Vegetarian kids are just as healthy as kids who eat meat, new study finds

Children who follow a vegetarian diet have similar growth and nutrition measures to children who eat meat, according to a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics. Led by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, the researchers chose to explore this topic because they found that little research had been done in the area, despite the growing popularity of diets. herbal basis.

“Over the past 20 years we have seen a growing popularity of plant-based diets and a changing food environment with greater access to plant-based alternatives, but we have not seen research on the nutritional outcomes of children following vegetarian diets in Canada,” Dr. Jonathon Maguire, lead study author and pediatrician, said in a statement.

For the study, which was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation and the SickKids Foundation, researchers assessed 8,907 children aged six months to eight years and the data were collected over an 11-year period between 2008 and 2019. Participants were categorized by vegetarian status (defined as a diet that excludes meat) or non-vegetarian status.

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Are vegetarian diets good for children?

Researchers found that children who ate a vegetarian diet had similar body mass index (BMI), height, iron, vitamin D and cholesterol levels to those who ate meat. The results also showed that children with a vegetarian diet had a higher likelihood of being underweight, defined as being below the third percentile for BMI. However, there was no evidence of an association with overweight or obesity, which can come with a host of health problems.

The study showed that a vegetarian diet may be appropriate for children, but the researchers emphasized access to health care providers who can provide growth monitoring, education and counseling for support their growth and nutrition. “Plant-based diets are recognized as a healthy way of eating due to increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains and reduced saturated fat; however, few studies have assessed the impact of vegetarian diets on children’s growth and nutritional status,” said Dr. Maguire, who is also a scientist at the MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital. . “Vegetarian diets seem to work for most children.”

A limitation of the study is that the researchers did not assess the quality of the vegetarian diets. Just as the quality of a non-vegetarian diet can vary, the researchers note that vegetarian diets come in many forms and the quality of the individual diet can be very important for growth and nutritional outcomes. The authors say more research is needed to examine the quality of vegetarian diets in childhood, as well as growth and nutrition outcomes in children following a vegan diet, which excludes meat as well as animal products. such as dairy products, eggs and honey.

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Canadians are adopting a plant-based diet

The study’s findings come as the shift to plant-based diets grows in Canada and around the world. In 2019, updates to Canada’s Food Guide completely removed the old dairy and meat protein groups and instead urged Canadians to switch to plant-based proteins, such as beans and tofu.

The food guide, which is still used today, is a graphic depicting a plate half full of brightly colored vegetables, the other half emphasizing equal portions of protein, especially plant protein, and whole grains like quinoa. and brown rice. “Of protein foods, eat plant-based foods more often,” the guide explains. “Regular consumption of plant-based foods – vegetables, fruits, whole grains and plant-based proteins – can have positive health effects.”

The same year the new food guide was introduced, a study conducted by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph in Canada found that approximately 6.5 million Canadians (20% of the population) were actively reducing or eliminating their meat consumption completely. Researchers in this study wanted to find out how Canadians reacted to updates to Canada’s Food Guide, and they found that 1.3 million people in Canada identified as vegetarians and 466,000 as vegans, the two representing the lowest numbers highest in these categories recorded in Canada at the time.

As the Children’s Diet Study researchers as well as Canada’s Food Guide point out, many well-studied healthy eating patterns include primarily plant-based foods, including vegetables and fruits, whole grains and vegetable proteins. Following a plant-based diet also means individuals will eat more fiber and less saturated fat, which can have a positive effect on health and reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

For more on vegan kids, read:
15 vegan children’s books for kids who love animals

16 vegan and nut-free snacks for kids

5 tips for raising vegan kids

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