Which nutrients do children need and how much according to age?

child with bowl of food

You’ll find every nutrient children need on this page, including the best sources and recommended intakes. Do you want to know about healthy fats, iodine or vitamin K? We’ve got you covered, just scroll down!

Protein

Why do we need it?

Protein is needed for the growth and repair of muscles, bones and other tissues, hormone and enzyme formation, immune system, many important reactions in the body and nerve signal transmission.

Best protein sources:

Pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya/edamame beans, tofu, tempeh), wholegrains (oats, wholemeal bread, pasta, brown rice), nuts and seeds, mock meats, seitan (wheat protein)

Daily protein requirements for children:

0-12 months 12.5-15 g
1-3 years 14.5 g
4-6 years 20 g
7-10 years 28 g
11-14 years 42 g (males)
41 g (females)
15-18 years 55 g (males)
45 g (females)

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they just need a good protein source at every meal.

More information on protein

As long as children eat enough calories in a day, they should be getting more than enough protein as it is abundant in plant foods (Melina et al., 2016; Baroni et al., 2018; Mariotti and Gardner, 2019). It’s been suggested that vegan children may need more protein because they absorb less of it from foods, however if you include various sources of protein several times a day, their needs should be fully covered – protein from mock meats has digestibility of about 95 per cent, while cereals and pulses have digestibility of about 80-90 per cent (Agnoli, 2017). Other good sources of protein include nuts and seeds – and butters made from them. Nut butters and seed pastes (such as tahini from sesame) are especially suitable for small children to avoid choking hazard and are also a good source of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.

Plants contain the full spectrum of amino acids (protein building blocks) so including various protein-rich plant foods in the child’s diet throughout the day will ensure they get all they need (Baroni et al., 2018).
In pregnancy and while breastfeeding, it is recommended to increase protein intake by 10 per cent or to 1.1-1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (Baroni et al., 2018; Sebastiani et al., 2019).

Carbohydrates

Why do we need them?

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. When carbohydrates are digested, they release glucose – sugar – into the bloodstream. Glucose is the principal fuel that every single cell in your body needs, in order to perform all the vital reactions.
There are three different types of carbohydrates found in food – sugar, starch and fibre.

Steer clear of sugar, sweets and sugary drinks because you can easily get too much and it makes children hyperactive and then cranky and tired. It’s best to choose starchy carbohydrates (wholemeal bread, oats, pasta, vegetables) as those release their energy gradually. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested but keeps your guts healthy and prevents constipation – most plant wholefoods have plenty of fibre!

Best carbohydrate sources:

Fruit, vegetables, wholemeal bread, pasta, oats, quinoa, wholemeal couscous, brown rice, no or low-sugar cereal products, peas, sweetcorn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and squashes, dried fruit

Daily carbohydrate requirements for children:

There isn’t a given amount, rather, it’s recommended that over 50 per cent of your child’s calories should come from healthy carbohydrates (starchy foods, fruit and vegetables). Sugar should be limited to no more than five (in younger children) to seven (in older children) teaspoons a day – or 19-30 grams.

Recommended fibre intakes for children:

0-12 months Very little
1-3 years 15 g (from 2 years of age)
4-6 years 15 g
7-10 years 20 g
11-14 years 25 g
15-18 years 30 g

 

Do children need a supplement?

No! A wholesome diet is all they need.

More on information on Carbohydrates

These are the three main types of carbohydrates:

1. Sugar = simple carbohydrates

Glucose, fructose, table sugar, syrups, etc. Sugars are digested quickly and we should watch our kids’ (and our own) intake – with the exception of fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables naturally contain fructose. But if fruit and vegetables are eaten fresh and whole they also supply a wealth of complex carbohydrates along with many other nutrients which slow down the speed of sugar absorption. Fruit and vegetables are among the healthiest foods so there’s no need to limit their intake. They are best eaten raw, lightly cooked, puréed or blended in a smoothie. See our wallchart comparing smoothies and fresh juice.

In general, sugars are mostly in refined foods – sweets, sugary foods and drinks, white flour products, frosted morning cereals, processed snacks and cakes. These foods have had most of their nutrients stripped so they offer ‘empty’ calories and their sugar content can lead to your child’s energy rapidly rising and then plummeting, tooth decay and unhealthy weigh gain.

 

2. Starch = complex or starchy carbohydrates

These carbohydrates combine many molecules into very long chains so your body breaks them down slowly and releases glucose gradually. These provide the best source of long-lasting energy throughout the day so should be a staple in your child’s diet. They are found in wholefoods such as wholemeal bread, oats, rice (all types), fruit, vegetables, beans, lentils, peas, sweetcorn, potatoes and sweet potatoes. These foods also contain fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which makes them great sources of energy and essential nutrients. Starchy foods should be offered to your child at every meal.

 

3. Fibre

Fibre is a group of many types of complex carbohydrates that we cannot digest but they keep our guts healthy, feed the good gut bacteria, slow down energy release from foods and regulate blood sugar and fat. The good news is that fibre is an essential component of plant wholefoods so if your children eat fruits and veggies, pulses, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, they will automatically get enough.

