I respect the choice of an adult to make such a decision, but no baby or growing child should be forced to adopt a vegan diet. I recently read an article in which actress Jenna Dewan said of her daughter,
”She eats fruits and veggies and nothing else.”
Nothing else? Where is this baby going to get her EPA and DHA? What about healthy fats in general? What about vitamin A (retinol)? What about B12? Babies have died from vitamin A and B12 deficiency!
To be clear, I don’t believe that any parent who feeds their child a vegan diet is intentionally hurting them, or even aware of the dangers associated with feed a baby a plant based diet. That’s exactly why I wanted to write this article, to raise awareness. As a society we often equate a vegan diet with health, while vilifying animal products. Unfortunately, a vegan diet is not synonymous with health, and there are very real dangers associated with it.
In doing research for this article, I found out that several babies have died due to a vegan diet. This needs to be talked about. Please read this article before continuing. I doubt that any of these parents intentionally harmed their children. I doubt any of them thought they were doing something wrong. I have to assume that parents feed their children plant based diets because they think it’s a healthier option. By no means do I think it’s intentional. But when children are dying, when a 12 year-old girl has the spine of an 80 year-old woman, we need to address this very serious issue.
We consider women who drink, smoke and do drugs while pregnant to be abusing their children. At what point will we address the role of diet in a healthy pregnancy? When cancer, diabetes (types 1 and 2), heart disease and childhood obesity are on the rise, we need to take action. We need to let people know that this behavior is dangerous. It’s not okay to smoke and drink while pregnant, so why is it okay to eat terribly? The consequences are equally as dire.
The problem with vegan pregnancies and babies, is that this diet is considered healthy by most people’s standards. People don’t realize that a vegan diet eliminates several extremely important vitamins and the healthy fats that are required to grow a healthy child.
The Natural Hygiene Society compiled a list of babies who died from either being fed a vegan diet, or died from being fed breast milk from a vegan mother. The fact that there is a list of children who have died solely from nutrient deficiencies and starvation is beyond upsetting. In fact, it pisses me off. How can this diet continually be touted as safe, as a healthy alternative, when it literally kills children?
At what point do we say: okay, maybe these parents didn’t just go about their diet the wrong way. Maybe the diet is inherently flawed.
Let’s explore what is necessary to grow a healthy human that is lacking from a vegan diet.
There are no plants based forms of vitamin B12. B12 is produced in the gut of animals and it is literally impossible to obtain from plants (they do not store it).
Most of the initial data regarding vitamin B12 deficiency in infancy are from case studies of infants exclusively breastfed by mothers on vegan, vegetarian, or lacto-ovo vegetarian diets. Several authors have described developmental retardation and “infant tremor syndrome” in 4- to 11-month-old infants of vegetarian mothers from India [7, 8]. Four case studies from the United States described lethargy, irritability, and developmental delay among exclusively breastfed infants (ages 6 to 10 months) of vegan or vegetarian mothers [9–12]. Restoration of developmental skills after therapy was variable, with at least two cases reporting ongoing delays [9, 12], and one reporting developmental recovery . Similar cases have been reported from Europe [13–17]. Again, the infants displayed delayed motor skills, along with lethargy, and were exclusively breastfed by mothers who were vegan or lacto-ovo vegetarian. After therapy, recovery was variable, with some children remaining moderately or severely retarded [13,17–19].
B12 deficiency in a growing child can lead to permanent mental retardation, neurological disorders, tremors, stunted growth, delayed cognitive development and cerebral atrophy. According to doctors from McGill University,
Plant foods are not a high-quality source of vitamin B12. Thus, it is not surprising that studies have shown low serum concentrations of vitamin B12 in children on vegan and macrobiotic diets without supplementation (4). Vitamin B12 deficiency is not a benign condition; it may lead to megaloblastic anemia and neurological disorders. Mild vitamin B12 deficiency in infancy, with or without hematological signs of deficiency, may be associated with impaired cognitive performance in adolescence, specifically, fluid intelligence (which involves reasoning, the capacity to solve complex problems, abstract thinking ability and the ability to learn), spatial ability and short-term memory (17). Moreover, lack of cobalamin may lead to long-term neurological disorders in infants and toddlers fed vegetarian diets (18). In addition, recent data indicate that the adverse effects of cobalamin deficiency in the macrobiotic community may not be restricted to just early childhood, but may also cause symptoms related to impaired cobalamin status later in life. Even a change to a lacto-ovo-vegetarian or omnivorous diet at six years of age is not sufficient to restore normal cobalamin status in previously strict macrobiotic adolescents (19).
