Plan­ning vege­tar­ian di­ets for chil­dren

The Sun (Malaysia) - - FAMILY TIES -

THERE is an in­creas­ing dis­cus­sions about the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of par­ents im­pos­ing veg­e­tar­i­an­ism, ve­g­an­ism or pescatar­i­an­ism on chil­dren.

Some view th­ese di­ets as re­stric­tive and query whether the re­moval of meat or even all an­i­mal prod­ucts from a child’s diet is healthy given their ex­tra di­etary needs for growth and de­vel­op­ment. But what does re­search say? Foods de­rived from an­i­mals are rich in pro­tein, fatty acids, iron, zinc, io­dine, cal­cium and vi­ta­mins D and B12. But re­search shows that chil­dren who are raised as veg­e­tar­i­ans grow and de­velop at the same rate as meat-eaters.

They re­ceive mostly the same amount of pro­tein, en­ergy and other key nu­tri­ents that chil­dren need.

In fact, vege­tar­ian di­ets that are rich in fruit and veg­eta­bles, grains, legumes (such as pulses, beans and canned soy­beans and lentils), seeds and nuts are pro­tec­tive.

They pro­vide health ben­e­fits for the pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of cer­tain dis­eases, par­tic­u­larly chronic dis­ease.

Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Di­etetic As­so­ci­a­tion: “Well-planned vege­tar­ian di­ets are ap­pro­pri­ate for in­di­vid­u­als dur­ing all stages of the life cy­cle, in­clud­ing preg­nancy, lac­ta­tion, in­fancy, child­hood and ado­les­cence, and for ath­letes.”

The caveat, how­ever, is that the di­ets need to be well planned.

Veg­e­tar­i­an­ism refers to the ab­sence of eat­ing meat (in­clud­ing fowl and seafood) or prod­ucts con­tain­ing th­ese foods.

Dif­fer­ent types ex­ist. Lacto-ovo veg­e­tar­i­an­ism in­cludes dairy foods and eggs, whereas ovoveg­e­tar­i­an­ism only in­cludes eggs.

Ve­g­an­ism or to­tal veg­e­tar­i­an­ism avoids all an­i­mal flesh plus any prod­ucts from an­i­mals such as eggs and dairy prod­ucts. In con­trast, pescatar­i­an­ism in­cludes fish.

Even within th­ese vari­a­tions, the ex­tent to which an­i­mal sources are avoided varies.

Many chil­dren are born into fam­i­lies that are vege­tar­ian for cul­tural, re­li­gious, health, eth­i­cal or eco­nomic rea­sons. In high-in­come coun­tries, eth­i­cal rea­sons are more com­mon – and the trend for veg­e­tar­i­an­ism is in­creas­ing.

Re­search shows that be­ing vege­tar­ian as a child does not con­trib­ute to dis­or­dered eat­ing.

And ado­les­cent veg­e­tar­i­ans tend to have a health­ier weight and health­ier at­ti­tude to­wards eat­ing than their om­ni­vore coun­ter­parts.

Chil­dren’s di­etary needs can be met by re­plac­ing meat with legumes (such as canned soy­beans or lentils) in casseroles, cur­ries, stir-fries and bolog­naise sauces, thereby pro­vid­ing much-needed en­ergy, pro­tein, iron and zinc.

Whole grains, seeds and nuts will pro­vide pro­tein, es­sen­tial fatty acids, zinc and B-group vi­ta­mins. They will also pro­vide pro­tein, es­sen­tial fatty acids, zinc and B-group vi­ta­mins.

Us­ing spreads such as hum­mus, peanut paste and nut-spreads in chil­dren’s lunches and snacks will help.

En­sur­ing chil­dren have daily serves of dairy foods will pro­vide pro­tein, cal­cium, B12 and other B vi­ta­mins.

Di­etary swaps for iron and Bvi­ta­min for­ti­fied break­fast ce­re­als and bread also make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence.

Adding fruit or veg­eta­bles rich in vi­ta­min C to a meal or snack will in­crease the ab­sorp­tion of non-heme iron. Iron in food comes in two forms, heme and non-heme. Plants have only non-heme iron, which is not as well-ab­sorbed.

It is not nec­es­sary to en­sure that we match dif­fer­ent pro­tein plant sources to make a ‘com­plete’ pro­tein as long as we eat a wide range of sources over the day.

Ve­g­an­ism is much more chal­leng­ing, par­tic­u­larly for meet­ing B12, io­dine, cal­cium and vi­ta­min D needs. For­ti­fied soy prod­ucts such as soy milk can help meet cal­cium needs.

But ve­gan chil­dren need to take a reg­u­lar B12 source and have their diet re­viewed by an ac­cred­ited prac­tis­ing di­eti­tian.

The take-home mes­sage is that with care­ful di­etary plan­ning, it is very pos­si­ble for chil­dren to be vege­tar­ian and healthy.

In fact, veg­e­tar­i­ans en­joy more health ben­e­fits com­pared to meateaters. – The In­de­pen­dent

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