More and more families are adopting a predominantly vegetable diet. But even for the little ones there is a risk of shortages. The expert's opinion
According to the latest Eurispes report (Institute of Political, Economic and Social Studies) presented last January, 6.7% of Italians are vegetarians in Italy. 2.2% declared instead to be vegan. And more and more families are wondering if this type of diets could also be suitable for their children. The topic has already been treated by numerous Italian scientific societies, such as the Italian Society of Preventive and Social Pediatrics (SIPPS), the Italian Federation of Pediatric Physicians (FIMP) and the Italian Society of Perinatal Medicine (SIMP), which in 2017 published a Position Paper, that is a document that expresses an authoritative opinion, precisely on VEG diets in pregnancy and in childhood, deepening the problem of the adequacy of vegetarian diets for the growth and development of children.
Vegetarian and vegan. What differences?
VEG diets are not all the same: the vegan diet excludes all products of animal origin, including milk and derivatives, eggs and honey; the vegetarian one instead excludes meat and fish but not milk and derivatives, eggs and honey and is therefore called LOV, lacto-ovo-vegetarian.
But beware of the risk of deficiencies …
“An unplanned vegan diet (of the“ do it yourself ”type) – explains Dr. Benedetta Raspini, nutrition biologist and author, together with the journalist Mariateresa Truncellito, of the book“ Our first thousand days. From pregnancy to weaning: nutrition for a healthy microbiota of mother and baby "(Sperling & Kupfer) – can become devoid of vitamin B12, essential for the development of the nervous system, because this is present only in products of animal origin; in addition to neurological damage, its lack causes anemia and weakness. Even the LOV diet can be lacking, unless you eat very high quantities of eggs and milk, which is however not recommended for other reasons (excess of proteins and fats, first of all) ".
"Other substances that may be lacking in VEG diets are iron, calcium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and other B vitamins. Among other things, the levels of these substances also depend on other dietary factors, such as, for example, the intake of fibers, which, when excessive, can reduce the general absorption ".
But it is above all the low calorie intake to worry the most.
"Then pay attention to the total amount of total calories for the day", adds the nutritionist. “If too few and not well distributed among the various nutrients, it could cause growth disturbances for the child. The strict vegan diet in very young children (6 months – 2 years) must always be well balanced: the consumption of too much fiber, for example, can lead to an early sense of satiety without having taken the right calorie intake ", he explains. Dr. Raspini. And in any case, even being omnivores does not always guarantee to take all the essential nutrients for the body. "If the child does not eat fish and does not consume dried fruit and oil seeds – says the author in the volume, addressed to pregnant women and new mothers, and to all those who wish to know more about the possibility of" action "on the microbiota, for true disease prevention – he will still have a probable DHA deficiency, just as the child who does not eat fruit and vegetables at all will be at risk of vitamin deficiencies ".
VEG yes or no?
“As a researcher and scientific popularizer who deals with maternal and child health, I have often dealt with this topic with fellow pediatricians and nutritionists, but also with mothers and women who are personally interested. Attitudes are disparate: sometimes full acceptance, other times a certain openness to the subject, still others total hostility. But even by studying the scientific literature you will find the most diverse positions ", says the author.
“In conclusion, all the experts agree that VEG diets can be done, provided however that the planning and supplementation recommendations are respected. They must be well thought out, with the help of an expert, so that they provide the child with all the calories and nutrients necessary for his growth, also thanks to the help of supplements. You need to know exactly what to put on the table, in what quantities and how to do it, that is, with what preparation and cooking tricks. But this applies to everyone, even adults ”, concludes the nutritionist.