A Comprehensive Guide for Parents: Kid’s Nutrition on a Vegan Diet
There are several science-based health benefits of eliminating animal products from our diets, including weight loss, lower blood sugar levels, improved kidney function, a reduction in certain cancers, lower risk of heart disease, etc. While vegetarians don’t eat meat or fish, vegans choose to avoid all animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs. However, despite the proven benefits of transitioning to a vegan diet, there is still some worry that children who follow a vegan diet, lack the essential nutrients needed for healthy growth and vitality. This issue can be easily prevented by educating parents, teachers, and care givers on children’s dietary requirements, which will allow for careful planning of children’s meals to ensure proper nutrition. In fact, a child following a well-rounded vegan diet typically consumes more than sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals when consuming whole foods, due to the fact that they are ingesting more nutrients and fiber, and less saturated fat than children following the standard American diet.
Iron plays a significant role in producing red blood cells, which help to carry oxygen throughout the body, while zinc is needed for the body’s immune system to work properly. Individuals who eat animal products get their iron and zinc from red meat. Because these nutrients are especially important for children, those following a vegan diet must eat foods containing sufficient zinc- and iron-rich vegetable including legumes, spinach, asparagus, and grains, or zinc and iron supplements. To assist in the absorption of iron, foods rich in vitamin C should also be ingested.
- Good sources of iron include beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, oatmeal, broccoli, raisins, nuts, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, molasses, wheat, and tofu.
- Foods high in vitamin C such as pepper, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, oranges, strawberries, pineapple, grapefruit or orange will help to digest iron found in plant-based sources.
B12 is a supplement that all vegans need to take, as plant-based foods are generally devoid of it. This is due to the fact that humans are the only members of the animal kingdom who clean, wash, and cook their foods. For meat eaters, vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is naturally found in their food because animals typically eat foods that are covered in bacteria, which also already line their own guts. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a serious issue which can lead to anemia, nerve damage, neurocognitive changes, and possibly paralysis.
- Reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods which have been fortified with B12, which include some plant milks, soy products, and breakfast cereals, as well as B12 supplements.
- The US recommended intake is 2.4 micrograms a day for adults, 2.8 micrograms for nursing mothers, 1.2 micrograms for boys and girls between 4 and 8 years old, and 1.8 micrograms for age 9 to 13 years old.
Calcium is an essential mineral, which makes up approximately 2 percent of your total body weight and aids in several basic bodily functions, including supporting the skeletal structure, cell signaling, blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve function, as well as keeping teeth and bones strong and healthy. Calcium rich vegan foods include pinto beans, collard greens, dried figs, almonds, tempeh, mustard greens, navy beans, tofu, broccoli, edamame, bok choy, fortified non-dairy milk, almond butter, tahini, and kale. Many in the United States choose to drink cow’s milk to get their daily intake of calcium, however there are also several reasons to avoid it.
- Cow’s milk contains saturated fat, cholesterol, allergenic proteins, lactose sugar, and traces of contamination.
- Dair products (including milk) are the tops sources of artery-clogging saturated fat in the American diet.
- Milk consumption during childhood has been linked to colic and type 1 diabetes.
- It’s important for parents to check the calcium recommendations for their child as they vary with age.
- There are numerous factors which affect how much calcium we are able to absorb from the foods we eat.
- Soy milk, rice milk, and other plant milks should not be used to replace breast milk or commercial infant formula during the first year.
- Evidence suggests that antioxidant and phyto-nutrient rich foods can help to protect our bones.
- Protein also has a positive effect on bone health, so it’s important to incorporate legumes and protein-rich foods into your child’s diet.
- Adults require about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, though the exact amount depends on one’s age.
The human body requires vitamin D to effectively absorb calcium, and it helps to regulate our immune system and neuromuscular system. In fact, this nutrient is so important that our body produces it on its own after proper skin exposure to sunlight. For this reason, kids should get about 15 to 20 minutes a day outside for adequate levels. However, if your children are in school most of the day, aren’t able to get sunlight during the winter, or are located in parts of the country which don’t receive a lot of sunlight, mushrooms, fortified soy and almond milk, tofu, fortified orange juice, and plant-derived oral sprays or capsules will help to meet your children’s vitamin D requirements.
- Strictly vegan infants and children may require supplementation in the form of D2, a non-animal product, as opposed to animal-derived Vitamin D-3.
- Parents may also want to supplement with essential omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) since these foods are primarily found in seafood, and are important for brain health and the immune system.
- Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include algae, walnuts, hemp, and chia seeds.
- There are also omega-3 fatty acids in plant-based foods such as flaxseeds, Brussels sprouts, oatmeal, seaweed, and cauliflower.
- To maximize production of DHA and EPA include good sources of alpha-linolenic acid in your diet including flaxseed oil, canola oil, tofu, soybeans, and walnuts.
- You can obtain DHA directly from foods fortified with DHA from microalgae.
- Nursing mothers may require 200 mg of DHA daily, whereas children and teens may require up to 400 mg a day.
Protein is responsible for keeping your skin, bones, muscles, and organs healthy. It’s also one of the nutrients that many are concerned about when switching to a vegan diet, however a plant-based diet can offer plenty of protein from nuts, peanut butter, seeds, grains, and legumes. Non-animal vegan products, such as tofu and soymilk, also provide protein. Keeping these sources in mind, it’s important that vegans get enough “complete protein” in a meal, which means it contains all of the amino acids your body requires for bodily functions, like healthy metabolism.
- Plant-based eaters can get complete proteins by eating foods together, such as rice and beans or corn and beans.
- Children’s protein needs can be met while following a vegan diet by consuming adequate calories through a variety of plant foods.
- Food choices should focus on whole, minimally processed plant-based foods at every meal, as well as for snacks.
- Avoid filling up on highly processed, low-nutrient dense foods, including chips, crackers, cookies, and sweets.
All children (and adults) following a vegan or plant-based diet should be tracking macro and micro nutrients, especially at the beginning of their health transition, until it becomes clear what foods should be eaten and in what quantities for optimal health. Keep in mind that children have different nutritional requirements than adults, so these should be carefully monitored and meals properly planned to ensure health and vitality for vegan children.
- According to the American Society of Nutrition, a vegan diet has become increasingly more popular over the last decade.
- In 2009, the American Dietetic Association, which is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, released a paper explaining their position on vegetarian and vegan diets.
- Vegans can avoid nutritional deficiencies and issues when appropriate food choices are made.
- To determine whether your child is growing properly, follow their growth curve and look for steady growth that follows the general curve.
- When considering a vegan diet for you child, it’s recommended to consult with a registered dietician specializing in vegetarian nutrition to help guide you, to ensure that your child is meeting their nutritional needs.
- Kid-friendly vegan recipes can also be made gluten-free, oil-free and nut-free for any children with potential sensitivities or allergies.