|Vegetarian Infants and Children|
Vegetarian diet is suitable for children of all ages and can provide all the nutrients needed for normal growth and development. Children raised on vegan diets are more likely to be lighter and leaner and may also be shorter in stature than other children. Vegan children may need more carefully planned diets to ensure nutrient needs are met. Nutritional deficiencies are no more commonly reported among vegetarian children than among omnivore children.
Many of the processes that lead to modern adult nutritional diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure, begin in childhood. Vegetarian children often start with an advantage as their diet is usually lower in fat and higher in fibre. As well as meeting dietary needs, vegetarian diets for children may be beneficial in promoting health and protecting against a variety of health problems including constipation, other bowel disorders and obesity.
The nutritional requirements of a small baby are high, needing proportionally more protein, calcium and most other nutrients than at any other time of life. The perfect food for the young infant is breast milk and supplementary foods should not be introduced until after four to six months of age. Breast-fed infants of well nourished vegan women tend to grow and develop normally. Vitamin B12 and vitamin D are key nutrients for a young infant being exclusively breast fed by a vegan woman. Mothers should ensure that their intake of these nutrients is sufficient. When weaning your baby she may reject stronger-tasting foods, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, at six months but may like them several months later.
Growing children still need plenty of energy and nutrient dense foods. As they have small stomachs and large energy needs, their meals need to be more frequent and regular than an adult's. Diets of young children should not be overly high in fibre since this may limit the amount of food they can eat.
The judicious use of fats in forms like avocados, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and seed butters will provide a concentrated source of calories needed by many vegan children. The early childhood years are important for developing healthy eating patterns that can establish a foundation for a healthful adult diet.
Babies are growing rapidly and therefore their protein requirements are very high. Breast or formula milk will provide the major source of protein for the first eight months. A variety of foods should be given each day so the baby obtains the right balance of amino acids. Milk, cheese, free-range eggs, yoghurt, soya milk, tofu, beans, cereals/grains, nuts and seeds are all good sources of protein.
Babies are born with their own store of iron but this will be depleted by six months. Iron-rich foods suitable for babies after six months include: puréed apricots, molasses, refined lentils, cereals, well mashed beans and green vegetables. Milk and the other dairy products are very poor sources of iron. Avoid cereals that are very high in fibre as these may inhibit iron absorption. Vitamin C aids absorption of iron from plant foods and so it helps to give sources of these nutrients together.
Breast or formula milk contains all the calcium your baby needs initially. Calcium is an important nutrient for young children particularly for healthy teeth and bones. Good sources of calcium for the later weaning stages include cow's and fortified soya milk, cheese, green vegetables, wholemeal bread, beans, lentils, ground almonds, sesame paste and tofu.
Vitamin B12 is made by micro-organisms and is found mostly in animal foods. Very young babies will get all the vitamin B12 they need from formula or breast milk and children can usually obtain enough of this vitamin from dairy products and eggs. Vegan children will need vitamin B12 from fortified foods such as some soya milks, low salt yeast extract or veggie burgers.
Vitamin D is found in dairy products, eggs, fortified foods like margarine, some breakfast cereals, and can be made by the action of sunlight on the skin. It is essential for the absorption of calcium. Because it is found exclusively in animal foods, vegan babies may need a vitamin D supplement. Breast or formula milk should provide all the vitamin D needed initially.
Zinc is essential for growth and cell division. Zinc absorption can be inhibited by too much phytic acid, found in wholegrain cereals and other fibrous foods. Vegetarian sources of this vital mineral include cheese, nuts & seeds (particularly pumpkin seeds), pulses, and tofu.
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