Is it safe to feed your child a plant-based diet? Raising children on a plant-based diet can be a controversial subject. There’s a lot of misinformation out there that might have you questioning if it’s a good option for your family or not.
Here are 4 common myths about plant-based diets for kids and the facts so that you can make your mind up for yourself.
The main concern that people have around plant-based diets is that they don't provide adequate amounts of micronutrients like vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and vitamin D. But a growing body of evidence suggests that a well-planned, nutritious plant-based diet can meet the nutritional requirements for people of all ages - including children.
Yes, there are limited reliable plant-based sources of vitamin B12, but consuming B12-fortified foods such as plant-based milks, cereals, breads and nutritional yeast can help, and vitamin B12 supplements are also a great option.
Another common concern when it comes to plant-based diets is that they don’t provide kids with enough macronutrients, specifically protein. Again, multiple studies have shown that children who consume vegetarian and plant-based diets have equally adequate nutrient intake and growth compared to reference populations. There are in fact, a multitude of plant-based foods that are rich sources of protein. These include:
Another concern is that plant-based diets do not provide kids with all of the 9 essential amino acids that they would obtain from eating meat and other animal products. It has been shown that a well-planned diet that includes a variety of plant foods like the ones listed above eaten in combination with starches like rice, beans and corn can meet requirements for all essential amino acids.
We know that cow’s milk is a good source of calcium, which allows the development of strong bones. But there are several plant-based sources of calcium that are just as effective.
The amount of calcium in fortified non-dairy milks is equivalent to or even higher than that in cow's milk. In addition, plant-based foods such as cruciferous vegetables have twice the bioavailability of calcium as cow's milk. We know that most (if not all) kids aren’t crazy about eating calcium-rich veggies, which is why we advise using calcium-fortified non-dairy milk twice a day to help make up for any shortfalls.
It’s also important to note that consuming enough calcium is only part of the equation. Regular exercise, sun exposure, and adequate intake of vitamin K, vitamin C, and folate are all essential to good bone health.
There are concerns that the phyto-oestrogens contained in soy products can lead to negative effects on sexual development and reproductive function. However, evidence suggests that soy does not exert adverse hormonal effects in children or affect pubertal development. In fact, there is evidence indicating that when soy is consumed during childhood and/or adolescence, the risk of developing breast cancer is markedly reduced.
Soy, along with a variety of legumes and other plant-based foods can be part of a healthy, plant-based diet for kids. Soybeans are in the pea family and provide high-quality protein. It’s also low in saturated fat and is a good source of fibre, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins.
Soy comes in many different forms such as soy milk, flour, powder, tempeh, miso, tofu, soy sauce, textured soy protein, vegetarian meat and cheese replacements. These different textures and shapes can make it fun to experiment with soy for kids!
Plant-based diets are completely safe for children as long as parents and guardians are well informed about the key nutrients required for growth and development. With the right knowledge and planning, your kids can thrive on a plant-based diet!
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