If a parent decides to raise his kids with vegan diet, and in general a vegan way of life, I have no doubt that a lot of people will criticize this choice (as well as the overall way of raising them). Especially, questions such as “how will they get calcium, if they don’t drink milk” or “where will they get their iron, if they don’t eat meat” have probably been asked the most to vegans, from non-vegans.
People hardly ever change their opinions and behaviors, even when they have all the information they need because change (usually) makes them feel uncomfortable. And that’s perfectly normal.
Even pediatricians (well, most of them, because there are actually some rare exceptions) are not properly informed about what is right for a kid’s nutrition. Let alone when it comes to a vegan diet.
For us parents, our kids’ nutrition and health is a very important issue. Equally important should be to teach them to respect all animals and the environment in which they live and will continue to live for many more years after we (the parents) are gone.
The ethical issue
First of all, I would like to bring up the issue of ethics (or better the lack of ethics) of the omnivorous diet, as opposed to the vegan diet.
I will give an answer to the title of this article (“Should we raise our kids as vegans?”) with a few different questions:
Should we raise our kids without compassion and empathy?
Should we raise our kids without consciousness and awareness (of what they eat and how that ended up on their plate)?
Should we raise our kids in the belief that they have the absolute power over all living beings of this planet?
That they can kill or torture an animal, just because they can, or for profit, or even for fun (see sport hunting)?
Should we be stealing the milk from other mammals, which is intended for their babies, to give it to our own babies?
Should we be taking the newborn piglets or calves away from their mother, so that they don’t drink her milk and eventually end up on our plate in the form of a burger?
I believe we’ve pretty much all heard of the assumption that animals don't have feelings, like humans do. However, if we google it or look through our social media, we will find numerous videos of desperate mother cows crying, because their babies have been taken away from them, just a few hours or even minutes after they were born (so that they are slaughtered and sold as veal), of pigs in agony, because they know that the time of their slaughter is approaching, and they can do nothing about it, and even the ultimate attempts of animals trying to escape or defend another animal about to be slaughtered.
To many, all these might seem harsh, but it’s the truth, and it’s horrible. If you are a parent and educate yourself on factory farming and the way farm animals live and suffer from the moment they are born until the day they are killed, or left to die, I believe you will seriously consider shifting (even gradually) towards the vegan way of life.
And if that brutal exploitation of animals, by humans, means nothing to you, then I’ll set an extra incentive for you to think of veganism more positively.
No, milk, eggs, and meat are NOT healthy food for kids
So, if you are not that interested in the ethical part of animal exploitation, I’m pretty sure you will be interested in your kids’ health.
As far as their kids’ nutrition is concerned, whether they follow a vegetarian, vegan or omnivorous diet, parents will always have the same worries. “Are they eating healthy? Are they getting all the nutrients their bodies need? Are they getting enough iron, calcium, protein, etc.?”.
The problem is that, not only there is not enough knowledge about the proper vegan diet, that offers everything our body needs, but also that the incorrect information about the nutritional value of meat, eggs, dairy, and almost all animal derivatives, is being reproduced over and over again.
A firm example is cow milk, which is believed to provide us with all the calcium we need to have strong, healthy bones. But the truth is that we don’t need as much calcium as they try to convince us. Neither that we will receive the calcium we need through cow’s milk or dairy products in general.
Consuming animal products leads to serious health problems
Even if meat and dairy were actually healthy, all the drugs, antibiotics, hormones and toxins, that are given to animals, are most certainly not. When we consume meat and dairy products, all these substances get into our bodies, and they can cause serious health problems in the short and long run. Specifically, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (I.A.R.C.), which is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), the consumption of red meat (beef, pork, lamb, goat) and even worse processed meat (cold cuts, sausages, etc.) is directly associated with increased risk of developing colon, pancreas, and prostate cancer.
In addition, meat, dairy, and eggs increase cholesterol, cause heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes, due to saturated fat.
Particularly eggs, which we often give to our kids as a nutritional breakfast, are not healthy for many reasons. Apart from saturated fat, they also contain salmonella, which is very dangerous for humans. What’s more, the protein of the eggs (and all animal protein) is too acidic for the human body and it has been related to cancer, diabetes and kidney disease. And finally, the iron contained in eggs is actually a lot less than in the plant-based foods, as we will see below.
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Where will they get protein, iron, calcium, B12, and Ω3?
Nowadays, there are infinite choices of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and many more that offer all these nutrients in much better quality than animal products.
Indicatively, we can find protein in soy, legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas, especially in combination with rice or pasta), quinoa, oat, spinach, broccoli, and nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts).
Non-hemic iron (as in, not from animals) can be found in pulses, nuts, dates, spinach, dark chocolate (yay!). For its proper absorption, iron should be combined with vitamin C (e.g. oranges, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, green bell peppers, grapefruit, lemons). On the other hand, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and copper, as well as chamomile or coffee, inhibit the absorption of iron. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consume them at all. Just not immediately before or after eating foods containing iron.
The calcium from legumes, nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts), broccoli, dried figs, chia seeds, oats, kale, tofu, oranges. For the proper absorption of calcium we need vitamin D, which we naturally take from the sun, and artificially (if necessary) from supplements.
Vitamin B12 is probably the most tricky nutritional element regarding its dietary intake. That's why we usually get it through supplements. However, we can find some B12-enriched products, such as:
- Fortified plant (non-dairy) milk (e.g. almond milk, soy milk). Also, most of them come out with cocoa (for kids who don’t readily accept “white” milk).
- Fortified cereals.
– Nutritional yeast enriched with B12.
And finally, we can get our Ω3 from linseed (flaxseed), pumpkin seeds, hummus, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, nuts (walnuts, cashews), sesame (and of course tahini, which also comes with cocoa), chia seeds, hemp seeds (no, they do not cause hallucinations), leafy vegetables, beans, pumpkin, wild rice, mangoes.
Considering that the choices we make for our own family, also, affect the families of the animals, with which we cohabit on this planet, and that they, too, have feelings, let us choose consciously the kind of nutrition and way of life we think is best for our family.
Leave us your comment on the vegan way of life for children. We will be happy to discuss your questions and suggestions!