The only time when you should limit fibre intake of your child is in infancy and early childhood when they may quickly fill up on fibre-rich foods and not eat enough in general – that’s the only age when opting for white bread instead of wholemeal is advisable (Baroni et al., 2018, Sebastiani et al., 2019). For more information, see Feeding a growing body.

Fats

Why do we need them?

Fats are essential building blocks of cell membranes and brain tissue, they help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) from the diet, provide energy, insulation and protect the body’s vital organs. Out of all nutrients, fats are the richest source of energy so while adults should limit their intake, children can eat more (unless they already carry too much in their bodies).

One type of fats is extra important – omega-3 fats. We cannot make them so we have to have them in our diet.

Best fat sources:

Best omega-3 fat sources are flaxseed, chia seeds, hempseed, walnuts and their oils (used cold to protect their nutrition value), rapeseed oil for cooking and baking.

Best sources of other healthy fats include nuts and seeds, nut butters, tahini (sesame seed paste), avocados, virgin olive oil, soya beans, small amounts of margarine (make sure it has no hydrogenated fats)

Daily fat requirements for children:

Omega-3 recommended intakes are 1.6 gram of ALA (type of omega-3 fat) daily for men and 1.1 gram daily for women – children should receive similar amounts. You can get this dose from one teaspoon of flaxseed oil, one tablespoon of ground flaxseed or chia seeds, two tablespoons of hempseed or ten walnut halves.

For other fats, there isn’t a recommended amount for children to consume. Parents are advised to focus on healthy sources of fats, such as those listed above, and avoid fatty processed foods (crisps, snacks). If you’re doing the maths, around 30-40 per cent of calories in a child’s diet should come from fats.

Bear in mind that children shouldn’t eat more than 20-25 grams of saturated fats daily – these are found mainly in coconut and palm oil (and animal products).

 

Do children need a supplement?

Children aged 1-3 should receive a supplement containing 100 mg of DHA omega-3 fat daily.

More information on Fat

Some fat is healthy and necessary, yet other fat is unhealthy and can be harmful. There are four types of fat:

1. Saturated fats – fats that are solid at room temperature and come mostly from animal foods, coconut and palm oil. We have no nutritional need for this type of fat because our bodies can make it. Diets high in saturated fat raise blood cholesterol levels, even in little children, and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer later in life (Allott et al., 2017; Sacks et al., 2017; Korakas et al., 2018; Luukkonen et al., 2018).

2. Trans/hydrogenated fats – these fats are bad news because they raise harmful cholesterol levels even more than saturated fats! Smaller amounts of trans-fats are naturally found in dairy products, lamb and beef fat. Larger amounts can often be found in processed foods. These fats are made by the hydrogenation process, which converts liquid vegetable oils into solid fats. The final product is called hydrogenated vegetable oil/fat – which is essentially just a different term for trans-fats. They are to be avoided at all costs so always check the ingredients on processed foods.

Note on margarine: margarine used to contain hydrogenated/trans-fats and that’s why some people believe it’s unhealthy. However, most manufacturers have since changed their product ingredients so margarine usually doesn’t contain trans-fats anymore (always check the ingredients to be certain).

3. Monounsaturated fats – neutral fats that can contribute to your child’s fat intake. Monounsaturated fats are found in many plants and vegetable oils. Probably the most common one is oleic acid – an omega-9 fat – the main component of olive, macadamia, avocado and sunflower oil.

4. Polyunsaturated fats – these are the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Plants contain plenty – in particular, nuts, seeds and pulses. It’s easy for children to get all the omega-6 fats they need from plants, so our attention should be more on omega-3s. Rich sources are flaxseed, hempseed, chia seeds and walnuts – and oils made from them (use cold to preserve nutritional value). The best oil to use for cooking is cold-pressed rapeseed oil (because it’s high in omega-3s).

You may have heard about different types of omega-3s and the old recommendation to give your child fish oil – confusing tabloid stories are everywhere! So here’s how it works – there are three types of omega-3 fats and the one in plants is called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Your body converts ALA to EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Fish oils contain ready-made EPA and DHA which is why some people think they are better sources of omega-3s but fish are so contaminated with heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, lead) and pesticide residues that fish oil is not a smart choice – it’s the reason pregnant women and small children are warned against their consumption (Marcotrigiano and Storelli, 2003; Guéguen et al., 2011; Bosch et al., 2016; Savadatti et al., 2019).

Fish only contain these omega-3s (EPA and DHA) because they eat tiny algae – called microalgae – that contain them. There is a wide range of algal omega-3s supplements available and these are also much healthier than fish and their oils.

It doesn’t matter whether you get your omega-3s from seeds, oil or a supplement, as long as you get a sufficient daily dose, it will cover your needs during pregnancy, breastfeeding, infancy and childhood (Baroni et al., 2018).

However, during later stages of pregnancy, throughout lactation and in the child’s early years, the process of ALA conversion may not keep up with the increased DHA requirements, so experts recommend an algae-based DHA supplement – pregnant and breastfeeding women should receive 100–200 mg of DHA and children from one to three years of age should receive 100 mg daily (Baroni et al., 2018; Lemale et al., 2019; Sebastiani et al., 2019).

