Today, I’d like to answer a question about vegan supplements for kids. It was sent to me by a plant-based family a few weeks ago.
Do I need to supplement my kids’ plant-based diets with extra vitamins?
Is it healthy for children to eat a vegan diet?
Questions about vegan supplements for kids are some of the ones I receive the most often from parents.
Many are curious to know whether their children can get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a vegan diet. And if not, which supplements I recommend they give them.
Moreover, parents often tell me that their paediatrician doesn’t fully support their choice to feed their children a vegan diet. Or they’re supportive, but can’t provide much guidance because they don’t know a lot about a vegan diet themselves.
So naturally, parents worry about whether a vegan diet can be healthy for children.
Let me put your mind at ease! Vegan children can get all the nutrients they need from a well-balanced plant-based diet.
On a personal level, both of my children are growing up healthy while eating only plants (or plant-fuelled breastmilk)!
That said, it’s important to remember that a vegan diet is only appropriate for kids if it is well-balanced.
To be well-balanced, it’s imperative that a vegan diet provide a combination of whole foods, fortified foods and/or supplements.
Why are vegan supplements for children important?
Although it’s theoretically possible, most children will have a difficult time meeting all of their nutrient needs from a plant-based diet of whole and fortified foods alone.
This is why vegan supplements for kids are especially important. They serve to fill-in the gaps.
A vegan diet that includes zero supplements is, in most instances, not well-balanced.
So, to answer the original question simply:
Yes, most children eating a plant-based diet will benefit from receiving at least some additional vitamins and minerals from supplements.
In sum – A vegan diet can be adequate for infants and children. However, it needs to provide a combination of whole foods, fortified foods and usually, at least a few supplements.
What supplements do vegan children usually need?
Once parents realize that supplements are an important part of a well-planned vegan diet, the question above is inevitably the next one I get.
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
- Long-chain omega-3s
Keep in mind that some children may not need all four supplements, while others may require additional ones.
How do I know which vegan supplements to give my child?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
That’s because the supplements your child will most benefit from will depend on various factors. These may include their age, where they live, and whether they receive breastmilk or formula.
The quantity of solid foods they currently eat and the proportion of them which is plant-based also plays a role.
In some instances, an online journal such as Cronometer can be a useful tool. You can use it to determine which nutrients your child may be getting too little of from their diet.
As you’ve probably already noticed, your child may eat very little some days, and loads on others. They may completely avoid a food one day, only to devour it on the next.
So it’s best to log in several days of meals rather than just a few. This will provide you with a more accurate, and often less alarming, picture!
If this is a topic you’d like to learn more about, check out the Dietitian’s Guide to Vegan Supplements for Kids.
This ebook takes a science-based, in-depth look at vegan supplements for kids. It covers which supplements vegan children will most benefit from and why each is important.
It will also show you precisely how much of each supplement to give your child, based on your own individual factors.
In sum – Most vegan children will benefit from additional vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine and long-chain omega-3s. However, an individualised approach is always best.
At what age should I start giving my vegan child supplements?
Besides vitamin D, and in certain instances, oral vitamin K drops, most children don’t typically need any other supplements in the first 6 months of life.
However, breastfeeding parents will likely benefit from taking a few additional supplements themselves.
In most cases, supplements should be introduced around the time your child begins solids. That’s ideally around 6 months of age.
In sum – Vegan supplements for kids can begin being introduced around the time babies begin eating solids. That’s ideally around 6 months of age.
The importance of a foods-first approach
It goes without saying that supplements are meant to supplement a nutrient-rich diet, not provide a replacement for one.
Supplements are important. But learning what to feed your vegan child is what will have the biggest impact on their health.
In addition, supplements aren’t devoid of risks.
Unlike medication, they aren’t tightly regulated. This means that their content can differ from what’s listed on the label. In turn, your child may get too little or too much of a nutrient, without you knowing it.
A foods-first approach can reduce this risk, by minimizing the amount of supplements you child takes.
You can further minimize these risks by selecting supplements from brands that let their products be tested by third party labs. These labs can confirm that what’s on the label actually matches what’s in the bottle.
In sum – To minimize risks associated to supplements, favor a food-based approach first. Moreover, purchase your supplements from brands which allow third-party testing, whenever possible.
To sum it all up
Practically all children eating a plant-based diet would benefit from receiving at least some additional vitamins or minerals from supplements.
In most cases, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine and omega-3 supplements are most beneficial. However, the exact type and amount of supplements best suited for your child will depend on various factors.
For best results, a tailored approach is recommended. If you need help determining which supplements are best for your child, check out the Dietitian’s Guide to Vegan Supplements for Kids or simply get in touch!