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The path to good health begins with a healthy diet and lots of exercise. Encouraging children with a vegetarian diet with fruits, vegetables and cereals not only provides nutritional benefits but also promotes healthy eating habits for life.
Healthy eating for children is very important regardless of age or body size. Babies and toddlers need enough energy (calories) to grow and be active, as well as enough nutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals) to stay healthy and fight infections.
A vegetarian diet involves not eating meat or meat products. A vegan only eats a plant-based diet (no animal source). People can be vegetarian or vegan for ethical, environmental, health or cultural reasons.
Within a healthy diet for children, you can include a very nutritious vegetarian diet or one that includes meat. However, usually, if the vegan diet is very strict it is not recommended for very young children.
Vegetarians are classified according to what they do not eat:
If you are a vegetarian mother with a healthy diet, breast milk alone will be enough until your baby reaches six months of age.
A severe vitamin B12 deficiency in breast milk can cause brain damage to the baby and anemia in the mother. If you have a vegan diet and you are breastfeeding, you may need a vitamin D supplement while you are breastfeeding.
Similarly, the baby should receive oral drops of vitamins containing vitamin D from the first month of age, especially if the mother is believed to be at risk for hypovitaminosis D. Any vegetarian formula may be useful in vegetarian babies, If the parents so approve.
There is no formula infant formula suitable for vegan babies. Soy-based formulas are suitable for the vegetarian diet and vegan diet of infants, but it is not recommended to be given to infants less than six months of age or used as the main drink in infants until after the first year.
Soy milk without addition of sugar and enriched with calcium, almond milk, oat milk or coconut milk can be used over 6 months of age as long as they are enriched with calcium.
When parents want to raise their child on a vegetarian diet, it is important to understand what foods should be substituted in the diet as energy sources, proteins and vitamins. Here are some tips:
Strictly vegetarian diets and other very restrictive diets could bring significant medical consequences due to lack of nutrients. In some vegetarian diets it can be difficult to get enough proteins, fats, omega-3 fats, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium and zinc. It is advisable to measure the child’s weight and size regularly to ensure that he or she is growing well.
Remember, vegetarianism is a lifestyle that can lead to healthy eating habits when adopted at an early age. Vegetarian children often eat more fruits, vegetables and fiber and less fat and cholesterol, which can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and weight-related diseases.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics state that: “well planned and supple vegetarian and vegan dietary patterns are healthy for infants and toddlers.”
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