Vegan children from 6 to 12 months of age should be given flaxseed oil as it’s an excellent source of ALA and does not contain fibre. Vegan children from one year of age should be given two servings of omega-3-rich (ALA) foods – flaxseed oil, ground flaxseed or hempseed stirred in purées and soups, chia seed pudding, or ground walnuts in meals. This, in addition to the supplement, not only ensures adequate intake but helps to develop healthy habits. From three years of age, daily ALA intake from plant foods should cover your child’s needs without the need for DHA supplement (Baroni et al., 2018).

Omega-3 recommended intakes are 1.6 g of ALA daily for men and 1.1 g for women (Amit, 2010; Melina et al., 2016). Children should receive similar amounts and these are best achieved by feeding them:

– one teaspoon of flaxseed oil
– one tablespoon of ground flaxseed or chia seeds
– two tablespoons of hempseed (shelled)
– 10 walnut halves

Vitamin A

Why do we need it?

Vitamin A is essential for eye health and vision, healthy skin, mucous membranes and the immune system. Plants contain beta-carotene, a molecule which the body turns into vitamin A according to its needs. Beta-carotene is also an antioxidant, protecting cells and DNA from free radicals that can cause damage.

As long as children eat foods rich in beta-carotene – yellow and orange fruit and vegetables and leafy green vegetables – they get enough vitamin A. Three servings a day of these fruits and vegetables are sufficient to cover their needs (Amit, 2010).

Best Vitamin A sources:

Carrots, pumpkins, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, peppers (red, yellow, orange), spinach, kale, watercress, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, mangoes, apricots, cantaloupe melon

Daily Vitamin A requirements for children:

0-12 months 0.35 mg
1-3 years 0.4 mg
4-6 years 0.5 mg
7-10 years 0.5 mg
11-14 years 0.6 mg
15-18 years 0.7 mg (males)
0.6 mg (females)

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.

Vitamin B1 – Thiamine

Why do we need it?

Thiamine is important for the muscle, heart, brain, nerve, liver and kidney function. It helps the body convert carbohydrates from food into energy.

Plenty of plant foods are rich in this vitamin so it’s not difficult to ensure an adequate intake, unless your child is a very picky eater.

Best Thiamine sources:

Wholegrains (oats, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice), breakfast cereals, wheat germ, nutritional yeast, sunflower and sesame seeds (including tahini found in hummus), acorn squash, corn on the cob, nuts (pecans, Brazil and hazelnuts) and pulses (lentils, beans, peas)

Daily Vitamin B1 requirements for children:

0-12 months 0.2-0.3 mg
1-3 years 0.5 mg
4-6 years 0.7 mg
7-10 years 0.7 mg
11-14 years 0.9 mg (males)
0.7 (females)
15-18 years 1.1 mg (males)
0.8 mg (females)

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.
If you’re unsure, you can give them a children’s vitamin B-complex supplement once a week.

Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin

Why do we need it?

Riboflavin is essential for us to be able to get energy from food, is important for growth, healthy eyesight and red blood cell production. It is also needed for the body to be able to use vitamin B6 and is an antioxidant, protecting your cells and DNA from free radicals that can cause damage.

If your child regularly eats the foods listed below, they should be getting enough riboflavin. However, it’s best to stir nutritional yeast in their savoury meals on a regular basis – one tablespoon contains 0.5 milligrams of riboflavin.

Best Riboflavin sources:

Nutritional yeast, yeast extract (Marmite/Vegemite), quinoa, muesli, oats, fortified vegan breakfast cereals, fortified soya milk, avocado, almonds, kale, wild and brown rice, mushrooms and mange-tout peas

Daily Vitamin B2 requirements for children:

0-12 months 0.4 mg
1-3 years 0.6 mg
4-6 years 0.8 mg
7-10 years 1 mg
11-14 years 1.2 mg (males)
1.1 (females)
15-18 years 1.3 mg (males)
1.1 mg (females)

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.
If you’re unsure, you can give them a children’s vitamin B-complex supplement once a week.

Vitamin B3 – Niacin

Why do we need it?

Vitamin B3 (niacin) helps to release energy from the foods we eat, is essential for many reactions in the body and helps to keep the nervous system, digestive system and skin healthy.

A varied vegan diet usually ensures adequate intake – include the foods below in your child’s daily menu.

Best Niacin sources:

Nutritional yeast, peanuts and peanut butter, fortified vegan breakfast cereals, quinoa, muesli, brown rice, wild rice, wholemeal spaghetti, corn on the cob, peas, sunflower seeds, acorn squash

Daily Vitamin B3 requirements for children:

0-12 months 3-5 mg
1-3 years 8 mg
4-6 years 11 mg
7-10 years 12 mg
11-14 years 15 mg (males)
12 (females)
15-18 years 18 mg (males)
14 mg (females)

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.
If you’re unsure, you can give them a children’s vitamin B-complex supplement once a week.

Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic Acid

Why do we need it?

Vitamin B5 is crucial for energy release from foods, hormone manufacture and a healthy immune system. It is used to make a molecule called Coenzyme A (CoA), needed for life-supporting, essential reactions in the human body.

Luckily, the vitamin is present in virtually all plant cells, so it’s easy to get enough of it through diet alone.

