The study concluded that a vegetarian diet has a broad effect on children’s metabolism. Blood biomarker levels of vitamins A and D, forms of cholesterol, and essential amino acids were significantly lower in the children following a vegetarian diet compared to the age-modified carnivores. Additionally, docosahexaenoic acid is absent from the vegetarian diet. The results were recently published in a prestigious international scientific journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.
Vegetarian diets are especially popular among young people, and through family-friendly vegan diet choices, it’s becoming more popular with young children as well. The motivations for choosing an ecological, ethical and health-related vegetarian lifestyle: vegan diets exclude all animal products. It is recommended that the whole vegetarian diet always be supplemented with vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iodine, and based on individual evaluation, calcium, vitamin B2, iron and zinc supplements may be required.
With the exception of vitamin D, the study found no differences between diet groups in levels of these nutrients in young children. All of the participating vegetarian children used vitamin B12 regularly, and all but one used regular vitamin D and iodine supplements, indicating that Finnish vegetarian families are well versed in the previously known nutritional requirements of vegetarian diets. However, current dietary recommendations are based on studies in adult vegetarians, and there are no previous studies on the metabolic effects of vegetarian diets in children.
In their recently published article, Toby Huffenen, MD, and Lisa Korkalo, Ph.D., along with the multidisciplinary team led by Academic Professor Ano Somalainen-Wartiovara and Lecturer Majalisa Ercula, comprehensively studied the nutrition and metabolism of forty healthy children in daycare centers In Helsinki. The children would follow a vegetarian, vegan, or carnivore diet according to their family’s choice. Their dietary intake, metabolic biomarkers and micronutrient statuses have been extensively studied.
It was found that children who follow an entirely vegetarian diet have significantly lower vitamin D levels compared to children who do not follow a special diet despite taking regular vitamin D supplements and blood samples collected in late summer and surprisingly, their vitamin A status was also reduced. Levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol, essential amino acids and docosahexaenoic acid, a fatty acid central to the development of visual function, were low while folate levels were significantly elevated in the vegetarian children.
According to the researchers, the new findings catalyze more larger studies of the health consequences of a vegan diet on young children.
“Our results indicate that the health effects of strict diets on children cannot be extrapolated from studies in adults. In addition to taking vitamin D, attention must be paid to adequate intake of vitamin A and protein from various sources.” Toby Huffenen says.
Vegetarian families were active to participate in our study. This is important, because without such a voluntary contribution of the families it is not possible to conduct this kind of studies, ”stresses Lisa Corcalo.
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