3 Reasons Why the Raw Food Diet May Not Be Good for Kids

Thursday Jul 24 | BY |
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Raw Food Diet Kids

A raw food diet may leave kids with serious nutrient deficiencies.

Many adults swear by it—the raw food diet. Eating only uncooked fruits and vegetables (sometimes with raw or unpasteurized dairy products and meat or fish) has helped a number of people to lose weight and ditch their additions to unhealthy fast foods, processed foods, and sugary treats and beverages.

Thrilled with the results, some believe they can save their kids from going through the same health problems they did by starting them out “right”—on raw foods, only. There are several reason, however, why this may not be a good idea for children’s health.

1. Risk of Malnutrition

In 2006, the Nutrition Journal published a case report of a five-and-one-half-month-old infant who died suddenly, and four older siblings who were malnourished. The parents were facing charges of aggravated manslaughter and neglect because they were feeding the children a raw food vegan diet. The infant weight only 6.99 pounds at death, and appeared emaciated. The coroner ruled “malnutrition” was the cause of death. A Florida jury later convicted the parents of four counts of neglect. They appealed the decision.

What some parents may not realize is that a child’s nutritional requirements are different from those of an adult. “Children fed raw foods at weaning are likely to develop protein malnutrition and iron deficiency,” said Dr. Robert Karp, professor of pediatrics at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center. “These conditions are precursors to developmental delay and a lifelong learning deficit.”

Dr. Benjamin Kligler, a family practitioner with the Center for Health and Healing in Manhattan, told the New York Times that a child’s digestive system may not be able to pull all the nutrients out of raw food as effectively as an adult’s. Dr. T.J. Gold, a pediatrician in Park Slope, Brooklyn, added that she’d seen several severely anemic children on the raw food diet, and that the parents were supplementing with vitamin B12.

“If you have to supplement something for children in order to do it, is that really the right diet for them?” she said.

Dr. Joel Furhman, author of Disease-Proof Your Child, notes that a raw food diet can leave children lacking enough vitamin B12 and vitamin D, and can also fail to give them enough calories.

Our own Frederic Patenaude wrote in 2011 that he’d noticed children in raw diet families with symptoms of malnutrition, “when children had big bloated bellies, but skinny arms and legs,” while others were hyperactive and always looking for more food.

A 2005 study showed that long-term consumption of the raw food diet helped lower cholesterol levels, but also lowered levels of HDL “good” cholesterol and resulted in B12 deficiency, which could cause an increased risk of coronary heart disease—and this study was done in adults. So far we have little scientific information on the diet in children, though some studies are ongoing. In the meantime, it’s important to note the deficiencies that may occur:

  1. Vitamin B12: As mentioned, raw and vegan diets can result in B12 deficiencies, as fish, liver, and other animal products are the primary sources of this vitamin. Some algaes and sea veggies contain some of the nutrient, but not enough for what a child needs on a daily basis. This nutrient is key to brain development—deficits during infancy have been tied to a greater risk of depression in adulthood, and to damage to cognitive and social development. Deficiencies in children are linked with learning disorders and autism. Supplementation is necessary.
  2. Iron: Iron is particularly important in childhood development. It helps create energy—without enough, children may feel tired and listless. Iron also plays a key role in brain development during the early years, and has an impact on behavior and intelligence. An iron deficiency can affect later behavior and intellectual development, and may also hinder the immune system. The best sources of iron are meat, eggs, and beans. You can also get some from spinach, Swiss chard, artichokes, and berries, but again, it’s difficult to get enough every day for proper development.
  3. Cholesterol: As mentioned in the study below, a raw food diet can result in a very low blood cholesterol level. The Mayo Clinic states low cholesterol levels are linked with anxiety and depression, and may increase risk of preterm birth and low birth weight if the mom’s level is too low during pregnancy. A 2005 study showed that children and teens with low cholesterol levels may have more trouble in school, and were three times more likely to have been suspended than those with higher levels. Researchers have also found some evidence that too low cholesterol could be one of several causes of autism. Fish, eggs, beef, and dairy are the best sources of cholesterol. Children on raw food vegan diets may not be getting enough, even if parents regularly use coconut oil, red palm oil, or other vegan sources.
  4. Vitamin D: If the kids are getting enough sun they’ll be fine, but during the winter months or in northern latitudes, a lack of enough vitamin D may become a problem, since fish, oysters, meat, and eggs are some of the best sources. Supplementing with cod liver oil may help, but again, you’re looking at constant supplementation as a lifestyle.
  5. Protein: Children can get the protein they need without animal products if they’re allowed to eat legumes and grains, but without these, fruits, nuts, and veggies may not provide enough. Protein is key for proper growth and development in infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Kids need more per pound of body weight than adults do to meet growth and development needs. The Institute of Medicine recommends that quality and quantity of the protein is important, and notes that animal foods provide a higher quality and greater quantity of protein per calorie, a combination that is particularly valuable during childhood.
  6. Calories: The raw food diet helps adults cut calories, but in children, that may not be such a good thing. With faster metabolisms and growing bodies and minds, they need more fuel. Raw fruits and veggies are not calorie-dense, which can leave children feeling frequently hungry. Keeping track of daily calorie intake can also be difficult, and children’s health can fall through the cracks.
2. Teeth Problems

