IT IS safe and healthy plant-based diet for growing children? Will my child get enough nutrition on a plant-based diet? My kids are young, where will they get their protein, iron, and calcium? These are common questions asked by many parents who are new to this organic way of eating and viewing food.
The world’s largest organization of nutrition professionals, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that vegan diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including infancy, childhood and adolescence.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2016 also endorsed that “properly planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are wholesome, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
The key here is a well-planned meal. As the parent of an 11-year-old, well-planned meals are essential to growing children, whether it’s plant-based or whatever type of diet parents choose to raise their children on. One must make sure that all meals contain enough nutrition.
I was not raised vegetarian or vegan, and had little knowledge of this diet even though vegetarianism is a common religious practice among the Chinese.
In 2017 I decided to give up my favorite food, which consisted of fish, cheese, butter and yogurt, when I found out that these foods do not provide many benefits to my health.
As I have done in-depth research, I have learned that the plant-based diet is rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which are often lacking in a typical Malaysian diet. I didn’t wait long to switch my son, then seven years old, to a plant-based diet.
It didn’t take long for him to adjust and accept this radical change because he was also given the opportunity to learn about the foods he ate and the nutrition he was getting on his plate.
Plant-based foods come in a variety of colors, flavors, and textures that provide a broad nutritional experience for children. Along with this, our family was
he is also able to learn valuable life lessons, such as environmental protection and compassion towards living things.
My nutritional intake concerns are no different from other parents raising their children on a meat-based diet. Young children should be introduced to a wide variety of
plant-based foods at an early age. Many parenting books and classes have taught us to introduce pureed vegetables and fruits, assorted beans, and grains when a baby begins to wean, so there must be great benefits to these foods.
Also, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. According to the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines, vegetables and fruits
they now form the base of the Malaysian Food Pyramid.
Most Malaysians, adults and children alike, don’t come close to the recommended amount, with some not even taking a serving a day. Typically, a chicken rice dish comes with rice, a portion of chicken, a few slices of cucumber, and a few sprigs of cilantro for garnish. However, many only eat the rice and chicken and leave out the cucumber and coriander leaves.
The same scenario can also be seen in children, where they would choose the vegetables on their plate because they are not used to eating vegetables. Would these children get enough nutrition on a non-plant-based diet? What else, with them exposed to junk food and processed foods from a young age?
The common question that many adults often ask me is: “Do
Do plant-based foods have protein, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12?” A well-planned plant-based diet can provide children with the key nutrients and calories they need to grow and thrive.
However, we must realize that there are certain nutrients that are naturally lower in a plant-based diet. Similarly, there are nutrients that are lower in a meat-based diet compared to a plant-based diet, for example fiber, vitamin C, to name a few.
Therefore, when raising children on a plant-based diet, care is required to ensure that they get the proper amount of nutrients.
How much protein does a child need?
Protein is an important macronutrient for building, repairing, and maintaining bones, muscles, skin, and blood. It also provides the building blocks for enzymes, hormones, and vitamins.
Can our kids get enough protein on a plant-based diet? Children who eat a variety of
Plant-based diet can easily meet protein requirement.
A healthy source of plant-based protein includes beans, nuts, seeds, soybeans (tofu and tempeh), whole grains, and vegetables. Almost all plant foods contain protein.
Calcium is a mineral necessary for the growth of strong, healthy bones. A common perception among non-plant-based friends and family is that children raised on a plant-based diet are generally smaller and weaker.
In general, children who follow a plant-based diet may be smaller and tend to weigh less because the foods they eat are rich in nutrients and not high in calories or fat. This does not mean that they will have stunted growth, be weaker, or have
So without dairy, where can kids get calcium? Broccoli, kale, tofu, soy milk, almond milk, tahini, and beans are excellent sources of calcium.
According to Pediatric
Plant-Based Nutrition Quick Start Guide published by the Plantrician Project, a cup of tofu can satisfy
the daily calcium requirement of a preschool child.
Interestingly, the guide also notes that studies have not shown a strong link between how much calcium we take in and how strong our bones are. Children should build strong, healthy bones through daily play and physical activity, combined with sunlight to get adequate amounts of vitamin D, which helps calcium absorption.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids vital for brain development, maintaining heart health, kidney function, eye health, and skin health. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine explains that plant-based omega-3s come in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid.
Our bodies cannot synthesize it, so we must consume ALA through our diet. The body naturally converts ALA into longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is important for brain health, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Fish contains DHA and EPA. But that doesn’t mean those following plant-based diets are deficient in these longer-chain Omega-3s. So what should we feed our kids plant-based? Omega-3 fatty acids are available in a variety of plant foods including walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, edamame, kelp, and algae.
Consider a plant-based supplement
A common perception is that a
Plant-based diet can lead to deficiencies of vitamin B12 and iron. These nutrients are essential to prevent anemia and nervousness.
system damage. common beliefs
Can it only be found in animals?
and dairy products.
However, iron deficiency is common among children and adults, even among those following a non-plant-based diet due to malabsorption. Iron-rich foods should be combined with foods rich in vitamin C to improve absorption. This means that eating iron-rich foods with strawberries or citrus will increase the absorption of iron in our body.
Kids on a plant-based diet should include plenty of beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and nut butters, which are high in iron.
On the other hand, vitamin B12 exists in some plant-based foods, such as fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, fermented foods, and some fortified plant-based milks.
Supplementation with vitamins B12 may be necessary as most experts agree that this is the most reliable way to ensure adequate intake of vitamin B12. Get expert advice when considering plant-based supplements for the right amount and type of supplements. And seek consultations with doctors, pediatricians, nutritionists, and health coaches who support and practice plant-based eating.
Eating a whole, plant-based food with your family is rewarding, healthy, and easy. For most people, including me, making the personal switch
and moving the family to a plant-based diet can be overwhelming, especially at first. Transitioning and involving everyone, especially when it comes to older children, can be challenging. But knowing that children raised on a plant-based diet will set them up for a lifetime of good health makes it worthwhile.
1. Keep fruits and vegetables accessible
Keep washed and cut vegetables and fruits readily available for after meals or as snacks. Make food presentable and pleasing to the eye because our eyes eat first! I use healthy fats like nuts, hummus, plant-based creamers, nut butters, and even dark chocolate to add flavors to our food and as healthy treats.
2. Choose what works for your family
Your family may have chosen
choose plants for several reasons: for health and wellness, the environment, animal welfare, or a combination of these. It is helpful to talk with your children about the whys and hows. I find that watching documentaries and discussing the content together also helps.
3. Explore new foods together
Exploring new foods can be exciting for most children, but
some may be skeptical. Visit plant-based restaurants in your area and sample your favorite dishes made with plant-based ingredients. Also, try different cuisines available on the plant-based menu.
4. Involve children
Food preparation can be fun for children. Most of the time, children get excited and are willing to eat everything that they prepare themselves. This will also give them an opportunity to learn about the foods they eat and the nutrition on their plate.
Simply put, children raised on a plant-based diet naturally eat more fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds. These are foods associated with a lifetime of good health.
Last but not least, a plant-based diet allows children to practice compassion for animals, as well as maintain a healthy and sustainable planet for the next generation.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, adopting a plant-based diet can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food by at least 30%, wildlife loss by up to 46%, agriculture
land use by at least 41% and premature deaths by at least 20%. This is something we can do several times a day, simply through our food choices, to reduce our environmental impact.
adelyn Sink It’s with him
Malaysian Vegetarian Society. Comments: [email protected]