With more households switching to a plant-based diet, parents might be wondering if plant-based diet can actually deliver all the nutrients that growing children require. Several studies across the world suggest that veganism is becoming a growing trend with more people adopting the vegan way of life.
There could be many reasons behind the growing trend that include concerns for animal welfare, weight management, general health and the liking for an environment-friendly lifestyle.
According to PETA, vegetarian diets do not include any animals. A vegan diet s a bit more complex and contains no animal products or byproducts. Well-planned vegan and vegetarian diets are suitable for people at all stages of life.
People who are on a vegan or vegetarian diet can get all the necessary nutrients as long as the foods they include in their diet contain all essential nutrients. Sometimes people on a strict vegan diet may require vitamin B12 supplements, as the vitamin is primarily obtained from animal sources.
Is Plant-Based Diet Nutritionally Fitting For Children?
Many studies over several years support the idea that well-planned vegetarian diets do not pose any risk of malnourishment to children. Short term and long term studies on the subject have found that vegetarian children have growth at the same rate as meat-eating children of the same age. Their vegetarian diet does not stop them from growing into very healthy adults.
A vegan diet is strict when compared to a vegetarian diet and children who follow the diet have to be monitored carefully. It has to be ensured that suitable alternatives to nutrient-rich animal foods are included in the children’s diet, lest their health will be affected adversely.
A longitudinal study of vegan children that was conducted in 1988 found that most of the vegan children developed normally but some were lighter in weight when compared with the standards for the general population. The reason was the lower calcium, energy and vitamin D intakes.
Although the diets were generally adequate, some children had a lower intake of vitamin B12 and riboflavin. Most of the plant-based foods are rich in fiber and if present in excess in the body, fiber disrupts the absorption of important nutrients like zinc, iron and calcium.
Children have to be monitored regularly by their GP for growth. Moreover, their parents should seek advice from a pediatric dietician to ensure that their children get all the nutrients they need. Here are some foods that ensure children get all essential nutrients.
- Protein sources like legumes, seeds and nuts and tofu.
- Iron-rich food like green leafy vegetables, legumes and iron-fortified cereals paired with foods rich in vitamin C improve iron absorption.
- Calcium-rich foods like vitamin D enriched mushrooms, tahini fortified plant milk, and nuts.
- Zinc rich foods like fortified breakfast cereals, dairy etc.
- B12 rich foods like fortified breakfast cereals eggs, and dairy.
- Fats sources like nuts, avocado and extra virgin olive oil.
Lack of vitamin B12 may have an adverse impact on children’s brain development. Vegan children may sometimes require vitamin B12 supplement because the nutrient primarily comes from animal sources.
For babies under the age of one, breast milk is an important food.
Studies have suggested that children raised on a vegan/vegetarian diet develop a healthy attitude about their body on reaching adulthood. These children tend to be very body satisfied. The rates of eating disorders are lower in these children as they have a healthier relationship with food.
Food like nuts and dairy are known to cause allergies in many people. As vegetarian diets rely more on the inclusion of dairy and nuts, children on vegetarian diets tend to have fewer allergies.
Things That Parents Should Know
Parents who are planning to choose a vegetarian or vegan diet for their child have to consult a pediatric dietician to formulate a perfect diet plan that does not miss out on any essential nutrients. It is advisable to take periodic blood tests to keep check of the child’s nutrient levels. This is especially important with vegan children.
The social sides of being a vegetarian or vegan have to be addressed and understood well. Children and adults who are on vegan or vegetarian diet sometimes find it difficult to discuss their diet with people. Some report feeling embarrassed because they don’t like it when they are perceived as being different from their peers.
Parents should openly discuss with their children the reasoning for the dietary choice whether it be animal welfare, health or environmental concerns.
Discussing the possibility of other diet choices with the children and asking them to not be judgmental will help a lot. Help the children realize that everyone is free to choose the diet they like and we should learn to respect everyone’s choices. Always make sure to encourage your children to be confident and proud of their diet.