Vegan and vegetarian children: how to eat properly

In recent years the number of families that have decided to bet on vegan / vegetarian diets has grown, instilling these eating habits also for their children. Experts insist on affirming that a diet of these characteristics well planned and properly controlled is appropriate for any stage of life, including pregnancy and childhood.

We have talked about vegetarian diets in children with Lucía Martínez Argüelles, dietitian and nutritionist at the Aleris Center, responsible for the informative portal Tell me what you eat, and author of the book Concerned Vegetarians: what should we consider if we want our children to carry this type of feeding?

How are vegetarian and vegan diets?

Before we begin to analyze in depth how vegan or vegetarian diets should be during childhood, let's define what each one consists of and what differences they have.

Vegetarian diets favor the consumption of products of plant origin, reducing or eliminating animal products altogether. There are different options within this diet:

  • The ovolacteovegetarians, are those that in addition to plant products also consume eggs and milk.

  • The ovovegetarians, which only consume eggs as a product of animal origin.

In the end they are vegan diets, which are those that exclude any food of animal origin (meat, fish, animal fats, jelly, dairy products - cheese, milk, yogurt, butter - honey, eggs) in addition to leading a sustainable lifestyle with the planet.

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What are the most frequent doubts when starting this type of diet?

To all families we are especially concerned about the feeding of our children, and who else or who least seeks to maintain a balanced and healthy diet, including fundamental foods and restricting the consumption of others.

But when parents who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet consider incorporating their children as well, they may have multiple doubts about how to proceed in this regard and what to keep in mind so that there are no nutritional imbalances at this important stage of life.

We have asked the nutrition expert some of the most frequent questions that arise in these situations, and these have been her recommendations:

Will you lack protein?

"No special measure is needed to obtain protein beyond good planning, as in any other dietary option. Vegetable proteins are found, for example, in legumes, whole grains, seeds, tofu, tempeh, textured soybeans or cream or crushed nuts if you still can't take them whole. "

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If you don't eat meat, will you be at risk of anemia?

"No. The prevalence of iron deficiency anemia is similar in vegetarian children and omnivorous children. To favor the absorption of iron present in vegetable sources, it is recommended to consume it together with a food rich in vitamin C".

"For example, if you are going to make tabulé, it is recommended that you add parsley, as it is a good source of vitamin C. Another great dish is hummus with peppers, because the chickpea iron is combined with the vitamin C of the vegetable. And another good example could be the spinach salad with strawberries, fruit rich in this vitamin "

If you don't eat fish, where do you get Omega 3?

"The contribution of Omega 3 acids can be ensured through two simple strategies":

  • "Using olive oil as a reference fat, not because of its content in Omega 3, but because it does not interfere with its absorption as they do oils rich in Omega 6 "

  • "You can also take a teaspoon of flax oil or a tablespoon of crushed flax seeds. And let's forget nuts, an excellent source of Omega 3 "acids

Vegan / vegetarian diet from six to 12 months

When the baby is ready to start the complementary feeding, we must plan your vegan or vegetarian diet correctly with the help of the pediatrician and nutrition professionals, as well as supplement with vitamin B12 and continue breastfeeding as long as possible.

"The incorporation of food will be done in the same way as indicated by the official recommendations; simply instead of offering meat and fish, foods such as crushed tofu, skinless legumes, cream-dried nuts, and eggs and dairy products will be offered if you follow an ovolacteovegetarian diet "- Lucia mentions in her blog.

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Vegan / vegetarian diet from 12 months

"Once the baby turns one year old, two situations may occur: that she continue breastfeeding, in which case we should continue as long as possible, or that she drink formula, in which case it will no longer be necessary and you can choose for any of the following options, depending on the needs of each family: "

  • "Offer dairy products in the form of whole milk or sugar-free yogurts, for example"

  • "Or do without cow's milk and offer vegetable drinks enriched with calcium and without added sugar"

"It is also worth remembering other sources of calcium such as legumes, crushed or creamy nuts, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli or cabbage, tahini, crushed sesame seeds or whole wheat bread, among others".

Lucia Martínez's proposal for a vegan menu for the whole family

What do pediatricians say about it?

The American Academy of Nutrition, as well as other medical and dietary societies, believe that well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets are perfectly suitable for children of all ages.

But, from the Spanish Association of Pediatrics, the importance of the diet has no imbalances, as with another type of diet, a poorly planned vegetarian diet can have negative consequences on the health and growth of children and adolescents.

As we read in a document published by the AEP on vegetarian and vegan diets in childhood, the eating pattern that these children follow is closer to current official recommendations than typical western diets, although vitamin D and B12 levels They are usually lower than in non-vegetarian children.

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That is why nutrition experts and pediatricians recommend that all vegetarian and vegan people supplement their diet with vitamin B12, and also with vitamin D in case the child cannot be regularly exposed to sunlight. Pregnant women who follow a vegetarian diet should also receive a DHA + EPA supplement.

In summary, with a properly planned diet, supplementation and the corresponding medical controls that all children have to follow, a vegan or vegetarian diet can be taken in childhood.

Acknowledgments | Lucia Martinez

Conscientious vegetarians: A survival manual (Disclosure-Self Help)

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Video: Dr. Oz Explains the Vegan Diet (December 2019).