Food and Behaviour Research

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Vegan diet in young children remodels metabolism and challenges the statuses of essential nutrients

Hovinen T, Korkalo L, Freese R, Skaffari E, Isohanni P, Niemi M, Nevalainen J, Gylling H, Zamboni N, Erkkola M, Suomalainen A (2021) EMBO molecular medicine Jan 20;e13492 doi: 10.15252/emmm.202013492 

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Vegan diets are gaining popularity, also in families with young children. However, the effects of strict plant-based diets on metabolism and micronutrient status of children are unknown.

We recruited 40 Finnish children with a median age 3.5 years-vegans, vegetarians, or omnivores from same daycare centers-for a cross-sectional study. They enjoyed nutritionist-planned vegan or omnivore meals in daycare, and the full diets were analyzed with questionnaires and food records.

Detailed analysis of serum metabolomics and biomarkers indicated vitamin A insufficiency and border-line sufficient vitamin D in all vegan participants. Their serum total, HDL and LDL cholesterol, essential amino acid, and docosahexaenoic n-3 fatty acid (DHA) levels were markedly low and primary bile acid biosynthesis, and phospholipid balance was distinct from omnivores.

Possible combination of low vitamin A and DHA status raise concern for their visual health. Our evidence indicates that
(i) vitamin A and D status of vegan children requires special attention;
(ii) dietary recommendations for children cannot be extrapolated from adult vegan studies; and
(iii) longitudinal studies on infant-onset vegan diets are warranted.


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