Monday, February 10, 2014

Vegetarian and Vegan Diet – Is it Good for Children?

Vegetarian diet (based on avoiding meat) has long been fashionable among many people in the world, and veganism (avoiding any kind of animal product, including dairy products) enjoys a quick growth rate in recent years. Parents who support either way of life sometimes aspire to bring up their children in the same fashion, and both vegetarian diet and veganism often become trendy among teenagers. Questions regarding the nutritional implications for vegetarian and vegan children often come up, and this article attempts to address some of them.

Infants' first diet is based on either breast-milk or formula, which supplies them with important nutritional ingredients such as protein. If a child is breast-fed by a vegan mother, the mother is advised to make sure that the child gets enough vitamin B-12, which is found mainly in milk and eggs.  Vitamin B-12 is extremely important for the child's brain development, and while breast-feeding a child does not necessarily mean that the mother needs to abandon her vegan diet, close monitoring by a doctor is important. This is also true for infants fed with formula, including vegan soy formula.

As children grow up, bringing them up on a vegetarian or vegan diet continues to be a challenge. Vegetarian diet has its benefits for children, since it consists largely of fruits and vegetables that many children do not consume enough. A restrictive vegetarian or vegan diet, however, can lack important nutritional elements that contribute to the child's development such as vitamin D, Calcium, Iron and B-12.
Even if parents are concerned about their children's decision to go on a vegetarian or vegan diet, they should bear in mind that while this decision may be motivated by a popular trend, it still shows self-awareness on behalf of the child for his/her health and environment and that this is definitely worth appreciation and acknowledgement by the parent. Parents should explain to their children the implication of such a diet, and insist that such a diet should be accompanied by periodical visits to a professional nutrition expert or doctor that may advise modification to the diet or supplementation.
Parents who are vegetarian or vegan themselves should make such visits a part of their own routine – nothing encourages desired behavior like a personal example.
There are many sources for vegetarian and vegan recipes for children and adults alike, and if a child does decide to go on either diet, it is a great opportunity to teach him or her about the benefits of home-cooking as opposed to eating outside!
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