Best Pantothenic Acid sources:

Nutritional yeast, avocado, broccoli, plantain, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, mushrooms, peanut butter, mange-tout peas, pecan nuts, oats, wheat germ, fortified breakfast cereals

Daily Vitamin B5 requirements for children:

0-12 months 1.7-3 mg
1-3 years 1.7-3 mg
4-6 years 1.7-3 mg
7-10 years 1.7-3 mg
11-14 years 5 mg
15-18 years 5 mg

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.
If you’re unsure, you can give them a children’s vitamin B-complex supplement once a week.

Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine

Why do we need it?

Vitamin B6 helps the body use and store energy from protein, carbohydrates and fat. It plays a role in many reactions involving protein and helps to form haemoglobin (the molecule that red blood cells use to carry oxygen around the body). Vitamin B6 also keeps the immune and nervous systems healthy and is essential in the making of melatonin, the sleep hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.

Best Pyridoxine sources:

Nutritional yeast, muesli, fortified vegan breakfast cereals, wheat germ, avocados, pistachio nuts, acorn squash, banana, quinoa, wholemeal pasta, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, walnuts, tahini (sesame seed paste), sesame seeds, corn on the cob, Brussel’s sprouts, spring greens, oranges, tomatoes

Daily Vitamin B6 requirements for children:

0-12 months 0.2-0.4 mg
1-3 years 0.7 mg
4-6 years 0.9 mg
7-10 years 1 mg
11-14 years 1.2 mg (males)
1 mg (females)
15-18 years 1.5 mg (males)
1.2 mg (females)

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.
If you’re unsure, you can give them a children’s vitamin B-complex supplement once a week.

Vitamin B7 – Biotin

Why do we need it?

Biotin plays a key role in fat, sugar and protein metabolism. It is also essential for healthy heart function, skin and nails. The bacteria living in our guts are able to make some biotin but it’s not clear how much we absorb and how much we need from the diet so the below recommendations are expert estimates.

Best Biotin sources:

Tempeh (fermented soya bean block, sold in health food shops), peanuts and peanut butter, nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios), sunflower and sesame seeds, tahini (sesame seed paste), muesli, nutritional yeast, oats, mushrooms, avocado, fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ

Daily Vitamin B7 requirements for children:

(the intakes recommended by different health bodies vary so these ranges reflect that):

0-12 months 6 mg
1-3 years 8-20 mg
4-6 years 12-25 mg
7-10 years 20-25 mg
11-14 years 20-35 mg
15-18 years 25-40 mg

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.
If you’re unsure, you can give them a children’s vitamin B-complex supplement once a week.

Vitamin B9 – Folate

Why do we need it?

Folate (or folic acid) is crucial for our brain and nerves to work well, it is needed for the production of our genetic material (DNA and RNA), for cell reproduction and, together with vitamin B12, we need it to make red blood cells.

Folate also plays an important role in fertility. Current UK recommendations are that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should take 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid in a supplement until the 12th week of pregnancy. Others recommend taking 600 micrograms daily (Sebastiani et al., 2019). This is to help prevent neural tube defects (such as spina bifida) in your baby. If you have a family history of neural tube defects or you have diabetes or epilepsy, you may need to take a higher dose of folic acid each day until you’re 12 weeks pregnant – speak to your doctor about this first.

Best Folate sources:

Nutritional yeast, soya and products made from it (edamame, tempeh, tofu), lentils, hazelnuts, oranges, green vegetables (asparagus, Brussel’s sprouts, spinach, kale, white cabbage, pak choi, rocket, broccoli, lettuce and peas), tomatoes, red peppers, beetroot, acorn squash, sweetcorn, wheat germ, muesli, fortified breakfast cereal

Daily Folate requirements for children:

0-12 months 50 µg
1-3 years 70 µg
4-6 years 100 µg
7-10 years 150 µg
11-14 years 200 µg
15-18 years 200 µg

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.
If you’re unsure, you can give them a children’s vitamin B-complex supplement once a week.

Vitamin B12

Why do we need it?

Vitamin B12 helps us to use energy from food, we need it to maintain nerve cells and to produce DNA (the body’s genetic material). Vitamin B12 also works with folic acid to make red blood cells and it keeps the immune system healthy.

B12 is made by bacteria in the soil and water. Traditionally, people, as well as farmed animals, got B12 naturally by eating foods from the ground with those B12-producing bacteria stuck to them. However, food production systems are now very different, everything is washed and cleaned, and some plant foods are not even grown in real soil! That’s why we need to take a supplement. Animal products contain vitamin B12 because the animals are given this vitamin in their feed too.

Plant foods don’t contain vitamin B12 in reliable quantities, except for B12 fortified foods, such as plant milks, yoghurts, cereal products and margarine. Even these foods may not provide enough, so everyone needs a supplement to make sure we get our daily dose.

Low vitamin B12 levels in pregnant women are a risk for neural tube defects, preeclampsia, anaemia and neurological impairment – it is recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women take 50 micrograms daily in a supplement (Sebastiani et al., 2019).

