Islamabad - Experts say a strict diet can deprive a child of vital nutrients and vitamins, which can lead to malnutrition and other serious health problems.

At the 50th annual meeting of the European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) earlier this month, experts decided to speak up about the dangers of a vegan diet for children without proper supplementation.

“It is difficult to ensure a healthy and balanced vegan diet in young infants, and parents should understand the serious consequences of failing to follow advice regarding supplementation of the diet,” Dr Mary Fewtrell, chair of ESPGHAN’s nutrition committee, said in a press statement. “The risks of getting it wrong can include irreversible cognitive damage and, in the extreme, death.”

Dr Myriam Van Winckel, a professor in the department of paediatrics and medical genetics at Ghent University in Belgium, had something similar to share.

The more restricted the diet of the child, the greater the risk of deficiency.

“The more restricted the diet of the child, the greater the risk of deficiency and this is by far highest in vegan children,” Van Winckel said in a press statement. “But the risk does not stop there. Vegan mothers who breastfeed also need to be aware that their children can develop vitamin B-12 deficiency between 2 and 12 months because of the lack of reserves in their body at birth, even if the mother is not showing any signs of deficiency herself.”

Officials at ESPGHAN are not the only ones to sound an alarm.

Concerns were raised regarding protein, fiber, essential amino acids, iron, zinc, calcium, fat, fatty acids, vitamins B-12, D, A, and riboflavin.

The researchers added that energy levels may be impacted as well, requiring “calorie dense foods to provide for adequate growth.”

The article concluded that while a vegan diet can be safe for children, those children should be closely monitored for appropriate nutrition, growth, and energy levels.

Members of the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) also expressed their concerns.

“Childhood is a critical time for growth and brain development,” Dr Sheela Magge, an endocrinologist at Children’s National Health System, told Healthline. “There are critical vitamins and minerals which can be deficient in a vegan diet, particularly vitamin B-12, vitamin D, iron, calcium, zinc, and riboflavin. Vegan diets can also increase the risk of vitamin A deficiency. B-12 comes from milk and eggs and is a specific concern for people on a vegan diet. A lack of sufficient vitamin B-12 can lead to neurological symptoms. Children on vegan diets may also have slightly higher protein requirements than non-vegan children.”

She added that the first few months and years of life are particularly important.

“Infancy is a special consideration,” Magge said. “The ideal first nutrition for babies is breast milk, but if a mother does not or cannot feed the baby breast milk, the only other option is a soy-based formula. Also, during infancy and weaning the amount of food needed to meet energy needs on a vegan diet may be increased and can exceed gastric capacity. Therefore, frequent feeds are recommended.”