Many people live vegetarian or vegan. Is such a diet also suitable for babies and toddlers? Are there any shortcomings or even developmental problems? How can all the necessary nutrients be delivered despite the absence of animal food? Nutritionists advise parents to get comprehensive information.
Why eat vegetarian or vegan?
There are many reasons for opting for the absence of meat or animal products in general. On the one hand, moral aspects such as messaging and animal transports are called, on the other hand, health concerns due to hormonal treatments and antibiotic use in farm animals. Others simply believe that humans do not need meat.
Adults can make such a decision for themselves, while babies and toddlers depend on what is given to them. Parents are therefore responsible for ensuring that their children receive the necessary nutrients for a healthy development despite a meatless diet.
The “Research Institute for Child Nutrition,” while referring to a meatless diet as opposed to a balanced diet, does not provide any major risks, provided that parents are aware that there are no shortages.
It starts in the mother’s womb
Pregnant women need to provide themselves as well as their children. If animal products are dispensed with, other high-quality sources of nutrients are particularly important to cover all their needs.
In the case of vegetarians who do not eat meat at all, the iron intake is important during pregnancy. The unborn child builds up his iron storage, which is why pregnant women need more than usual. If fish, eggs, and dairy products are also dispensed with, the supply of iodine, zinc and vitamin B12 must be ensured in addition to iron.
This can happen via a rich vegetable diet. If necessary, supplements should be taken after consultation with the doctor. The same applies to nursing mothers.
In the first months of life, your baby needs a large portion of its iron supply, since the mother’s milk is barely released. With the complementary feeding is, therefore, all the more important to feed it again. The supply of other important nutrients must now also take place directly via the child’s food instead of indirectly via the mother’s milk or substitute milk.
Experts advise against a complete renouncement of animal products since these cover the needs optimally. Thus, fish and cow’s milk are rich in vitamin B12, cow’s milk as well as zinc. Iron, on the other hand, can be fed over whole-grain products and pod fruits to replace the fleshy source.
In addition to the nutrients mentioned, vitamin B2, vitamin D, calcium and protein as well as omega-3 and 6-fatty acids are particularly important for a healthy growth of the child and must be obtained from flesh-free sources.
If you want to feed your child vegetarian or vegan from the outset, it is strongly recommended to consult a pediatrician and, if necessary, a nutrition consultant. Through regular examinations and a selected diet, you can prevent deficiencies and hence disturbances of the population. Administering nutrient supplements may be necessary.
Vegetarian and vegan diet of children
The “Children’s Health Foundation” does not advise parents who want to feed their children vegetarian or vegan before the sixth month of baby food. Whole grain cereals and millet are recommended as meat replacements and iron sources; spinach, fennel, and zucchini are also considered as ferrous. A mash could be composed of corresponding vegetables, cereals or millet and potatoes.
However, iron from plant sources can only be used less efficiently, vitamin C to. To meet this demand, freshly squeezed orange juice, apples and peppers are considered ideal. Unsaturated fatty acids are obtained from cold-pressed oil, for example, rapeseed oil. This can be mixed with orange juice under the mash.
If you do not dispense with dairy products, you should not use milk to make the slurry, despite the vitamin B12 content, which reduces the bioavailability of herbal iron.
Vitamin B12 is, however, very important for your child. It supports the construction of the nervous system and the cell division. It is responsible for the overall physical and mental development in the interaction with trace elements and protein. A longer-lasting deficiency can lead to delays in growth as well as motor impairments and speech disorders. Since there are hardly any plant sources for vitamin B12, a supplementary intake is often unavoidable in vegan-fed children.
The use of soy products as a protein supplier is not recommended in children due to the trypsin inhibitors. They inhibit the digestion enzyme trypsin, which makes the proteins contained less useful. A suitable alternative is hemp protein.
Other good protein suppliers are, among others, pod fruits, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and linseed. From this you can make muesli, hemp protein is also suitable for the enrichment of the bread.
In children under one year, cereals should be treated in flake form or otherwise processed, as problems with digestion may occur.
Vegetarians and vegans also like to supplement their meals with algae like Spirulina or Chlorella. These are rich in numerous important nutrients and have the reputation as natural antioxidants to support the immune system and thus the defenses. Also, a detoxifying effect is said to them, from which the intestinal flora profit.
However, a balanced diet is the best way for your baby to develop healthy Darmbacteria: If the intestinal flora is disturbed, it affects the usability of any nutrients. In the case of permanent abandonment of any animal products, it can, therefore, be used to supply prebiotics and probiotics through supplementary preparations.
The vegetarian or vegan diet of babies and infants is possible, but requires the utmost care to replace the nutrients contained in animal feeders, in particular:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin D
- unsaturated fatty acids
- Especially in the case of a vegetarian or vegan diet it is important to breastfeed the baby as long as possible in order to supply it with sufficient nutrients
- Good iron suppliers are the cereal varieties Amaranth and Quinoa and thus recommended for a vegan diet of the baby