Following a strict vegan diet impacts children’s metabolism, researchers have said.

Being vegan means all animal-based products are avoided. More and more people are choosing to follow this lifestyle for ecological, ethical and health-related reasons.

It is because of the increased popularity that Finnish researchers wanted to see how it might affect young people.

Their trial involved studying the nutrition and metabolism of 40 healthy children in nurseries across Helsinki. The kids were either vegan, following a vegetarian diet or indulged in a more conventional omnivore diet, depending on what their families had chosen to adopt. Their nutritional intake, metabolic biomarkers and micronutrient statuses were monitored.

The researchers discovered that Finnish parents were ensuring their children took the relevant supplements for vitamin B12 and all the young people, except one had also been taking vitamin D and iodine too.

Despite this, vitamin D and A levels were significantly lower among vegan children.
In addition, good and bad cholesterol levels, essential amino acid and a specific a fatty acid which has an important part in visual function were also low, while folate levels were high.

Lead researcher Dr Topi Hovinen said: “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.”

The team think their findings suggest more research needs to be carried out on how specific diets impact children as they grow up.

Fellow researcher Dr Liisa Korkalo added: “The vegan families were active to participate in our study. This is important, because without such voluntary contribution of the families it is not possible to undertake this kind of studies.”

The findings have been published in the scientific journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.

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