Veganism is becoming more and more popular. However, what happens if you want your child to eat a vegan diet? How safe is that?
Although there are a few things you should be aware of and safety measures you should take, there is actually no reason why you shouldn’t raise your child as a vegan.
Table of Contents
What is a vegan diet?
If someone only consumes plant-based foods, they are typically referred to as vegans. Vegans abstain from consuming any foods or ingredients that originate from the slaughter of animals or from agricultural techniques that cause needless suffering or death. This includes meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs. Honey, meals containing gelatin or animal fats, and additives derived from animals are all included in this.
The first Six Months
Families that decide to breastfeed their infant, if they are able to, will frequently choose to raise their child on a vegan diet. There are currently no infant formulas available in the UK that are suitable for vegan babies. Even if they do not contain any ingredients derived from animals (for example, soya or hydrolysed vegetable protein), the vitamin D that is added will have come from lanolin found in sheep’s wool. Infants under six months of age shouldn’t be fed soy-based formula unless it is done so under medical supervision.
Prior to weaning, the National Health Service advises breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life. This is so that babies can fight off stomach bugs, colds, chest and ear infections, and diarrhoea thanks to the natural germ-killing antibodies present in breast milk.
The second six months
Babies are often developmentally ready for solid meals to supplement their milk feeds by six months of age. Breast milk or formula milk should continue to be the primary milk source during the first year. Soya milk, nut milks, oat milk, and coconut milk can all be used in cooking (to soften mashed potatoes or prepare sauces, for example), but not as a baby’s primary milk source.
It’s crucial to avoid giving rice milk to children under five because it has been found to have quantities of arsenic and would go over their daily intake limit.
Foods to offer from Six Months
If you intend to feed your newborn or young child a vegan diet, you must ensure that they consume a range of foods to give them the nutrients and energy they require for growth. Ask your health visitor what vitamin supplements are advised for the first year of life. We advise all breast-fed infants to start receiving supplements of vitamins A, C, and D at six months of age, but vegan infants may also benefit from iodine and vitamin B12 supplements.
Vegetables, potatoes, cereal foods (such polenta, porridge, pearl barley, quinoa, and millet), pulses, tofu, ground nuts, seeds, and fruits should be the first foods offered to vegan infants.
Protein is required for growth, for the upkeep and repair of body tissues, as well as for the production of enzymes that regulate several bodily processes. Vegan newborns require a wide variety of protein-rich diets, including cereals and grains, as well as foods like peas, beans, lentils, soy beans, tofu, and soy yoghurt. Because they can be readily mashed and give a range of tastes and textures, pulses make excellent first foods.
Other important nutrients to consider
Numerous bodily processes require the mineral iron, therefore it’s critical that babies have enough of it throughout the second six months of life to prevent iron deficiency. In the early years, this can result in decreased immune function, appetite loss, and iron deficiency anaemia, all of which can have an effect on a child’s behaviour and mental development. As soon as solid foods are introduced, it’s crucial to provide a wide variety of iron-rich foods.
Whole grains, pulses (including peas, beans, and lentils), nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, tofu, dried fruit, and fortified breakfast cereals are all vegan sources of iron. However, if the cereals are also fortified with vitamin D, vegans should double-check that the source is suitable before consuming the product.
It can be challenging to get enough iron in a vegan diet, so if a baby has a poor appetite, parents should seek guidance on what sorts of fortified foods they might want to introduce when food intake rises. If vitamin C-rich foods or beverages are ingested at the same time as iron, the absorption of iron may be improved. Anything you can do to improve iron absorption is beneficial because iron from plant-based sources is less bioavailable (meaning the body cannot absorb it as quickly) than iron from animal sources.
Every organ in the body needs zinc to function properly. In addition to being essential for immunological function, vitamin A utilisation, and wound healing, zinc is also important for the metabolism of macronutrients (such as protein, fat, and carbs). Making ensuring that vegan kids consume foods high in zinc on a regular basis is crucial because, similar to iron, zinc from plant-based sources is less bioavailable than zinc from animal sources. The following fall under this category: tofu, seeds, nut butters, whole grains, legumes, and wheat germ.
For the development and maintenance of bones and teeth, the health of the neurological system, and muscle function, among other things, children’s calcium needs are significantly higher than those of adults’. The majority of infants obtain their calcium from breast milk or formula, but it’s crucial for vegan infants to become habituated to eating healthy non-dairy calcium sources. These include cereal products, tofu, green leafy vegetables, legumes, ground almonds, tahini, figs, and seeds, as well as soy, almond, oat, or coconut milks that have been fortified with calcium.
Iodine is crucial for thyroid gland health because it controls the body’s metabolism, which affects how food is metabolized and affects heart rate, body temperature, and how quickly the body burns calories. Iodine is also crucial for brain growth. As infants and young children get used to varied food sources and there are few effective plant-based sources of iodine, families may be encouraged to use a supplement. Nuts, various vegetables, and cereal foods all contain some iodine, however the amount may vary. You should be warned that some sea vegetables, including seaweed, contain a high concentration of iodine, which might be dangerous. Only a modest amount of sea vegetables, such as nori, wakame, and arame, which are known to have a stable iodine content, should be consumed by vegans. Iodine is added to a variety of plant-based milk beverages, which can be useful in cooking.
Riboflavin, often known as vitamin B2, is crucial for our metabolism as well as the brain and nervous system. Since dairy products are the primary source of riboflavin in the UK, vegan kids must ensure they have access to a wide range of other sources, such as wheat germ, nutritional yeast, pulses, almond butter or crushed almonds, avocados, mushrooms, and green leafy vegetables. Most unsweetened calcium-fortified non-dairy milks, including nut or soy milk, contain riboflavin; just 300ml of such milk will supply 80% of the daily riboflavin requirements for children aged one to four.
Protein synthesis, the creation of red blood cells, and nervous system health all depend on vitamin B12. Energy and appetite loss might result from deficiency. The only sources of vitamin B12 that are suitable for vegan youngsters are those that have been supplemented with it. Vitamin B12 is nearly solely found in animal products. Additionally a strong source of vitamin B12 is yeast extract, which is also added to several dairy-free spreads. Nutritional yeast that has been fortified with vitamin B12 can be used in recipes in place of cheese.
A healthy, varied vegan diet and breast milk can provide a baby with all the nutrients they require, but it’s also crucial to take any supplements your health visitor may advise. However, the first year of life is a crucial window of opportunity to introduce a variety of foods, and by the time a baby is 12 months old, they will be largely dependent on food for their energy and nutritional needs.