Best Vitamin B12 sources:

Vitamin B12 supplements, fortified foods to top up the intake – bear in mind fortified foods would have to be consumed three times a day in sufficient quantities to achieve an adequate vitamin B12 intake – it’s best to take a supplement (Baroni et al., 2018).

Daily Vitamin B12 requirements for children:

(recommendations vary so the ranges reflect that – Agnoli et al., 2017; Lemale et al., 2019):

0-12 months 0.7-1.5 µg
1-3 years 0.8-1.5 µg
4-6 years 1.1-1.5 µg
7-10 years 1.4-2.5 µg
11-14 years 1.9-3.5 µg
15-18 years 2.4-4 µg

When it comes to putting this into practice, experts recommend a single daily dose of five micrograms for children up to three years of age, 25 micrograms for children from four to ten and 50 micrograms daily for older children and adults (Agnoli et al., 2017; Baroni et al., 2018). It’s because we don’t absorb all the B12 we take in so the higher doses ensure a sufficient intake.

 

Do children need a supplement?

Yes!
Children up to three years need five micrograms daily.
Children between four and 10 years need 25 micrograms daily.
Children over 10 need 50 micrograms daily.

Vitamin C

Why do we need it?

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is necessary for the growth and repair of all the tissues in the human body. It is vital for the production of collagen, a protein that helps to hold the skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels together. Vitamin C is also needed for wound healing and for healthy bones and teeth. On top of that, it helps the body absorb iron from diet.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means it helps to protect our DNA from the damage caused by free radicals – dangerous metabolism by-products.

Because vitamin C gets destroyed by heat, it’s best to eat vitamin C foods raw or lightly cooked.

Best Vitamin C sources:

Blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, mango, cantaloupe melon, kiwi, grapefruit, oranges, pepper (red and green), kale, spring greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, mange-tout, watercress, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, spinach

Daily Vitamin C requirements for children:

0-12 months 25 mg
1-3 years 30 mg
4-6 years 30 mg
7-10 years 30 mg
11-14 years 35 mg (males)
30 mg (females)
15-18 years 40 mg (males)
40 mg (females)

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.

Vitamin D

Why do we need it?

Vitamin D is necessary for the regulation of calcium and phosphate levels in the body. It is needed for strong bones and teeth, and for a healthy immune system.

Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because our skin makes it when exposed to natural sunlight. In the UK, from around early April to the end of September, we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight exposure. On a sunny day, you can make all the vitamin D you need by exposing your face, arms and legs for 10 to 40 minutes twice a week. If you are fair-skinned, 15 minutes might be all you need. The darker your skin, the more sunlight exposure you need – if your skin is very dark, you may need the full 40 minutes to produce enough vitamin D.

Sunscreen blocks vitamin D production and so does glass and fabric – if you always protect your child’s skin, they may not be getting enough vitamin D even in the summer.

When it comes to the colder months – October to April – there’s just not enough sunlight during the day and it’s too weak, even on a sunny day, so it’s recommended that we all take a supplement.

All babies up to 12 months of age should be given vitamin D drops. Toddlers and older children preferably too as we usually protect their skin with sunscreen or clothing so their skin may not be able to make enough – they should get a supplement at least from October to April if not throughout the whole year (Amit, 2010; Baroni et al., 2018).

Best Vitamin D sources:

Supplements, fortified foods

Daily Vitamin D requirements for children:

The quantities below are given for supplements (10 micrograms equals 400 IU, these units are often used on supplements)

0-12 months 8.5-10 µg if breastfed, none if formula-fed (it already contains vitamin D)
1-3 years 10 µg
4-6 years 10 µg
7-10 years 10 µg
11-14 years 10 µg
15-18 years 10 µg

Some authors recommend higher doses from 12 months onwards – 15-38 micrograms (600-1500 IU) but never higher than that as high intakes can be dangerous (Amit, 2010; Baroni et al., 2018).

 

Do children need a supplement?

Yes! Ten micrograms daily.

More information on Vitamin D

There are two types of vitamin D – D2 and D3. Your body can use both, but because they come from different sources it’s always important to check the origin. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is always vegan but vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) can be of animal origin. Most of the vitamin D3 used in supplements and to fortify foods is produced from sheep wool’s lanolin, which is why it’s not suitable for vegans. But! Vitamin D3 is also produced from mushrooms, lichen and algae – this is, of course, suitable for vegans and usually labelled as such. There are many vegan vitamin D3 supplements available.

Some vegan foods are fortified with vitamin D2 and labelled appropriately but if not specified, in particular on cereal products, the vitamin D tends to be of animal origin.

Vitamin E

Why do we need it?

Vitamin E is an important antioxidant – its main function is protecting cell membranes from damage. That means it helps to keep our organs – including blood vessels and eyes – functional and healthy and is essential for healthy skin and immune system.

Vitamin E is made only by plants and so is plentiful in a healthy plant-based diet.

Best Vitamin E sources:

Plant oils and spreads (wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, rapeseed oil, corn oil, soya oil, peanut/groundnut oil, margarines and spreads), nuts and seeds (hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, peanut butter and pistachios), avocado, butternut squash, canned tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, kale, mango, wheat germ

Daily Vitamin E requirements for children:

0-12 months 4-5 mg
1-3 years 6 mg
4-6 years 7 mg
7-10 years 11-13 mg
11-14 years 11-13 mg
15-18 years 13-15 mg

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone. Be careful if you give your child supplements as high doses of vitamin E can be harmful.

