Should You Raise Your Baby Vegan?
Is raising your child vegan, vegetarian or pescetarian a valid and healthy option? Twenty years ago this would have been a total no-no. But as research around plant-based diets expand, more and more parents and doctors are embracing alternative diets for children.
As a holistic nutritionist, I have no problem with parents choosing a vegan diet. In fact, I am highly supportive of the trend and offer a recipe book and brief guide to plant-based foods for kids. A few considerations need to be taken into account but generally, children, especially breastfed children, thrive on plant-based nutrition. Fortified foods are recommended regardless of whether a child is eating a plant-based or meat-based diet and particular care must always be taken in ensuring appropriate levels of certain vitamins.
But what do doctors say? Dr. Stephanie Davenport is a paediatric resident at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. Based on her own knowledge of plant-based diets as well as being an advocate of animal rights, Dr. Davenport and her husband have chosen to raise their son pescetarian. After becoming pregnant she decided to research the health concerns around eating beef and chicken. She used her newfound knowledge and experience as a physician to make the decision to remove these foods from the entire family’s diet. Additionally, the environmental concerns and animal rights issues further convinced her that they have an obligation to limit their consumption of animal products.
Dr. Davenport provides her son with a diet that includes a wide variety of organic, natural and plant-based foods as well as a small amount of fish and occasional eggs. A typical day will include fortified rice cereal, fruit, vegetables, granola, whole grains, beans, soy milk and tofu products as well as protein-rich seeds like quinoa and amaranth. From a nutrition perspective, this is a readily diverse, highly nutritious and beneficial manner of eating.
Regardless of the type of diet being followed, nutrient deficiencies for infants should be on the top of parents lists of concerns. Vitamin B12 is often highlighted among health professionals as a potential deficiency in a vegetarian diet. Vitamin B12 is created by the formation of bacteria. Neither animals nor plants produce this vitamin but animals, who consume B12 bacteria-contaminated foods can provide it to the individuals who eat the animal. Alternatively, fortified soy and nutritional yeast can be included in a diet to offer individuals a more than adequate dose of the vitamin.
Vitamin D is equally necessary between plant and meat eaters and is especially important for infants. It is recommended that they consume 400 IU of vitamin D daily. This is, again the same for both meat eaters and vegetarian babies. Plant-based diets are not nearly as ineffective or challenging as commonly perceived.
Dr. Davenport recognizes this need and ensures that her son eats fortified foods and a daily D supplement but doesn’t find the plant-based diet cumbersome or particularly challenging.
“With the exception of Vitamin D, all minerals and vitamins are well attained through the gut...so as long as you are consistent about protein and B12 (which can be well attained through soy products) then you generally don't need to worry. The worry would be if you had a child that only wanted to eat pasta and bread as those are very nutrient-poor resources.”
With today’s new approach to food and nutrition, it is not surprising that family, friends and co-workers in the medical community have been entirely supportive of Dr. Davenport's approach to her child’s nutrition. And with ongoing guidance and education, she has no doubt that her son, Nate will make his own smart food choices later in life.
A Nutritionist’s Guide To A Healthy Plant-Based Diet
The following is a one-day sample of a well-balanced plant-based meal plan for an infant older than eight months. Infants should be breastfed for at least one year (this plan assumes that you will breastfeed as usual). Solid foods can be introduced in moderation after six months. Meals should have a variety of flavours and should include the spices and seasonings that you usually enjoy. Furthermore, offering multiple small meals is ideal for your little one’s tiny tummy and fast metabolism.
1/2 cup Rice Cereal mixed with 1/4 cup grated apple and fortified soy milk
1 egg, scrambled in coconut oil
Strips of whole grain toast with almond butter
Cucumber and hummus
Minced collard greens
Organic non-GMO tofu cubes
Ezekiel whole grain bread with tahini and avocado
fortified soy milk (or breast milk)
Quinoa with lentils or beans and cooked carrots, broccoli and sweet potato
Brown rice and beans veggie burger
Natural peanut butter and crackers