Dr. Natalie San­ti­ago

Raise Vegan - - Contents - @theve­ganpe­di­a­tri­cian

We Talk With the Chicago- Based Ve­gan Pe­di­a­tri­cian

This month we had the op­por­tu­nity to sit down with Dr. Natalie San­ti­ago, a ve­gan pe­di­a­tri­cian in Chicago, IL ( USA) and talk about what it means to be ve­gan in the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion, how to ap­proach the topic of a ve­gan life­style with your doc­tor, and how to safely nav­i­gate rais­ing a ve­gan child.

While the ma­jor­ity of physi­cians are firm be­liev­ers in the Stan­dard Amer­i­can Diet ( SAD), there are plenty of doc­tors who sup­port a ve­gan diet. “I am find­ing more physi­cians who see the health ben­e­fits of ve­gan or plant- based di­ets,” said San­ti­ago. “[ they] are not only adopt­ing the diet for them­selves and their fam­i­lies, but also en­cour­ag­ing their pa­tients to do so as well.”

Many par­ents are afraid to broach the topic of ve­g­an­ism with their pe­di­a­tri­cians for fear they will dis­ap­prove of rais­ing a child on a ve­gan diet. San­ti­ago as­sured us that the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics ( AAP) has stated that a well- bal­anced veg­e­tar­ian or ve­gan diet can be healthy for chil­dren. She en­cour­ages par­ents to track their child’s food in­take for two or three days so they have a solid rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what their child is eat­ing. “Take pho­tos of the meals and track the meals with a free on­line meal tracker that tracks calo­ries and macronu­tri­ents as well as mi­cronu­tri­ents,” said San­ti­ago. “This may seem like a lot of work to do, but some­times it takes con­crete ev­i­dence to change views.” Bring your child’s food log to their next ap­point­ment as proof they have a well- bal­anced diet and are get­ting the nu­tri­ents they need.

Thank­fully, the med­i­cal field is chang­ing and be­com­ing more ed­u­cated on ve­g­an­ism, but it’s a slow process. San­ti­ago be­lieves that we, as par­ents, can help this process along.

It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that physi­cians are just like ev­ery­one else. “We have all been bom­barded by decades of so­phis­ti­cated ad­ver­tis­ing that sug­gest that only an­i­mal prod­ucts [ pro­vide] suf­fi­cient amounts of pro­tein and that, with­out it, we’re not re­ceiv­ing op­ti­mal nu­tri­tion,” said San­ti­ago. The ed­u­ca­tion doc­tors re­ceive in un­der­grad­u­ate and med­i­cal school teaches them about macronu­tri­ents in bio­chem­istry and cell bi­ol­ogy, but there is not much for­mal in­struc­tion on nu­tri­tion alone.

As ve­g­ans, we are con­stantly be­ing warned about the im­por­tance of vi­ta­min B12 and it is not some­thing to take lightly. Vi­ta­min B12 ( Cobal­amin) is nec­es­sary for many things, in­clud­ing red blood cell pro­duc­tion. “With­out it, a per­son can de­velop large, poorly func­tion­ing red blood cells, gas­troin­testi­nal dis­tur­bances, ner­vous sys­tem dis­tur­bances, and fail­ure to thrive in ba­bies, just to name a few,” warns San­ti­ago. Fail­ure to thrive re­sults in poor weight gain, devel­op­men­tal de­lays, and in­suf­fi­cient over­all growth. Keep in mind that there are many causes of fail­ure to thrive and vi­ta­min B12 de­fi­ciency is but one cause. Dur­ing preg­nancy, if the mother is de­fi­cient in vi­ta­min B12 and folic acid ( vi­ta­min B9), the baby has a greater risk of de­vel­op­ing neu­ral tube de­fects. “Neu­ral tube de­fects are ab­nor­mal­i­ties of the neu­ral tube, which forms the brain, spinal col­umn and spinal cord,” said San­ti­ago. “It is im­por­tant that women of child­bear­ing age make sure that they are not de­fi­cient in these vi­ta­mins.” Neu­ral tube de­fects oc­cur very early in preg­nancy, usu­ally be­fore a woman even knows she is preg­nant.