Vitamin K

Why do we need it?

Vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting. The letter K comes from the German word, koagulation (blood clotting). It is essential for wound healing – when we injure ourselves, the blood needs to start clotting at the injury site very quickly otherwise we might bleed to death.

Another important function of vitamin K is keeping our bones healthy and strong, from childhood to old age.
If you make sure your child eats at least one portion of the foods listed below daily, they will get enough to cover their needs.

Best Vitamin K sources:

Kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, asparagus, watercress, green beans, peas, cauliflower, runner beans

Daily Vitamin K requirements for children:

0-12 months 10 µg
1-3 years 12 µg
4-6 years 20 µg
7-10 years 30 µg
11-14 years 45 µg
15-18 years 65 µg

As a general guidance, infants (0-12 months) need about two micrograms per kilogram of body weight daily, while children and adults need about one microgram per kilogram of body weight.

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.

However, babies usually receive a vitamin K injection right after birth – this is done to top up their vitamin K status as it tends to be problematic in all newborn babies.

Calcium

Why do we need it?

Calcium is one of the main building blocks for bones. Without calcium, our bones would be all soft and bendy. To use calcium properly, you also need vitamin D so it’s important to have both in your diet.

But calcium has other functions too – it’s important for muscle function, for nerve signals to be transmitted, cells use it to communicate and it’s needed for hormone manufacture.

Luckily, there’s plenty of calcium in plant foods! We absorb the most calcium from leafy greens, such as kale, collard and turnip greens, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and bok choy. From other sources (listed below) we absorb a little less but it’s enough to cover your child’s needs – just make sure to include several servings of these foods in their daily diet.

Best Calcium sources:

Kale, collard/spring/mustard greens, broccoli, cabbage, sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed paste), almonds, tofu (made with calcium sulphate), tempeh, beans, dried figs, plant-based milks fortified with calcium, fortified vegan breakfast cereal (Ready Brek), wholemeal bread, butternut squash

Daily Calcium requirements for children:

0-12 months 425 mg
1-3 years 350 mg
4-6 years 450 mg
7-10 years 550 mg
11-14 years 1,000 mg (males)
800 mg (females)
15-18 years 700 mg (males)
700 mg (females)

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you need around 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day to meet your own and the baby’s bone requirements (Sebastiani et al., 2019).

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone. Make sure to include calcium-fortified drinks in their diet.

More information on Calcium

Calcium absorption from leafy greens, such as kale, collard and turnip greens, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and bok choy, is excellent at about 50 percent, while absorption from calcium-set tofu and most fortified plant milks is similar to that from cow’s milk, at around 30 per cent (Messina and Mangels, 2001; Melina et al., 2016). From other plant foods, such as beans, almonds, tahini, figs, and oranges, we absorb about 20 per cent of calcium.

Then, there are vegetables with high oxalate levels, such as spinach, beet greens or Swiss chard, that contain calcium too but are not good sources because oxalate reduces the amount of calcium we can absorb to only about five per cent (Melina et al., 2016).

Both Baroni et al. (2018) and Lemale et al. (2019) agree that including three to five servings of calcium-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables (except spinach, chard and beet greens), sesame seeds or tahini, almonds, fortified plant-based milks and yoghurts, edamame, tofu, tempeh and dried figs per day is sufficient to meet children’s calcium requirements.

Magnesium

Why do we need it?

Magnesium is essential for nerve and muscle function, healthy immune system, blood sugar regulation, energy and protein metabolism, steady heartbeat and strong bone structure. More than 50 per cent of it stored in your bones to support their strength. Magnesium is also needed for calcium absorption and the two minerals works together in regulating heartbeat and bone metabolism.

There’s plenty of magnesium in a healthy vegan diet. On the other hand, a diet high in processed foods can be lacking in magnesium. Make sure your child eats the foods below daily.

Best Magnesium sources:

Green leafy vegetables, nuts (eg cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts, hazelnuts), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), oats, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, pulses (beans, lentils, tofu), bananas, apricots, apples, prunes, cocoa powder

Daily Magnesium requirements for children:

0-12 months 55-80 mg
1-3 years 85 mg
4-6 years 120 mg
7-10 years 200 mg
11-14 years 280 mg
15-18 years 300 mg

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.

Iron

Why do we need it?

We need iron so that our red blood cells can carry oxygen throughout our body. Iron is an essential part of the oxygen-carrying molecules haemoglobin and myoglobin. Haemoglobin is found in red blood cells and myoglobin is found in muscles. Iron also makes up part of many proteins in the body.

Vitamin C boosts iron absorption so it’s a good idea to combine iron-rich foods with those containing vitamin C (Melina et al., 2016; Baroni et al., 2018). Interestingly, we absorb more iron from soya (including tofu and tempeh) than from other plant sources (Agnoli et al., 2017).

Pregnant women should increase their intake as their iron requirements almost double (Baroni et al., 2018). The body adapts to this and iron absorption is improved during pregnancy and increases with each trimester (Sebastiani et al., 2019). When breastfeeding, the iron requirements return almost back to normal.

