NYT article wrongly asserts that veganism is a dangerous choice for children

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NYT article wrongly asserts that veganism is a dangerous choice for children

By Kasey Minnis on This Dish Is Veg
April 2012

So why the choice to call for all hands to abandon the vegan ship, instead of educating folks to right the course? Because Planck's real concern is not health, but a pro-meat justification.

In the New York Times' Room for Debate feature on veganism, lard-advocate Nina Planck (not kidding - it's in her bio) asserts that veganism is "A Choice with Definite Risks" for infants and children. Anjali Sareen does an excellent job of debunking the bad science in Planck's piece in a rebuttal article on Intellectualyst.So I'd simply like to address the heart of Planck's argument - that a vegan diet requires supplementation to meet all dietary needs, and that supplementation is inferior to nutrients obtained from food. She begins her argument by saying:

The American Dietetic Association asserts that a “well-planned” vegan diet — by which the experts mean one with many synthetic supplements — can be adequate for babies; I disagree.

And concludes with:

Some things cannot be replaced. Real food is one.

Well, first of all, that the experts define "well-planned" as "must include supplements" is patently false. The ADA position statement says this (emphasis added):

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods. This article reviews the current data related to key nutrients for vegetarians including protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12. A vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients. In some cases, supplements or fortified foods can provide useful amounts of important nutrients. An evidence-based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes.

So the ADA clearly states that all nutritional needs can be met through a vegan diet. It states that supplementation may be useful, but not that it's necessary or even specifically recommended. In other words, all dietary needs for mother and child can be acquired through "real food." Since Planck seems aware of the ADA's position statement, I can only conclude this was intentionally misleading to support her pro-meat position.

But let's assume she's sincere in her anti-supplementation stance regarding pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood years. I'd be curious to see what the March of Dimes (who recommend supplementing folic acid for all potential moms-to-be) or the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (who recommend a prenatal vitamin for "most women", meaning those who aren't in danger of having too much of certain potentially harmful vitamins by doing so), or the Centers for Disease Control (who recommend vitamin D supplements for all breastfed children) have to say about that. The idea that pregnant or nursing mothers shouldn't supplement is contrary to all conventional medical advice.

I'm going to take a leap and assume that Planck is not opposed to all supplementing of vitamins during pregnancy and early childhood. I bet she'd be right on board with taking folic acid to prevent birth defects. So why is it okay for meat-eating mothers, but not okay for vegan mothers? Vitamin deficiencies are fairly common in the general population.

According to a CDC report, one in 10 Americans has a vitamin deficiency, the most common being B6, D, and iron. Who today has a doctor who hasn't told them to take a multivitamin daily, or checked their vitamin D and iron levels? If you do, it's time to get a new doctor. The fact is that vitamin deficiency is not a vegan issue, it's a human issue.

This isn't to say that there aren't genuine issues that vegans need to be aware of when it comes to their own nutrition and that of their child. But what do we do about those types of issues with meat-eating moms? Like the March of Dimes, the CDC, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, we educate. We get the information out there, we make people aware.

So why the choice to call for all hands to abandon the vegan ship, instead of educating folks to right the course? Because Planck's real concern is not health, but a pro-meat justification.