New research indicates that a full vegan diet affects the metabolism and micronutrients in young children.

The pilot study by Hovinen et al., (February 2021) found that fully vegan children show "remarkable metabolic differences" compared to those children who ate an omnivorous diet.

The fully vegan children had a "markedly" altered metabolism, with lower levels of vitamin A and vitamin D, cholesterol forms and essential amino acids compared to children who did not eat a vegan diet.

The results were published in a high-profile international scientific journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.

From the summary: "Our evidence indicates that vegan children show remarkable metabolic differences compared to omnivores. The data indicate that strict vegan diet affects metabolism of healthy children."

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The study:

  • Researchers recruited 40 Finnish children around 3.5 years old.
  • The children included vegans, vegetarians, or omnivores - all from the same daycare centers.
  • The children ate nutritionist‐planned vegan or omnivore meals in daycare.
  • The full diets were analyzed via questionnaires and food records.

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The results:

The study found that a vegan diet has a broad effect on a child's metabolism.

From the summary: "Dietary assessment showed that the vegans had higher intake of folate and received smaller proportions of energy from protein and from saturated fatty acids than omnivores. Metabolomics and nutritional status biomarker analyses indicated that the statuses of transthyretin, essential amino acids, retinol‐binding protein, vitamin D, docosahexaenoic acid, and cholesterol (including total, LDL and HDL) of vegan children were lower than those of omnivores. Their lipidomic and bile acid patterns were also distinct. "

As bullet points:

  • Vegan children had lower status of retinal-binding protein RBP (vitamin A) compared to omnivores, despite no differences in vitamin A intake.
    • = indicates Vitamin A insufficiency in children on a vegan diet
  • Vegan children had lower status of vitamin D compared to omnivores, despite no differences in vitamin D intake.
    • = indicates Vitamin D borderline-sufficient in children on a vegan diet
  • The serum total, HDL and LDL cholesterol, essential amino acid were "markedly" lower in children on a vegan diet
  • Docosahexaenoic n‐3 fatty acid (DHA) levels were "markedly" lower in children on a vegan diet
  • Primary bile acid biosynthesis was distinct from children on an omnivore diet
  • Ohospholipid balance was distinct from children on an omnivore diet

According to an easy-to-understand Science Daily article about the research:

"It is recommended that full vegan diet is always supplemented with vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine, and based on individual assessment the supplementation for calcium, vitamin B2, iron and zinc may be needed.

Except for vitamin D, the study did not find differences between diet groups in the levels of these nutrients in young children."

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What this means:

The scientists conculde that the combination of low vitamin A and DHA status could raise concern for a child's visual health.

The study suggests that levels of vitamin A & D of vegan children may require special attention.

More research is needed looking at how a vegan diet may affect young children, especially as recommendations for children cannot be extrapolated from adult vegan studies.

According to Science Daily, one of the authors of the study Topi Hovinen. "Our results indicate that the health effects of strict diets on children cannot be extrapolated from studies on adults. In addition to vitamin D intake, attention must be paid to adequate intake of vitamin A and protein from various sources."

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Article & Science reference:

Easy-to-understand Science Daily article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/2101...

Topi Hovinen, Liisa Korkalo, Riitta Freese, Essi Skaffari, Pirjo Isohanni, Mikko Niemi, Jaakko Nevalainen, Helena Gylling, Nicola Zamboni, Maijaliisa Erkkola, Anu Suomalainen. Vegan diet in young children remodels metabolism and challenges the statuses of essential nutrients. EMBO Molecular Medicine, 2021; DOI: 10.15252/emmm.202013492

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