At what age can a child become a vegetarian? How to fill in the gaps and make sure your baby doesn't miss anything growing properly?
No meat or animal product such as eggs, honey and dairy products. Because of animal rights and welfare, environmental conviction or health reasons, more and more people are choosing to adopt vegan diet. In France, sales growth of vegetarian and vegan products increased by 24% for a total turnover of 380m euros in 2018, according to research by the Xerfi Institute of Studies.
For vegan parents, it is inconceivable to cook meat or serve dairy products to their children. This is the case of Pascale, 50, and Indre-et-Loire, a vegan over 4 and the mother of two children aged 7 and 11:As a vegetarian from a young age, I explained to my children as soon as possible, without traumatizing them, why I was no longer eating meat. They quickly joined the cause".
"The diet of vegans in children is clearly viable"
But can we give a vegan diet to his offspring? at any age? How to fill in all the deficiencies in protein, calcium or omega 3? In France, the opinions of experts strongly argue against this type of diet in children.
"The scientific literature is really clear about this: children's vegan diet is clearly achievable. No scientific evidence shows stunning" explains Jerome Bernard-Pellet, a nutritionist.
"You can be a vegan from the womb to death, the only known risk is vitamin B12 deficiency"he adds.
Essential for cognitive development, vitamin B12 is the only nutrient available (in sufficient quantities) in products of animal origin. For vegan people, a supplement It is therefore recommended, at a rate of 25 micrograms per day in children (capsule, drops, spray …). "My daughter was used to taking B12 at a very young age. Like all children, mine do nonsense, but they are very serious about their diet"Paskale says.
There is also the question of DHAomega-3 fatty acid, found naturally in fish such as sardines and mackerel. "The absence of DCA is one of weak points on the vegan diet. This food is not vital, but I think that a direct source of DCA is essential for a child's cognitive development. Can be found in flaxseed or take microalgae supplements"Explains Dr. Bernard-Pellet.
Use infant formula based on rice or soy protein
Another argument put forward by the pests of vegan child nutrition: a newborn. While breastfeeding is recommended during the first six months of a newborn's life, parents who prefer to switch to bottle feeding usually use formula milk, mainly from cows or goats. But for vegan parents, the composition of a vegetable milk alone will not be enough to cover the nutritional needs of children.
"For parents who choose a vegan lifestyle, they will use a protein-based formula from rice. The most common mistake is to give non-formulated milk. There is no formula based on almond or chestnut. "
As for contributions to iron and in calcium, essential for baby growth, is found in many foods: green cabbage, broccoli, spinach, dried beans, lentils, seeds of which … "You should know that many children are deficient in iron, even those who eat meat. And no studies have shown any growth retardation in vegan children to date. Calcium, on the other hand, is a weak point because it is harder to find, but remains feasible"Says Dr. Bernard-Pellet.
But diet is not the only obstacle parents face, the doctor notes: "The real difficulty, in my opinion, is less in the diet, which is pretty easy to integrate once you get the right information, than in social pressure because our society is not "designed" for this specific case".
The problem of the school canteen
Things can be complicated after entering school. Fabrice, originally from Orleans, is the dad of a 3-year-old girl. Vegan has been home for a long time, too, and his daughter … but not in the canteen. "We asked the town hall to make vegetarian meals, but to no avail. Then we tried to go through an individualized home plan, but this device is reserved for children with allergies or other specific pathologies, the doctors didn't play the game. So my daughter serves as the other children in the family. school. We expect her to be bigger so she understands and refuses to eat animal products"He explains.
Pascale, she was more lucky: "The bucket was a big item. When the meat was mixed with vegetables, I asked to bring a meal for my daughter. Then, we went through an individualized home plan.
"But now, my kids are big enough to say no to meat. Comments from peers or other family members do not affect them. "
Fabrice also mentions unwillingness by the medical profession: "Some doctors I consulted convinced me that I was also taking care of my daughter and feeding her. The others were more open, but their knowledge of the subject was very limited. So we mainly learned about books".
This social pressure on children's veganism, however, is changing in France, Dr. Bernard-Pellet hopes: "A two-year working group will soon be set up at ANSES (National Agency for Food Safety, Environment and Labor) to study the problem and give its opinion in 5 years. The trail is still long. But we can expect a new position on a vegetarian and vegan diet, for both children and adults".