Is it ever okay for young kids to eat only a strict vegan diet?
A 14-month-old Italian toddler has been taken away from his parents after a strict vegan diet landed him in the ICU with a severe case of malnutrition.
The boy was taken to a Milan hospital by his grandparents, where doctors discovered his weight was basically that of a 3-month-old, and his calcium levels were hovering at the "minimum needed to survive." He was also suffering from a congenital heart condition which required emergency surgery.
The boy is now recovering in the hospital. Because his parents hadn't supplemented his strict vegan diet with the necessary vitamins and nutrients, the hospital reported the case to social services, prosecutors opened an inquiry, and the child was formally removed from his parents. The children's court will now have to determine whether his grandparents should have custody.
So sad! And this is not the first time something like this has happened, either! Four vegan-fed children have been hospitalized in Italy during the last 18 months, and a malnourished toddler girl spent several days in an ICU in Genoa back in June.
All of which just begs the question: Is a vegan diet ever okay for a baby?
The short answer: Yes, as long as it's properly supplemented.
"It is not a problem to choose different or unusual kinds of nutrition, and we certainly do not want to enter into a discussion of the merits of the decision," hospital director of pediatrics Luca Bernardo told the Telegraph. "But since birth, the baby should have had support, in this case with calcium and iron."
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According to the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, all parents who put their babies on vegan diets need to make sure they are also getting a regular source of vitamin B12, which is needed for healthy blood and nerve function. Their growing bodies also require vitamin D, calcium, and iron. And if you're not breastfeeding, soy formula and iron-fortified infant cereal is the way to go.
For more information on vegetarian/vegan diets for children, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines.