cause megaloblastic anemia, total decrease or absence of growth, anorexia, apathy, insensitivity, developmental and language delay, hypotonia and muscle weakness, involuntary movements, convulsions, cerebral atrophy and long-term impairment of neurological and cognitive development.During pregnancy, vitamin B12 deficiency has been associated with several adverse clinical effects, including fetal loss, premature birth and neural tube defects. Click To Tweet
Several studies show the percentages of vitamin B12 deficiency and in particular it was detected in 25% of vegan women and their children and in 56% of breastfeeding mothers. In India, 57% of babies fed by vegan mothers and 44% of their mothers were deficient in vitamin B12, while in Nepal 58% of babies breastfed by vegan mothers and in Germany 39% of vegetarian women in pregnancy.
Health authorities should inform mothers about the possible serious but fortunately avoidable consequences, concluding that overall a vegan diet during pregnancy, breastfeeding and in young children is not recommended. If, on the other hand, the family chooses to follow this diet, appropriate specialist advice should be provided, strongly recommending that pregnant and lactating women take a reliable B12 supplement and receive nutritional advice from certified clinical dieticians covering all the deficiencies that mother and child can develop, following child´s growth and development regularly and with greater attention.Health authorities should inform mothers about the possible serious but fortunately avoidable consequences, concluding that overall a vegan diet during pregnancy, breastfeeding and in young children is not recommended. Click To Tweet