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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is it safe to raise children as vegetarians?

    I have been vegetarian for several years and I would like to consider raising my toddler who is 18 months as a vegetarian. Is this safe for his development?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 1

    Thanks

    The Australian Vegetarian Society's aim is to increase the number of vegetarians in Australia in order to stop cruelty to animals, benefit human health, protect … View Profile

    A vegetarian diet provides more than ample nutrition for children and may actually help protect them from some illnesses - including those caused by pesticides and contaminants in foods. Vegetables and grains are lower on the food chain and so contain far fewer pesticides and contaminants. Parents should make sure that children eat enough calories (from unrefined
    whole foods, not junk foods).

    Children have small stomachs so it is wise to include judicious use of some fats (avocados nuts, seeds, and nut and seed butters) and dried fruits to add calories to their diets. All vegetarians, including children, should eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. However, it is a good policy to consult a professional nutritionist experienced with vegetarian diets if you are unsure (a list is available from the Australian Vegetarian Society website).

  • Greg McFarlane

    HealthShare Member

    One extremely important thing missing from this discussion is the need for vegans to take vitamin B12 supplements to maintain their health.  This has long been advocated by the Vegan Society (UK).  Please see What every vegan should know about B12.  In Australia not many foods are fortified with B12, so supplementing with vegan B12 is the only reliable way to be safe from deficiency.

  • 1

    Agree

    Mel Haynes

    Nutritionist

    Chef, Scientist and Nutritionist. I specialise culinary nutrition and disease prevention with plant based diets. www.culinetica.com.au View Profile

    Hi,

    I think vegetarian diets are perfectly safe and healthy for toddlers and children - providing you seek assistance to plan their meals to ensure they are nutritionally adequate.  Some common deficiencies experienced by vegetarian children include:

    1. Iron - Non-heam (iron that is present in non-meat sources) is much less “bioavailable” meaning useful to the body than haem-iron.  Also many non-vegetarian toddlers become iron deficient so ensure a good fortified cereal is added to their diet.

    2. Vitamin D.  Lack of vitamin D can cause Ricketts disease and occasionally occurs in vegetarian children.

    3. B12 - Common deficiency in vegans but usually ok for vegetarian  Causes a nasty type of anaemia called pernicious anaemia.

    4. Inadequate Omega 3 EPA & DHA which is good for brain development.

    Vegetarian diets have been shown to be healthy alternatives for all ages and linked with reduced risk for heart disease, diabetes and some cancers - something we all want for our children.

    Good luck and Happy Cooking

  • Arlene is a registered practising dietitian, with a private practice in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, and has built a strong business over the last … View Profile

    In some cases, parents who are already vegetarian decide to raise their kids the same way. Other parents start thinking more about heath and diet once they have children and cut out meat later on.Whatever the motivation, research shows that vegetarian kids and teens take in less cholesterol, saturated fat and total fat and eat more fruits, vegetables and fiber.At the same time, there are some things that parents of vegetarian kids should keep in mind to be sure their kids get the nutrition they need.Vegetarianism can be conducive to a healthy lifestyle, but you have to balance out what you omit.Iron is the most common nutrient deficient in vegetarians, and especially in vegans, who don't eat any animal products. That's because iron-rich plants contain a type of iron that's harder for the body to absorb than the iron found in animal products.If the child's pediatrician isn't aware that the child is a vegetarian, the doctor may not know to test for iron deficiency. Iron deficiency may not become apparent until the child is older,and at that point, the child may actually have irreversible cognitive defects.The more restricted the diet, the more difficult it is for vegetarian children to get all of the nutrients they need. Lacto-ovo vegetarians — those who won't eat meat, fish and poultry but will eat dairy and eggs — are at the least risk for undernutrition.Vegan children, a small but growing group, are another story. Vitamin B-12 is found naturally only in animal products, and vegans may also be at risk for insufficient intake of vitamin D, calcium, zinc and riboflavin.

  • Christina Turner

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Christina is the Owner of SOL north coast nutrition - a nutrition and dietary service with clinics across the north coast of NSW.Christina's interest in … View Profile

    I think a Vegetarian diet is safe for toddlers, children and adults.

    The key, like others have indicated above, is planning and organisation.


