Vegan diets can be risky for babies and kids? Sistah Vegan Responds to Nina Planck’s NYTimes Article
I updated this from last night because I wanted to write about B12 and provide several more book sources.
The other week, Nina Planck published an article about the risks of raising vegan children and I thought I’d answer some of the statements she made. You can find the article here that I’m referring to: Is Veganism Good for Everyone?
I wanted to just offer some of my own information, in response to Planck’s concerns of raising children on a vegan diet or being a vegan while pregnant.
First, Nina Planck wrote that vegans are deficient in many things which “include fully-formed vitamins A and D, vitamin B12, and the long-chain fatty acids found in fish.”
Breeze Harper’s response: Okay, there is a D3 source that is vegan. Vitashine. Yes, a vegan source of D3 and of course, if you live where there is a lot of sunshine, try sunbathing everyday, at least 50-75% of your body being exposed to the sun. Secondly, Fish get DHA from ALGAE, and that is one way how vegans get their DHA. Chia seeds outshine Wild Alaskan Salmon in terms of Omega 3 6 9. Vegans aren’t deficient in these things because of veganism being a deficient diet. It’s usually because people just don’t know they need to eat certain foods to get what they need. And let’s be honest here, there are plenty of omnivores who don’t know what they should be eating, while they are pregnant or not; whether they have children or not.
Planck wrote: “The quantity, quality and bio-availability of other nutrients, such as calcium and protein, are superior when consumed from animal rather than plant sources.”
Breeze: No this is not true either, in terms of Calcium. There is an amazing algae based source of calcium that is vegan and has an incredibly high absorption rate called Algaecal. You can go here and here to look at the articles being written about the “safety” of Algaecal. I took it during my entire vegan pregnancy and drank kale smoothies and ate a lot of chia seeds and nettles (both high in Calcium). You should not rely on calcium supplements alone, but rather get most of your calcium from food base sources. However, I do know that many people don’t always have access to, or time, to eat ‘right’ every day. This is why I do recommend the Algaecal. I did this calcium supplement and high calcium food regiment while pregnant and breastfed my 1st child (who was 2 at the time) until I was 33 weeks pregnant with my 2nd. Not only did I not have a calcium deficiency, I had so much calcium that my 2nd baby was born with teeth. My midwife and doula are witnesses, and they let me know that when babies are born with teeth this indicates she had enough calcium. Protein? I got this from raw hemp, Organic Hawaiian spirulina, chia seeds, chlorella, avocado, seeds, nuts, legumes, to name a few. I easily ate 70g of protein per day while pregnant. Had a home birth . No complications. My placenta was well nourished. The midwifery team was blown away by how healthy it looked.
Planck: “For babies and children, whose nutritional needs are extraordinary, the risks are definite and scary. The breast milk of vegetarian and vegan mothers is dramatically lower in a critical brain fat, DHA, than the milk of an omnivorous mother and contains less usable vitamin B6. Carnitine, a vital amino acid found in meat and breast milk, is nicknamed “vitamin Bb” because babies need so much of it. Vegans, vegetarians and people with poor thyroid function are often deficient in carnitine and its precursors. “
Breeze Harper: Strange conclusion to draw. First, if you’re worried about getting B6, you can just take a vegan multi-vitamin during pregnancy and/or give your infant and toddler vegan supplements and vitamins. Want to not do vitamins? You can also get B6 from legumes, seeds, and nuts. Raw Pistachios and raw garlic are high in B6 (see: http://food.vegtalk.org/vitamins/raw-/b6.html). I made pistachio nut ice cream, lightly sweetened with dates. I threw pistachios, water, and dates in a blender and then put them in popsicle molds. Toddlers love ice cream or popsicle anything. Try it. For more information about B6 deficiency concerns, try going here: Jeff Novick on B6.
Also, in terms of vegan nursing, there are plenty omnivorous people I have read about or met who had nutritionally deficient breastmilk as well and had to stop nursing and start using formula for their infants. However, my 8 month old Eva Luna is breastfed from my vegan diet and she has no nutritional ‘deficiencies.’ She was born at 9.5lb, is in the 99th percentile for her age and appears to be healthy. Omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans can feed their children in a way that is balanced or not. It is not about veganism, vegetarianism, or being an omnivore as much as it is just making sure your kid gets what they need. (And I know these factors are not just about vegan nutrition education, but factors such as environmental racism, socio-economic class struggle, your ability to get to healthier food- you could be prohibited, due to mobility issues because you lack transportation for example, or it’s actually not safe to walke around where you live during certain times of the day to find healthier foods. )
Planck: “The most risky period for vegan children is weaning. Growing babies who are leaving the breast need complete protein, omega-3 fats, iron, calcium and zinc. Compared with meat, fish, eggs and dairy, plants are inferior sources of every one.”
Breeze : There are many vegan sources of calcium and iron that are highly absorbable. I used Nettles based Floradix iron for anemia prevention during my pregnancy. I took it in combination with World Organic chlorophyll and vitamin C source to mix (orange juice or a kiwi smoothie for example). Want a toddler to eat EFAs like Omega 3 6 9? Blend chia seeds with water, liquid form of algae DHA, and a banana and dates in the blender and put it in a popsicle mold. Refreshing and not just high in critical long chain fatty acids, you will be giving them and excellent source of calcium and Omega 3 6 9. Chia seeds are also high in iron and protein. A little goes a long way. Just be sure to soak chia seeds in water before eating, for at least 15 minutes or you’ll make yourself really sick. Still worried about a toddler not getting enough vegan based protein and Omega 3 6 9? Blend banana, hempseeds, and water together and put them in popsicle molds. If you made pops that have 1/4 c of raw hulled hempseeds per pop, that is 11g of protein, lots of fiber, EFAs, and other trace minerals.
Planck: “The breast milk of vegan mothers is dramatically lower in a critical brain fat, DHA, than the milk of an omnivorous mother.”
Breeze: Eat algae based DHA and chia seeds and your breast milk won’t be deficient in critical DHA. I take 600 mg of DHA algae each day. If you combine that with Chia seeds and flax seeds, it’s awesome. There is also the brand Ovega which is vegan source of EPA and DHA vegan.
B12 deficiency worries? Here is what Vegan Society has to say
In over 60 years of vegan experimentation only B12 fortified foods and B12 supplements have proven themselves as reliable sources of B12, capable of supporting optimal health. It is very important that all vegans ensure they have an adequate intake of B12, from fortified foods or supplements. This will benefit our health and help to attract others to veganism through our example. (source: http://www.vegansociety.com/lifestyle/nutrition/b12.aspx)
Seriously, just buy B12 supplements and take it or give it to your children; case closed.
There are a plethora of vegan nutritional specialists who have published the ways in which you can get everything you need as a vegan. If you are pregnant and want to do a vegan pregnancy, believe me as someone who did a vegan pregnancy and had an amazing homebirth: it’s possible. Reed Mangels has a new vegan pregnancy books out The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book. Mangels is brilliant and lays it all out for you. It’s $11 well spent. And for a great informative and humorous approach get the Vegan Pregnancy Survival guide. Wanna raise your children vegan and help them be as healthy as possible? Read Disease proof your child by Dr. Joel Furhman.
A vegan diet is possible. You can thrive. Your children can thrive. Just inform yourself, find the support you need, and read read read.
Basically, if you are deficient in overall nutritional information for your diet, then your diet will be deficient. Veganism, planned properly, is not deficient.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or certified health practitioner. Always consult your practitioner before trying anything I suggest on Sistah Vegan blog and videos