Best Iron sources:

Wholegrains (wholemeal bread, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, some fortified breakfast cereals), beans, lentils, peas, tempeh, tofu, pumpkin and chia seeds, tahini, dried apricots, prunes, figs, broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, black treacle, cocoa, turmeric, thyme

Daily Iron requirements for children:

0-12 months 1.7-7.8 mg
1-3 years 6.9 mg
4-6 years 6.1 mg
7-10 years 8.7 mg
11-14 years 11.3 mg (males)
14.8 mg (females)
15-18 years 8.7 mg (males)
14.8 mg (females)

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.

Children should not need iron supplements, especially because excessive intakes can be toxic – iron supplementation is only recommended if blood tests show a low iron status (Agnoli et al., 2017).

More information on Iron

Iron comes in two forms:

Haem iron is found in animal tissue, whilst non-haem iron is found in plants. Haem iron is more readily absorbed but it can accumulate in the body and cause damage. Excess haem iron encourages the production of free radicals which damage DNA. It’s also associated with raising heart disease risk.

Non-haem (plant) iron is absorbed by the body in smaller amounts but is not stored in the body (like haem iron) so cannot cause excessive iron levels. The body absorbs non-haem iron according to its needs, so you and your child need a steady supply of iron-rich foods in your diet.

Research shows that vegetarian and vegan children tend to get more than enough iron but they may have lower iron stores – that’s not a bad thing as too much iron can be harmful and is a risk factor for heart disease (Amit, 2010; Gibson et al., 2014; Melina et al., 2016; Baroni et al., 2018). The body absorbs as much iron from plant foods as it needs, so when there’s enough iron in the body already, the absorption is lower but when the need for iron increases, so does the absorption rate.

Iodine

Why do we need it?

Iodine is necessary for the development of the nervous system and cognitive abilities from conception and throughout childhood. Iodine is also essential for the production of the thyroid hormones – these regulate how energy is produced and used up in the body. Too much or too little iodine can throw our metabolism off balance.

Best Iodine sources:

Seaweed (arame, wakame and nori – think sushi rolls!) and iodised salt. Kelp is very high in iodine so use only sparingly.

The following foods have varying iodine content depending on iodine levels in the soil in which they’re grown: wholegrains, green beans, courgettes, kale, spring greens, watercress, strawberries and organic potatoes with skin. Amounts tend to be low and variable. Some plants milks also contain a source of iodine as potassium iodide – always check the ingredients!

Daily Iodine requirements for children:

0-12 months 50-60 µg
1-3 years 70 µg
4-6 years 100 µg
7-10 years 110 µg
11-14 years 130 µg
15-18 years 140 µg

Pregnant women are advised to slightly increase their intake to 220 micrograms a day to ensure normal growth and brain development of the baby (Sebastiani et al., 2019).

 

Do children need a supplement?

It depends on their diet – if you use seaweed twice a week or use iodised salt, they should have enough iodine and there’s no need for a supplement. If you’re worried your child may not be getting enough iodine, there are iodine supplements made from kelp that contain safe amounts.

More information on Iodine

Iodine is naturally found in seawater, rocks and some types of soil. The amount of iodine in plants depends on how much iodine is in the soil in which they grow (just as the levels in meat, chicken, eggs and dairy products reflect the amount of iodine used in the animal feed). On the other hand, seaweed is always a good source as it absorbs iodine from seawater. Kombu (kelp) is exceptionally rich in iodine – it contains the highest amount of iodine in any food, so whilst seaweed consumption is encouraged, use kelp very sparingly.

Excess iodine can disrupt thyroid and The Department of Health advise that intakes should not exceed 500 micrograms a day – this would only be a risk if you use high-dose supplements or kelp on a regular basis.

Potassium

Why do we need it?

Potassium plays a key role in balancing fluids in the body and is vital for nerve signal transmission and heart contractions. It helps to maintain healthy blood pressure, kidney function and helps to prevent kidney stones.

A wholesome vegan diet is rich in potassium.

Best Potassium sources:

Pulses (kidney beans, soya/edamame beans, adzuki beans, lentils, tempeh – fermented soya beans), potatoes (old, new and sweet potatoes), dried fruit (apricots and figs), squash (acorn and butternut), avocado, spinach, broccoli and bananas

Daily Potassium requirements for children:

0-12 months 700-850 mg
1-3 years 800 mg
4-6 years 1,100 mg
7-10 years 2,000 mg
11-14 years 3,100 mg
15-18 years 3,500 mg

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.

Selenium

Why do we need it?

Selenium protects cell membranes and DNA from damage. It is also needed for the correct functioning of the thyroid gland and plays a role in fertility later in life.

It’s naturally found in the soil but levels vary – it follows that selenium content of plant foods varies accordingly. However, there’s one exception – Brazil nuts. They are always rich in selenium because they store it better than other plants. The amount of selenium in just two Brazil nuts is enough to cover our daily needs. That’s also why children shouldn’t eat a whole pack of them – they can get too much!

Best Selenium sources:

Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, wholegrains, tofu, asparagus and mushrooms.