  • Peter has a Bachelor's degree in Science and two Masters degrees (Science and Nutrition/Dietetics). He is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist and also a … View Profile

    There's no reason why a child can't have a vegetarian lifestyle as long as they’re getting an adequate intake of protein, calcium, B-group vitamins, iron, omega-3's and folate. As long as you get a wide variety of foods that contain all those vitamins and minerals, then there's no reason why they can't. Howver, it could be challengign to achive that nd the advice of a dietitian or doctor may be required.

  • Samantha Ling

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Samantha is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD), consultant and food and nutrition enthusiast. Samantha works in a private practice on the Central Coast, NSW, Rostant … View Profile

    It is perfectly safe to raise children as vegetarians. However, like all children no matter what diet they follow, it is important to ensure they consume a balanced, nutritious diet that covers the 5 core food groups. As a vegetarian you are at a higher risk of iron, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and zinc deficiency so it's VERY important to ensure a balanced diet (that is, ensure the food groups missed are replaced with a substitute).

    Vegans/total Vegetarians (no meat, fish, poultry, eggs or dairy products) are at the greatest risk. Lactovegetarians (still consume dairy products) and Lacto-ovovegetarians (still consume eggs and dairy) are at a reduced risk.

    Scientific evidence on vegetarian diets is growing and suggesting that those who follow a vegetarian are less likey to be overweight, develop diabetes and other chronic conditions due to their high intake of fruit and vegetables.

    As a general guideline, try to ensure your young one consumes all 5 of the following food groups depending on his/her vegetarian diet:

    1. Wholegrain breads/cereals/rice/pasta
    2. Vegetables
    3. Fruit
    4. Dairy Products/Dairy Alternatives:

        - Dairy alternatives may include 1 cup of almonds, 1 cup of vitamin D & calcium fortified soymilk or rice milk, 200g soy yoghurt, 1/2 cup brocolli/bok choy/kale/chinese cabbage
        - Dairy products may include 1 cup milk, 200g yoghurt, 2 slices of cheese etc
    5. Meat Alternatives:
        - Meat alternatives may include Quorn (exclusive to Coles), Soy Products like Tofu/Soy Mince etc, 3/4 cup Legumes (baked beans, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans), 1/2 cup nuts.
        - Alternatively, 2 eggs.

    Talking to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) may assist you with balancing your child's diet.

    Samantha Ling
    Rostant Nutrition
    (Find us on facebook at www.facebook.com/RostantNutrition )

  • Lucy Johnston

    Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist, Personal Trainer

    Owner ,Operator of Pro Health Studio, Exercise Physiology Clinic, Byron Bay. We service clients with chronic diseases, chronic injuries and weight issues right through to … View Profile

    Well, they've shown that the vegetarian studies, the Seventh Day Adventist Vegetarian Study showed that there's a longer life expectancy for vegetarians. However, the Seventh Day Adventist study uses Seventh Day Adventists and they also don't drink and don't smoke and are less sedentary. So there are all the other factors in that study that aren't necessarily related to just a vegetarian diet.

    So, if someone is going to raise children as vegetarians, they need to take into account that generally vegetarian sources of protein, (which are your cell builders and repairers), aren't complete in their amino acid chains by themselves. So, for instance, someone that's eating beans as their protein source needs to make sure that they're combining those beans in the meal or close to that meal with something such as rice, which has the matching amino acids that the beans have missing. Allowing a complete protein chain in the body.

    I'm not a dietician. I'm a nutritionist/ Ex. Physiologist. But I would probably make sure that the child isn't susceptible to low iron and things like that, and constantly being checked for being a healthy weight and healthy energy levels before putting them on a complete vegetarian diet. I'd still try and give them fish, at least, and have their iron checked really regularly. Make sure that their food is combining properly.

    I think that's the biggest problem is vegetarian diets that people aren't educated on how to food combine to safely be a vegetarian. But there's good research to show that they're healthy if they do it properly.

  • Chris Fonda

    Dietitian, Nutritionist, Sports Dietitian

    As an Accredited Sports Dietitian, APD and athlete (springboard diver), Chris has both professional and personal experience in sport at the sub-elite and elite level.Chris … View Profile

    Hi Lucy, there is new evidence out there now that shows that there is no need to combine plant sources of protein in a single meal to get the complete amino acid profile. As long as the vegetarian consumer is getting a wide variety of different plant sources of protein throughout the day they should meet their requirements (https://www.mja.com.au/open/2012/1/2/protein-and-vegetarian-diets). 