Mother of two Holly Paige was shocked when she found that her three-year-old daughter had a mouthful of brown teeth. She’d had the family on a raw food diet, thinking she was doing the right thing, and didn’t realize that the kids were suffering from important nutrient deficiencies. She later learned the children had serious protein and vitamin D deficiencies.

“I had let malnutrition in through the back door in the name of health,” she told the Daily Mail.

As we’ve discussed in other posts on this blog, the raw food diet is connected with dental problems, with raw foodists suffering more dental cavities than those not on the raw food diet. Researchers aren’t sure why, yet—it may have something to do with the higher intake of high-sugar fruit, or the constant grazing on fruits and nuts—but either way, children’s developing dental health may be at risk.

Vitamin D deficiencies can also affect teeth and bones. Calcium deficiencies, which are also possible on the diet, can also affect teeth and bone development at this critical time. Parents may forget that most bone-building stops once a person reaches their early 20s. Bones that are not properly nourished during the young years will remain weak for life.

3. Social Issues

As children start to socialize with others, they’re eventually going to realize that their diets are different. Sometimes those differences can result in difficult social situations, such as bullying.

“They were socially isolated,” says Jinjee Talifero, who runs a raw-food education company with her husband in California, “ostracized and simply left out.” She now uses some cooked foods in the family’s diet.

Children subject to strict diets may start to feel depressed, finding it impossible to enjoy food with their friends without being labeled as being “different.” A Netherlands mother was reported as keeping her raw food adolescent boy home from school because the other kids were laughing him at. (Social Services also reported the boy’s growth had been stunted.)

In a Renegade Health Radio podcast, Kevin and Fred talked about the danger of losing important social interactions because of a strict attitude on diet. Parents may want to consider this aspect of their children’s upbringing more seriously, considering the impact early experiences can have on a child’s confidence and self-esteem. Perhaps a relaxation of the rules when the child attends social events or other compromises can help.

“I think it’s important to do whatever we can to raise our children with optimal nutrition,” says ThePaleoMom, “but also with a healthy, not obsessive, attitude toward food.”

What do you think about the raw food diet for children? Do you agree or disagree with these points? Please share your thoughts.

* * *

David K. Cundiff, William Harris, “Case report of 5 siblings: malnurition? Rickets? DiGeorge syndrome? Developmental delay?” Nutr. J. 2006; 5: 1, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1363354/.

Emanuella Grinberg, “Vegan couple cleared of starving baby, guilty of child neglect,” CNN, November 8, 2005, http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/11/08/child.starved/.

“What’s the harm in being a vegetarian child?” whatstheharm.net, http://whatstheharm.net/childvegetarianism.html.

Columbia News Service, “Raw food diet: half-baked idea for kids?” AZCentral.com, March 19, 2006, http://www.azcentral.com/health/kids/articles/0318rawfoods.html.