Vi­ta­min B12 and folic acid are just as im­por­tant af­ter preg­nancy for both mom and baby. The AAP rec­om­mends that mothers who can, and want to, should breast­feed ex­clu­sively un­til the baby is six months of age and to con­tinue breast­feed­ing un­til 12 months of age. “Mothers who are breast­feed­ing may be ad­vised to con­tinue tak­ing their pre­na­tal vi­ta­mins, which con­tain these and other vi­ta­mins,” said San­ti­ago. “[ It is also ad­vised] to sup­ple­ment their di­ets with foods rich in these vi­ta­mins, such as leafy greens, for­ti­fied ce­re­als, and nu­tri­tional yeast. This can help them to pass along some of the vi­ta­mins to their ba­bies.” Some pe­di­a­tri­cians ad­vise mothers who are solely breast­feed­ing to give their ba­bies a B12 sup­ple­ment, as not all of the mother’s in­take of vi­ta­mins crosses over into their milk.

“As chil­dren grow and be­gin eat­ing pureed veg­gies and fruits, and later ta­ble foods, it’s im­por­tant to choose the most nu­tri­ent- dense, vi­ta­min- for­ti­fied foods so that chil­dren do not be­come de­fi­cient in these and other vi­ta­mins.”

An­other es­sen­tial vi­ta­min to in­clude in any ve­gan diet is vi­ta­min D. “I oc­ca­sion­ally take vi­ta­min D,” said San­ti­ago, “Liv­ing in Chicago, where I don’t get great sun ex­po­sure on a daily ba­sis, and hav­ing brown skin, I’m more at risk of be­ing de­fi­cient.”

Dr. San­ti­ago has known for a long time that ve­g­an­ism is the fu­ture. “My mom tells peo­ple that I was ve­gan from birth,” joked San­ti­ago. “I was lac­tose in­tol­er­ant and I shunned meat as a young child. I asked my mom once where meat came from, I don’t re­mem­ber her an­swer, I know it was age- ap­pro­pri­ate, but I was hor­ri­fied.” Even though she oc­ca­sion­ally ate meat through­out her child­hood, by her teenage years, she found her path and was done con­sum­ing an­i­mals. She has never looked back. “I was the only one of my friends [ who was ve­gan], and I did get some mild rib­bing,” re­called San­ti­ago. “In­ter­est­ingly enough, one of those friends has been ve­gan now for some years and is a natur­opath who teaches her clients about the health ben­e­fits of ve­g­an­ism!” San­ti­ago started her jour­ney to ve­g­an­ism by way of a veg­e­tar­ian diet. Dairy was the last hold out.

“I read an ar­ti­cle some years ago about the hor­rors of the dairy in­dus­try,” said San­ti­ago. “I al­ready knew this. I’d known it for years. Dairy is bi­o­log­i­cally ad­dic­tive to keep calves nurs­ing un­til they are ready to be weaned, and hu­mans who eat dairy be­come ad­dicted as well.” Even though she was con­sum­ing very lit­tle dairy by that point, she felt ashamed of it and, af­ter read­ing that ar­ti­cle, she was done.

San­ti­ago re­minds us that there are no per­fect ve­g­ans. “I am sure that when I walk down the street I ac­ci­den­tally step on an ant from time to time. How­ever, each day I do my best to cause as lit­tle dam­age to the world as I can, and not to ben­e­fit from an­i­mal cru­elty,” said San­ti­ago. “I have never once re­gret­ted be­com­ing ve­gan. I am for­tu­nate that I do have a choice, and I have made the choice that aligns best with my spirit and con­science. I en­cour­age oth­ers who are con­cerned about their health, an­i­mal wel­fare, world hunger, en­vi­ron­men­tal health and peace to look into ve­g­an­ism and how it can help with all of those. For those ready to make the change, wel­come to the rev­o­lu­tion.”

Dr. Natalie San­ti­ago, MD, FAAP is a Board Cer­ti­fied Pe­di­a­tri­cian based in Chicago, IL. She grad­u­ated from Creighton Univer­sity School of Medicine in 2004 and has been a prac­tic­ing pe­di­a­tri­cian ever since.

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