The best forms of B12 are grass-fed beef, seafood, liver, pastured egg yolks and raw dairy.
Vitamin A (Retinol)
Most people think that vitamin A can be obtained from orange colored veggies like carrots, pumpkin and squash. The truth is that these veggies contain the precursor to Vitamin A: beta carotene. True vitamin A is retinol, and only a very small percentage of beta carotene can be effectively converted to retinol. In children, this conversion is nearly impossible.
Vitamin A deficiency leads to impaired eyesight, increases susceptibility to infection, impaired cell growth, and when combined with vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to death.
The foods highest in REAL vitamin A are cod liver oil, liver, grass-fed beef, oily fish and raw dairy products.
There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme is easily adsorbed and assimilated and comes from food like grass-fed beef.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include irritability, loss of appetite (which is crucial for babies), pale skin, brittle nails, weakness and overall lethargy.
Adequate amounts of vitamin D are critical for pregnancy and for growing children. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to:
- tooth delay and decay
- neurological disorders including seizures
- soft bones, bone deficiencies, eventually osteoporosis
- increased susceptibility to infection
- respiratory disorders
- irritability, agression and depression
- poor growth
- muscle spasms
The best forms of vitamin D are from cod liver oil, oily seafood, liver and pastured egg yolks.
This 12 year-old girl was admitted to a hospital, suffering from severe vitamin D deficiency. She had the spine of an 80 year-old woman and was forced to be vegan from birth.
EPA and DHA
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are omega-3 fatty acids. Many people assume that sufficient omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from vegan sources – like flax and chia. This is not correct. Flax and chia are rich in ALA (alpha-linoleic acid); ALA is not as beneficial to the brain or to development. Furthermore, babies cannot convert ALA into DHA.
From the American Society for Nutrition,
Synthesis of DHA and EPA occurs in phytoplankton and animals, but not plants. DHA and EPA are absent from all vegetable fats and oils, including nuts, grains, and seeds and are also very low in ruminant fats, including milk and dairy products. The richest dietary sources are fish and sea foods, but poultry and eggs provide lower, but important, sources of EPA and DHA (4).
DHA and EPA are particularly important during the first six months of life. Adequate intake of EPA and DHA are necessary for proper brain, nervous system and cognitive development.
A lack of these beneficial omega-3 fatty acids can lead to:
- depression, anxiety, irritability
- cognitive impairment
- cardiovascular disorders
- neurological abnormalities
- autoimmune disease
Babies need fat! Roughly half of our cell membranes are made of saturated fat. Over 60% of the brain is fat. If a baby is not getting adequate amounts of fat during this crucial growth period, the baby’s health will undoubtedly suffer.
Healthy fats are rich in vitamins (the fat soluble vitamins are A, E, D and K). Some example of healthy fats are grass-fed butter, pastured egg yolks, wild fish, cod liver oil, coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil. You may have noticed that the above nutrients are mostly found in liver, grass-fed meats, wild seafood, pastured egg yolks and cod liver oil. This isn’t a coincidence. These are the healthiest foods on the planet. Traditional cultures considered them “sacred foods” and they were specifically reserved for parents trying to conceive, pregnant women and growing children.
There has never, ever been a vegan culture. At no point in history have parents limited their children’s diet to plant based foods. Traditional cultures have a wisdom that we’ve forgotten, or just ignored.
The common argument to this is, “I’ve seen vegan mothers raise healthy vegan babies.” Well, I bet you’ve seen a lot more mothers feed themselves and their children complete junk, but the children seem to be healthy all the same. The truth is that there has never been a vegan culture, and there has never been several consecutive generations of vegans. Like I said at the beginning of this article, I respect the dietary choices of any adult, but I cannot accept a diet that has killed babies.
I know that this article will not be well received by some people; I know that it will be called “sensationalism.” And honestly, I don’t care. Call it what you want, but children have died because of this misguided diet. If I can promote discussion of the topic, or educate a mother who may have otherwise adopted a vegan diet, then I’ve done my job. This needs to be talked about. People need to recognize that veganism is extremely dangerous for children.
Please leave your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree, in the comments section below.