Daily Selenium requirements for children:

0-12 months 10-13 µg
1-3 years 15 µg
4-6 years 20 µg
7-10 years 30 µg
11-14 years 45 µg
15-18 years 70 µg (males)
60 µg (males)

 

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.

Zinc

Why do we need it?

Zinc is crucial to cell reproduction and it makes enzymes that are needed for many reactions in the body. We also need it for processing carbohydrates, fats and protein from food, wound healing, healthy vision and it can help strengthen the immune system and make us better able to fight infections. Later in life, zinc is important for male reproductive health – it increases sperm count and sperm motility.

It’s important to include good zinc sources (listed below) in your child’s diet on a daily basis to make sure they get enough. When possible, combine these zinc-rich foods with vitamin C foods because it increases zinc absorption (Baroni et al., 2018). Protein also increases the amount of zinc absorbed from foods but luckily, many zinc sources are also good protein sources, such as pulses and nuts (Messina and Mangels, 2001).

Best Zinc sources:

Tofu, tempeh (fermented soya beans), whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, wheat germ, lentils, nutritional yeast, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, sesame seeds and tahini – sesame seed paste

Daily Zinc requirements for children:

0-12 months 4-5 mg
1-3 years 5 mg
4-6 years 6.5 mg
7-10 years 7 mg
11-14 years 9 mg
15-18 years 9.5 mg (males)
7 mg (females)

Do children need a supplement?

No, they should get enough from their diet alone.

References

Amit M. 2010. Vegetarian diets in children and adolescents. Paediatrics and Child Health. 15(5):303-14.

Agnoli C, Baroni L, Bertini I, et al. 2017. Position paper on vegetarian diets from the working group of the Italian Society of Human Nutrition. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. 27(12):1037-1052.

Allott EH, Arab L, Su LJ, Farnan L, Fontham ET, Mohler JL, Bensen JT, Steck SE. 2017. Saturated fat intake and prostate cancer aggressiveness: results from the population-based North Carolina-Louisiana Prostate Cancer Project. Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases. 20(1): 48-54.

Baroni L, Goggi S, Battaglino R, et al. 2018. Vegan Nutrition for Mothers and Children: Practical Tools for Healthcare Providers. Nutrients. 11(1):5.

Bosch AC, O’Neill B, Sigge GO, Kerwath SE, Hoffman LC. 2016. Heavy metals in marine fish meat and consumer health: a review. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 96 (1) 32-48.

Del Ciampo LA, Lopes Del Ciampo IR. 2019. Vegetarianism and veganism in adolescence: Benefits and risks. Integrative Food, Nutrition and Metabolism. 6:1-4.

Gibson RS, Heath AL, Szymlek-Gay EA. 2014. Is iron and zinc nutrition a concern for vegetarian infants and young children in industrialized countries? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 100 Suppl 1:459S-68S.

Guéguen M, Amiard JC, Arnich N, Badot PM, Claisse D, Guérin T, Vernoux JP. 2011. Shellfish and residual chemical contaminants: hazards, monitoring, and health risk assessment along French coasts. Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. 213: 55-111.

Korakas E, Dimitriadis G, Raptis A, Lambadiari V. 2018. Dietary Composition and Cardiovascular Risk: A Mediator or a Bystander? Nutrients. 10 (12): 1912.

Lemale J, Mas E, Jung C, Bellaiche M, Tounian P. French-speaking Pediatric Hepatology, Gastroenterology and Nutrition Group (GFHGNP). 2019. Vegan diet in children and adolescents. Recommendations from the French-speaking Pediatric Hepatology, Gastroenterology and Nutrition Group (GFHGNP). Archives de Pediatrie. 26 (7): 442-450.

Luukkonen PK, Sädevirta S, Zhou Y, Kayser B, Ali A, Ahonen L, Lallukka S, Pelloux V, et al. 2018. Saturated Fat Is More Metabolically Harmful for the Human Liver Than Unsaturated Fat or Simple Sugars. Diabetes Care. 41 (8) 1732-1739.

Marcotrigiano GO, Storelli MM. 2003. Heavy metal, polychlorinated biphenyl and organochlorine pesticide residues in marine organisms: risk evaluation for consumers. Veterinary Research Communication. 27 Suppl 1:183-95.

Mariotti F, Gardner CD. 2019. Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian Diets-A Review. Nutrients. 11 (11): 2661.

Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. 2016. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 116(12):1970-1980

Messina V, Mangels AR. 2001. Considerations in planning vegan diets: children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 101 (6): 661-9.

Sacks FM, Lichtenstein AH, Wu JHY, Appel LJ, Creager MA, Kris-Etherton PM, Miller M, Rimm EB, Rudel LL, Robinson JG, Stone NJ, Van Horn LV; American Heart Association. 2017. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 136(3):e1-e23.

Savadatti SS, Liu M, Caglayan C, Reuther J, Lewis-Michl EL, et al. 2019. Biomonitoring of populations in Western New York at risk for exposure to Great Lakes contaminants. Environmental Research. 179(Pt A):108690.

Sebastiani G, Herranz Barbero A, Borrás-Novell C, et al. 2019. The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diet during Pregnancy on the Health of Mothers and Offspring. Nutrients. 11(3):557.

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