    It is of course VERY important that those who wish to go vegetarian or want to raise their children as vegetarians be educated by an expert in nutrition such as an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). 

  • Sharon Brooks

    Nutritionist

    Sharon, a Registered Nutritionist RNutr and Food Scientist runs a nutrition consulting business that specialises in proactive nutrition and disease prevention.Sharon runs corporate, school and … View Profile

    Yes, it is perfectly safe. The only consideration is that food combinations become quite important. Meat and animal products such as fish, eggs, and cheese are rich in very important nutrients. With smart meal planning, it is perfectly possible to have a healthy child who is a vegetarian. Combining things like beans and legumes with whole grains would be beneficial because then you are getting complete proteins. Adding foods like tofu, fortified cereals, seeds, and nuts will also enable iron and zinc to be part of the diet. Vitamin B12 is quite rich in animal sources, so fortified cereal is a good option to look for also a broad range of vegetables, such as Asian greens, broccoli, and kale to compensate for the dairy products. Also soy beans, sesame seeds, and tahini for the beneficial fats, if fish is being avoided also.

  • John Toomey

    Exercise Physiologist

    I have a fairly unique set of skills in Wellness, Preventative Health, Longevity and Life Education, having authored Australia's first Wellness Leadership Course in 2001.  … View Profile

    This is a question taht is pondered by many parents. The simple answer is YES. There are only a couple of things to remember. First, kids will eat instinctively and have natural cravings for what they need. As long as you provide plenty of variety, your child will be fine. second, it is crucial taht you provide a variety of naturally whole foods. Processed and refined foods lack nutrients and often carry unwanted additives. This includes foods with a higher energy concentration like nuts, seeds and avocadoes. It is really helpful to add some fermented foods daily too. JTx

  • Elizabeth Newsham-West is committed to optimising the health and well-being of people across all ages within the Mount Tamborine community.  She works as a domicillary … View Profile

    A vegetarian diet can be safe for the development of your 18 month child. However I would encourage you to become familiar with the nutrients that are important for your child's normal growth and development at each of their growing stage and ensure they are adequate in your child's diet depending on the type of vegetarianism which you choose to follow. Nutritional needs change  with age.

    A vegetarian diet does not necessarily mean it is a healthy diet as in my experience food groups are often eliminated and replaced with processed alternatives and a wide variety of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals nuts and seeds are not always included as regularly as required to meet nutritional needs. It requires planning and knowledge of nutritional needs at each life stage. I mention just a few.

    For your child adequate energy is the most important. A vegetarian diet can be more bulky and your child can become fill before enough energy is eaten. So I would encourage you to track your child's weight and height on the growth charts you will be already familiar with. If these are continuing on the right percentiles this indicates your child is getting the right amount of energy.

    Iron deficiency anaemia is common in all infants including those who are not vegetarian. Animal foods have the better absorbed forms of iron than  the iron found in plant foods. This does not mean that you cannot get adequate dietary iron from plant foods but need to ensure the diet is adequate and have blood tests to ensure your child has iron sufficiency.

    Pernicious anaemia which is related to Vitamin B12 deficiency (not iron) is possibly more of a challenge if all animal foods are eliminated. Very often this deficiency does not show up until 7-10 years later.

    Calcium during the growing stage is very important while skeletal maturation is occurring. This can be more of a challenge if dairy products are eliminated however milk alternatives chosen should be fortified with calcium. Our best sources of vitamin D also important for bone growth comes from the sun not our food although some foods can be fortified with Vitamin D.

    There are some great recipes and a wonderful variety of foods to include in a vegetarian diet enabling it to be a healthy well balanced eating plan. But like all other healthy eating choices it requires planning organisation, knowledge of nutritional needs and cooking.

  • Jane O'Shea

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    I am an Accredited Nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian. I am also a licensee for the “Am I Hungry?” Mindful Eating Program, “Am I Hungry” … View Profile

    Yes, a vegetarian diet is perfectly safe for children as long as it supplies the child with sufficient nutrition for healthy development. 

    Every one is different, with different needs so the best advice I can give is to seek professional help from an Accredited Practising Dietitian if you are unsure of what constitutes a healthy diet at each stage of growth.

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