Jim Wilson, “Growing Up on Raw Foods,” The New York Times, June 2, 2014, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/02/growing-up-on-raw-foods/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.

Corinna Koebnick, et al., “Long-Term Consumption of a Raw Food Diet is Associated with Favorable Serum LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides but Also with Elevated Plasma Homocysteine and Low Serum HDL Cholesterol in Humans,” J Nutr. October 1, 2005; 135(10):2373-2378, http://jn.nutrition.org/content/135/10/2372.long.

Maureen M. Black, “Effects of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency on brain development in children,” Food Nutr. Bull., June 2008; 29(2 Suppl):S126-S131, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3137939/.

Joe Graedon and Teresa Gordon, “Low cholesterol levels, children’s behavior studied,” Baltimore Sun, May 15, 2005, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2005-05-15/news/0505120364_1_low-cholesterol-cholesterol-levels-heartburn.

Dr. Jay Adlersberg, “Cholesterol and Autism,” 7online.com, April 11, 2011, http://7online.com/archive/8066005/.

Angus Watson, “How a strict vegan diet made my children ill,” Daily Mail, August 14, 2008, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1028854/How-strict-vegan-diet-children-ill.html.

Food Insight, “Getting Childhood Off to a Strong Start with Protein,” Foodinsight.org, May 23, 2014, http://www.foodinsight.org/Getting_Childhood_off_to_a_Strong_Start_with_Protein.

“Raw food diet boy must go to school, say social workers,” Dutch News, December 18, 2012, http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2012/12/raw_food_diet_boy_must_go_to_s.php.

The Paleo Mom, “Paleo for Kids?” Thepaleomom.com, January 3, 2012, http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/01/paleo-for-kids.html.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com


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  1. Hello,

    Most parents are not aware of the importance of nursing their child until all their teeth have erupted.
    The child is fed cereal when starch cannot be digested when ptyalin, the enzyme that digests
    starch is not present in the the child’s
    ssaliva. Many other starches and proteins are introduced to the child when the digestion is not ready
    to digest these complicated foods.
    To nurse a child until the age of three when all their teeth are present, takes time, effort, and a
    mother who is diligent with having a superior vegan diet.. one that has been carefully prepared by
    an expert in this field. The child will thrive on this plan, but it takes discipline and caring parents,

    My children were nursed but unfortunately, with the first one, I stopped at one year,
    which was too soon, and he developed allergies to the foods being fed.
    The second child was nursed to three years, and has never had a problem but both grew up
    healthy, in sunny California, for a while, getting plenty of Vit D and
    living off organic farms in California,
    I think not enough research is done on the facts that Dr. Whooten, a pediatrician, presented to us on children,
    who had 12 of his own.in the 1980’s. He cautioned mothers not to feed too early and to be sure to nurse the
    child until all their teeth were out so that they could digest their foods properly, This is a big problem
    today, early feeding, and” feeding diapers,” as Dr. Shelton wrote.
    Motherhood is a very demanding role and requires love and patience to learn what the experts have
    said. A vegan diet is safe and nutritiously adequate, providing the mother is in good health and can
    provide nourishment for the child until they are ready to chew and digest whole foods,
    My daughter nursed her children until three and then weaned them on her own blended foods
    and whole foods, and to this day teaching them the vegan diet.
    The benefits of this plan are very rewardingL children sleep from 7 pm to 7 am, are happy and
    very easy to raise, who do well in school and have many friends,


  2. My name is Deborah Nazemi, and my husband and I have a small farm called Heavenly Acres, where we raise our sheep and poultry by letting them free range on our 10 acres. I have been studying the eating lifestyle for a long time, and I feel that the key is striking a healthy balance. People like to go all the way to extreme eating lifestyles, and that is not natural for us. I am in the process of developing an eating lifestyle based on a raw and cooked food diet where it is high in raw vegetation, but not as restrictive as most raw/cooked diets, and includes healthy amounts of cooked grass fed and free range meats as well as raw milk from grass fed cows.

