Vitamin D and A Status Needs Special Attention — ScienceDaily

Studies have concluded that a vegetarian diet has a profound effect on the metabolism of children. Serum biomarker levels for vitamins A and D, cholesterol forms, and essential amino acids were significantly lower in children on a vegetarian diet than in age-matched omnivores. Additionally, docosahexaenoic acid is absent from vegetarian diets. The findings were recently published in a high-profile international scientific journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.

Vegan diets are gaining popularity especially among young adults, and vegan diets are also becoming common among young children through family choice. The motives behind choosing a vegan lifestyle are environmental, ethical and health-related: a vegan diet excludes all animal-based products. It is recommended that whole vegetarian diets are always supplemented with vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine, and calcium, vitamin B2, iron and zinc supplementation may be required based on individual assessment.

Except for vitamin D, the study did not find differences between food groups in levels of this nutrient in young children. All participating vegetarian children regularly used vitamin B12 and all but one regularly used vitamin D and iodine supplements, indicating that Finnish vegetarian families are well-acquainted with the previously known nutritional requirements of a vegetarian diet. However, current nutritional recommendations are based on studies conducted on adult vegetarians, and previous research on the metabolic effects of vegetarian diets in children does not exist.

In their recently published article, Topi Hovinen, MD, and Lisa Korkalo, PhD, a multidisciplinary team led by Academy Professor Anu Suomalainen-Vertiovara and Docent Maijalisa Ercola comprehensively studied the nutrition and metabolism of 40 healthy children at day care. Children were following a vegetarian, vegan or omnivorous diet according to their families’ preferences. Their nutrient intake, metabolic biomarkers and micronutrient status were extensively studied.

Children on a complete vegetarian diet were found to have significantly lower levels of vitamin D than children on no particular diet, despite taking regular vitamin D supplements and collecting blood samples in late summer. Surprisingly, their vitamin A status was also reduced. Levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol, an essential amino acid and docosahexaenoic acid, a fatty acid with a central role in developing visual function, were lower while folate levels were significantly higher in the vegan children.

According to the researchers, the new findings inspire more and more research into the health consequences of vegetarian diets in young children.

“Our results indicate that the health effects of strict diets on children cannot be extrapolated from studies on adults. In addition to vitamin D intake, attention should be paid to adequate intake of vitamin A and protein from various sources.” Topi Hovinen says.

“Vegan families were proactive in participating in our research. This is important, because studies like this would not be possible without such voluntary contributions from families,” emphasizes Lisa Corcalo.

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