A Case of Leg Stiffening: Vegan Diets for Children 1

Dietitians sometimes get questions about whether vegan diets are adequate for children. Those of us who specialize in vegan nutrition assure health care professionals, parents, and guardians that vegan diets are nutritionally adequate. We may bristle when editors insist that we include qualifications like “properly planned” when writing about vegan diets for children because all diets for children need to be properly planned. Poor diets result in many children with high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. With that in mind, a recent case study supports the need for proper planning of vegan children’s diets.

In this report (1), a 2-year old girl followed the same vegan diet as her parents. The authors don’t report how long she’d been on a vegan diet or if she was breastfed. The family didn’t eat soy products or processed foods. Although the family ate legumes, vegetables, fruits, grains, and fruit juices, the child was described as “picky,” with a diet consisting mainly of quinoa, rye bread with avocado, fruits, and vegetables.

One day, after playing normally with her parents, the girl took a nap. When she woke up she was unable to walk and appeared to be in pain. Her parents took her to the hospital where blood tests showed that she was very low in calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. The low calcium was what appeared to be the direct cause of her inability to walk since after she was given calcium intravenously, she could walk again. It’s likely that she didn’t get enough calcium since most of her staple foods are low in calcium. Some vegetables are good sources of calcium but there’s no mention of whether she was eating kale, collards, or other good sources.

Because vitamin D helps promote calcium absorption, the girl’s inadequate vitamin D further exacerbated her poor calcium status, and may have prevented her from absorbing the calcium coming from her limited diet.

This child didn’t need to eat animal products, rather she needed reliable, regular sources of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. See our section on Daily Needs for information on getting adequate amounts of these nutrients on a vegan diet.


1. Kahne KR, Tay ET. Toddler’s paralysis: an acute case of leg stiffening in a previously healthy 2-year-old. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2018 Jun;34(6):e106-e108.

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One thought on “A Case of Leg Stiffening: Vegan Diets for Children

  • Christian Koeder

    I don’t bristle 😀 I always insist that we include “adequately planned”. I would consider planning vegan diets properly more urgent than planning non-vegetarian diets.

    It seems unlikely that a low calcium intake itself would lead to too little calcium in the blood. I assume that a severe vitamin D deficiency was the main cause (and that very low to no vitamin D intake, low sunshine exposure and dark skin [according to correspondence with last author] were main contributers in this case).