There are many uncertainties amongst members of the public surrounding the issue of vegetarian and vegan diets. The exclusion of meat and animal products from a regular eating pattern may appear restrictive-and questions are often raised in regards to the nutritional adequacy of such a dietary regime. I myself can recall the questions I received from family and friends when I became a vegetarian. My loved ones were concerned and wondering if I would be able to remain healthy eating in this particular manner.
Current research in the field of dietetics does suggest that in general, a well-planned vegetarian diet can be a healthy choice for individuals throughout the course of the human lifecycle. One of the questions I hear quite often is: “Is it healthy for children to grow up as vegetarians?” I thought this would be an excellent question to answer to the best of my ability. Let’s start by having a look at the research.
It has been demonstrated that a properly planned vegetarian diet supports the normal growth and development of children. In fact, several observational studies have shown that vegetarian children have comparable growth patterns to omnivore children.
Of course, it must be stressed that the key words here are “properly planned”. Vegetarian diets can be exceptionally healthy, if the individual planning the diet considers the essential facets of vegetarian meal planning.
It should also be emphasized that the nutritional needs of children are very individualized. Extra special attention to food choices may be required to meet the energy needs in rapidly growing children.
So, what can you do to make sure your child has the healthiest vegetarian diet possible?
• Introduce a variety of solid vegetarian foods-beginning with iron fortified cereals, vegetables and fruits. Tofu, pureed legumes and tempeh may also be introduced. Meat analogues, which tend to be a combination of soy and gluten, should be introduced once tolerance to individual ingredients have been established
• Provide frequent meals and snacks with nutrient-dense foods to meet the energy needs of your growing child. Energy dense foods include a high concentration of calories and nutrients per serving.
• Include reliable sources of B12 daily. This can be achieved by including adequate servings of eggs & dairy products for vegetarians. Vegan children should regularly include vitamin B12 fortified foods-such as fortified soy milk and breakfast cereals. In individual cases a supplement may be required.
• Offer complimentary protein combinations-which combine essential amino acids to provide high quality proteins. Combinations of grains, legumes, seeds, nuts and dairy products can provide complete sources of protein when paired together in a meal or snack. Examples include: rice with legumes, macaroni and cheese, baked beans with whole wheat bread or soy yogurt with granola.
• If sun exposure is limited, offer vitamin D fortified foods. In some cases, a supplement may be necessary.
• All vegetarians and vegans must include adequate calcium intake for the development and maintenance of bones. This is especially important for children as they are growing. In place of dairy products-dark leafy greens, tofu processed with calcium, and calcium fortified cereals/juice may be consumed.
• Zinc is very important for the encouragement of regular growth and development. Offer nuts and dried beans to your child often, as they are excellent sources of zinc.
Of course, it is always recommended that parents of vegetarian or vegan children consult a Registered Dietician with expertise in the vegetarian eating pattern. In most cases, a referral to an outpatient Dietician may be obtained from your physician.
Post By: Nora Heighton
Photo Credit: Google Images