    Although I believe that a diet high in raw foods is healthy and good for all, I have never been a proponent of an all raw food diet. The deficiencies that were found in children in the article are often found in adults on the same kind of diet. I believe eating grass fed (cooked) meat and truly free ranged poultry are essential for any eating lifestyle as well as raw milk from grass fed cows. From these we can all benefit from the high levels of good fats, B12, etc.

  3. anil a saineghi says:

    I am a mother of 4 and grandmother of 2, I’m also a wellness coach.I think the points made are very valid. I agree that children should be allowed to eat a variety of foods and not be restricted to a particular diet. I do believe that you have the power of teaching your children healthy eating habits and educating (children love learning about their bodies and what they need) them. By educating and not buying junk food for them, and surrounding them with healthy choices you are letting them believe they are in control, so when they are in social settings they are empowered to make good decisions. I have been a vegan for 4 years. I didn’t impose my life style change on my husband or my children. In the beginning I still bought grass fed meats…with teaching they made the choice to no longer eat meat. They sill eat fish and dairy and love all the veggies they have to choose from. From the eldest to the youngest – if asked about fast food they will tell you – no thank you,, that’s poison. The one hard line to take is on junk and processed food. Thanks for the great into!

  4. The raw food lifestyle works for mostly all. There must be the element of supplementation. The raw materials ithat the body needs everyday are NOT found in the food. So whether you are 100% raw or not – your diet MUST be supplemented!! I can’t stress this enough….

  5. Colleen,

    You misinterpreted the case. My wife and I wrote 10 pages about this case in our thesis. I may post some of this later, but for now you have twisted the case to support your article and create a sensational opening. For example from the conclusion from the journal that you quoted it states

    “In the infant who died, DiGeorge anomaly cannot be ruled out and malnutrition, according to WHO criteria, cannot be diagnosed. The 18-month-old’s recent separation from her parents and the cultural bias and poor sensitivity and specificity of the Battelle Developmental Inventory Screening Test make the diagnosis of developmental delay highly questionable. The older children were not malnourished by the WHO’s definition. The clinical diagnosis of rickets in the 4-year-old was not confirmed by the CDC’s criteria. The raw foods vegan diet and possibly inherited small stature from the father’s side account for their relatively low heights and weights. Catch-up growth will probably occur on the standard American diet but would have also been expected if they had remained on a vegan diet.”


    – Possible health defect (DiGeorge anomaly) in the infant who died
    – Malnutrition was not present in the older children

    Also in the thesis we discuss infant mortality and congenital defects in all society. American has some of the highest rates of infant mortality. ….

    Philip and Susan Madeley

    • Perry says:

      Forcing a malnurishing raw/vegan diet on children (who are in such need of nutrients to grow and thrive) should be viewed as child abuse.

  6. Rebecca Cody says:

    In your article you say that a raw vegan child who gets plenty of sunshine should make sufficient vitamin D. But you also warn about cholesterol levels going very low. Sunshine is made from the cholesterol in the skin, so maybe sunshine won’t be sufficient for making vitamin D if the child’s cholesterol is too low.

  7. Perry says:

    Finally you guys got this one correct….Raw Vegan = Malnurishment.
    Just because there are a bunch of fatties that can afford a few years of malnurishment so they can finally lose weight…doesn’t mean the diet is for everyone.

  8. Ilse says:

    Hi, great subject! My daughter is 8 and eats a lot of fruit (3/day) and veggies (5 serving/day). She is (almost) never sick! The best thing you can do is feed your child everything but NO chips, fried food, candy, cola etc. (except on a birthday or with friends when you don’t have the controle). They must eat : whole grains (bread/pasta), cheese, potatoes, gras fed beef, eggs, organic milk, nuts etc. Supplement with a multi vitamine, fish oil and spirulina. Ilse (Belgium)

  9. Liv says:

    Okay, this subject is really starting to become aggravating!
    Firstly, I find it very difficult to understand how an infant so young could die if nursed by it’s mother which frankly for a mother so seamingly into giving her children a healthy start would seem obligatory – you do not specify so how can one make any valid or informed opinion? (for example, my second child was not at all interested in “eating” until she was over 7 months old but was perfectly healthy and “bonnie”, even if her mum was starting to get a bit on the thin side!).
    Secondly, what about all those parents who feed their babies suger loaded “children’s breakfast cereals” topped with “super pasturised cows milk”, “children’s” microwaved meals, the SAD aimed at children and thinking they are doing the right thing by their children? There are millions of children walking around (if they’re lucky) in the so called “developed” world who are seriously malnutrated but this is acceptable as they are eating what is pushed by supermarkets, large food producers and even governments as “normal” food, not to mention the babies who are considered “in good health” because they are fat and that is the socially acceptable vision of a healthy baby. If we actually look at what these “healthy” babies were force fed (yes I’m talking about feeding at a particular time irrespective of whether the baby is hungry), then maybe there would be a public outcry about the abuse caused by their parents? Could it be said in their defense that this is of course only because the parents are uninformed, or is that really brainwashed?
    Come on everyone, why can’t we just be thoughtful about what we eat and what we feed our children? How can anyone with even just a few brain cells stand up and say that adults’ nutritional needs are the same as those for growing infants, children and adolescents, etc. This is like saying that the needs of someone sick and healing with raw foods is the same as a normal healthy and active adult?
    Finally, if you are going to write an article entitled “3 reasons why the raw food diet may not be good for kids”, write it with valid information and not extreme scenarios. The readership of this blog is not stupid and we all know that these scenarios can occur in all different situations – there are antiestablishment people all over the World who express their feelings though various extremes, diet, religion, activity, etc.
    This is one of the most “wishy-washy” articles I have read to date on this blog and it is dissapointing. Whilst I have enjoyed your other articles, I think more research could have been helpful. You are avoiding the subject, even in your title……………
    For your information, I am not a “raw-foodist”. I have spent time following that way of eating when I was sick. As a now healthy adult and mother I eat and feed my family a diet high in fruits and veggies, both raw and cooked with a balance of whole grains, dairy, beans, pulses, etc. and occassionally good quality fish or poultry (we are lucky here in France that we have a strong tradition of “real food”, although it is sad to see it starting to disappear – venture into a supermarket and of course you will find fluorescent “bread”!).

  10. Beth says:

    Excellent article! In this day and age we need to do all we can to ensure our children are healthy and ready for the world in all aspects. Job well done.

  11. Having gone thru RAW food living for a few years and having suffered consequences from malnutrition, I can say that
    there are hazards and pit falls i.e.dangers arising from a religiously strict raw foodism.
    Children should not be subjected to such dangers. Especially because the symptoms of deficiencies may not show immediately.

  12. Linda says:

    Just for the record….
    my son is 13 and a half, has grown up mostly vegan, though occasionaly will eat someones homemade muffin or cake (that has dairy and eggs in it) or a vegie pie (possibly dairy and eggs in pastry). He was breastfed exclusively until 6 months and then partly until 2 (just – he sucked until I dried up). He never had bottles of milk, or formula, or even a pacifier ( I too believe this effects their teeth). Just organic fresh food and wholegrains, beans, legumes, seeds, tahini, rice milk, tempeh and tofu. He has never gets sick (only a few times when he went to preschool) and is strong in body and mind. Variety and adding more calories as they grow is most important.

  13. Diana says:

    Boy, this article has everyone’s panties in a pinch… Personally I dislike articles that are based on anecdotal evidence, which this seems to be. There haven’t been any long term studies on children and the raw food diet. Any evidence that it is either “good” or “bad” is anecdotal. Any parent who chooses this diet for their child needs the knowledge that it is not been proven to be a solid diet for a growing child. One commentor pointed out that the SAD diet does not have the public outcry that it should have. I wholeheartedly agree, however who is there to outcry when the majority of the country eats a SAD diet and supports school lunch programs where ketchup is considered a vegable (not kidding!) So where does this leave us… Michael Pollan said it best. “Eat Food, Not a lot, Mostly Plants”

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