Vegetarian Diets in Children
Types of Vegetarianism
Vegetarian - avoidance of meat and meat products
Lacto-ovo vegetarian - avoidance of meat, fish, and poultry
Vegan vegetarian - avoidance of all animal products
Children on well-planned vegetarian diets show normal growth and development. When the total calorie intake is restricted, growth may be impaired. Vegan diets may not have the same amount of calories per weight of food, therefore extra high-calorie vegan foods may need to be eaten (i.e., oils, nuts, and juices).
The protein intake of vegetarian children is typically adequate. Eating a variety of vegetables ensures that all the appropriate amino acids are available in the diet. The total amount of calories in the diet should be high enough to ensure that protein is not metabolized for energy.
Fat intake in vegetarian children is typically adequate. The key is to verify adequate intake of foods containing the essential fatty acids (i.e., linoleic acid, linolenic acid). Linoleic acid is found in seeds, nuts and grains. Linolenic acid is found in green leafy vegetables, flax seeds, canola oil, walnuts, hazelnuts and soy.
Vitamin B12 is found in foods of animal origin only. Vegetarians have an increased risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency (i.e., anemia, inflammation of nerves). True vegans are especially at risk for B12 deficiency unless they consume vitamin supplements or B12-fortified foods.
Vegans may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency, especially those with limited sunlight exposure (sunlight helps the body produce this vitamin).
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in vegetarian children. Excluding iron-containing foods such as meat, poultry and fish increases the risk of developing iron deficiency (which causes anemia). Plant foods contain iron but it is typically not as well absorbed. Iron supplementation is often needed, especially in menstruating or pregnant female adolescents.
Milk provides the majority of the required calcium for infants and children. Pure vegans who avoid milk products may need supplementation of calcium to achieve appropriate bone mass.
Caregivers of vegetarian children should discuss dietary issues with a doctor or nutritian specialist to prevent avoidable dietary causes of developmental or growth delay.
Last Updated (Friday, 26 June 2009 02:16)