According to a new study, children who consume a vegetarian diet have equal development and nutrition metrics as children who eat meat.
The study’s findings were published in the journal “Pediatrics.” Researchers also discovered that children who ate a vegetarian diet had a greater underweight weight odds of being underweight, highlighting the importance of taking extra care when designing vegetarian children’s meals.
The findings come as Canada’s move to a plant-based diet accelerates. In 2019, changes to Canada’s Food Guide recommended that Canadians replace meat with plant-based proteins such as beans and tofu.
“Over the last 20 years, we have witnessed the rising popularity of plant-based diets and a changing food environment with increased access to plant-based options,” said Dr. Jonathon Maguire, main author of the study and a paediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto.
“This study shows that Canadian children who ate vegetarian meals had similar development and biochemical nutrition parameters as children who ate non-vegetarian diets.” The vegetarian diet was associated with greater underweight weight chances of underweight weight status, highlighting the importance of careful nutritional planning for underweight children when choosing vegetarian diets.
Researchers discovered that children who ate a vegetarian diet had similar mean BMI, height, iron, vitamin D, and cholesterol levels as those who ate meat. The data revealed that children who ate a vegetarian diet had nearly double the risk of being underweight, which is defined as having a BMI below the third percentile. There was no indication of a link between being overweight or obese.
Underweight is a symptom of malnutrition and may indicate that the child’s diet is not providing the nutritional demands for proper growth. The researchers highlighted access to healthcare experts who can provide growth monitoring, information, and assistance to support youngsters who follow a vegetarian diet.
International standards for vegetarian diets in infancy and childhood differed, and previous research on the relationship between vegetarian diet and child development and nutritional status yielded inconclusive results.
“Plant-based diets are acknowledged as a healthy eating pattern due to higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, fibre, whole grains, and lower saturated fat; however, few research have examined the influence of vegetarian diets on childhood growth and nutritional status. Vegetarian diets tend to be suitable for the majority of youngsters “Dr. Maguire is also a scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital’s MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions.