Vegetarianism is on the rise with people choosing a plant based diet for a number of reasons. Vegetarians avoid meat for a number of reasons: they may express a concern for animals, they believe that a vegetarian diet is more healthy or better for the planet. Whatever the reason for choosing a vegetarian diet, it is likely you will want the same for your children… but is it o.k for children…or will it lead to deficiencies??
In order to adequately answer this question, it is important to distinguish between the different types of ‘vegetarian diets’.
Semi – vegetarian – this diet includes eggs, dairy foods and fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, nuts and legumes BUT excludes all red meat.
Lacto -ovo - vegetarian – this is the same as above but excludes all meat including fish.
Lacto – vegetarian – this is the same as Lacto-ovo vegetarian minus eggs
Fruitarian - the diet consists of fruits and nuts only! In our opinion a Fruitarian diet is not suitable for children (for the reasons outlined below).
Vegan - this diet avoids all foods of animal origin, including milk, eggs and cheese. Generally, a strict vegan diet for toddlers and young children is not recommended as it is difficult for a young child to eat enough to get the energy required for growth from fruits, vegetables, cereals, nuts and legumes. Furthermore, generally vegan diets do not provide adequate fat, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins (B12 and D particularly) and riboflavin for children. In saying that, it is possible to provide children a Vegan diet with the use of conscious planning and professional advice to ensure they are obtaining all the necessary nutrients.
Please note, the information below relates to Semi, Lacto-ovo and Lacto Vegetarian diets. Always seek professional advice if you are planning to offer your child a strict vegetarian diet – particularly if you are planning to offer Fruitarian or Vegan diets.
Below is a summary of the nutrients to monitor if you decide to go vegetarian….and some practical ideas.
In the beginning….
In the beginning, babies are fed a diet of breast milk or commercially prepared baby formula….so until about 6 months all babies can be considered vegetarian. At about six months of age, most babies begin to eat some solid foods in addition to the breast milk or formula. The recommended first foods are all vegetarian friendly, with most parents offering simple grain cereals, pureed vegetables and fruits. Instead of offering meat for iron intake, a vegetarian option is small quantities of pureed legumes or lentils. Keep in mind, for the first 12 months of a baby's life, breast milk or formula should remain the primary source of nutrition
Plant based diets can be bulky and tend to be lower in energy than a diet which includes meat. You can manage this by offering your child frequent small meals and snacks. Also, make sure you include plenty of more energy dense options like cereals, nuts, legumes, root vegetables, eggs and dairy products.
the below vitamins can commonly be deficient in a vegetarian diet -
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products including fish, meat,poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. A deficiency of B12, can lead to impaired brain development, blood abnormalities and neurological problems. Considering this,fortified products (breakfast cereals, bread) can be a particularly valuable source of vitamin B12 for Vegetarians.
No bones about it . . . vitamin D is the vitamin you need for strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium and therefore is essential for the development of bones and teeth. The most obvious source is sunlight; other food sources include cod-liver oil, oily fish (sardines, herring, salmon, tuna), full-fat milk and milk products, eggs and if required fortified cereal or milk
Riboflavin is B 2 and is important to energy metabolism, normal eyesight and healthy skin. Foods high in riboflavin are milk, yogurt, cheeses, meat, leafy green vegetables, whole and enriched grains. Riboflavin is an essential vitamin and is easily destroyed by light.
Riboflavin is important to both vegetarian and carnivores (meat eaters). If you ensure your child is getting the above vegetables and grains - they will probably not have a problem with riboflavin.
With careful planning, the nutritional needs of children can be met with a meat-free diet. It may however be necessary to supplement a Vegetarian child’s diet to ensure it is nutritionally adequate. Fortified products are widely available (cereals, formula, bread) and multivitamins designed especially for children. Always consult a professional to ensure the diet you choose for your child is appropriate.
If in doubt, always consult a professional to ensure the diet you choose for your child is appropriate.
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