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As parents, we share a common desire for our little one’s well-being! Opting for a well-planned plant-based diet can be a wonderful choice for nurturing a child's health. This dietary pattern offers many health-related advantages, whilst also contributing to a more sustainable and compassionate future.


Why Plant-Based for Children?

Plant-based diets, centred around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, have been associated with promoting health and preventing disease. While research is ongoing, available data suggests that thoughtfully planned plant-based diets, including vegan and vegetarian eating patterns, can support healthy growth and development throughout all stages of life, from infancy onwards. These diets offer potential benefits in children such as:

  • Healthy Habits for Life: Studies show that eating habits established during childhood can shape  lifelong patterns. By promoting plant-based eating, we foster healthy eating habits that can continue into adulthood.
  • Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases: Research suggests that children following a plant-based diet have improved  metabolic markers, including lower cholesterol and reduced risk of obesity, potentially lowering the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and stroke, later in life.
  • Optimal Nutrition: Plant-based diets which emphasise the intake of whole foods, are abundant in  essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fibre. These are the cornerstone for promoting optimal growth and development in childhood.

 

Research & Recognition

When it comes to little ones, research supports the safety and benefits of well-planned vegan and vegetarian diets for children, spanning all ages, from infancy through childhood and beyond.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that vegan and vegetarian children typically exhibit  normal growth patterns, falling within the expected range for height and weight. In addition, plant-based children have been found to  meet or exceed recommended intakes for many nutrients including, fibre, vitamin C and E, folate, and magnesium.

Importantly, some nutrients require special attention for those following an exclusive plant-based diet (i.e. vegan or vegetarian), particularly during childhood due to their critical role in growth and development. These include Vitamin B12, Omega-3s, calcium, iodine, iron. Additionally, ensuring adequate Vitamin D is crucial for all little ones, regardless of their diet.

Importantly, major medical and dietetic organisations worldwide, including those in Australia, recognise the suitability of well-planned plant-based diets throughout pregnancy and childhood. These organisations include the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the  British Dietetic Association.


Addressing Concerns

  • Meeting Nutritional Needs While well-planned plant-based diets, both vegan and vegetarian, can be nutritionally complete, some nutrients require extra attention, specifically;
    • Vitamin B12:  Regular supplementation is essential for all plant-based eaters, discuss appropriate dosing for your little ones with a specialised dietitian or paediatrician.  
    • Omega-3s: Incorporate sources like flaxseeds, walnuts, and algae oil, or consider supplements if needed.
    • Calcium: Choose fortified plant milks, leafy greens, and calcium-set tofu.
    • Iron: Include iron-rich plant foods like lentils, beans, and fortified cereals in your child's diet at each meal. Pair with Vitamin C rich foods, like berries and citrus to optimise absorption.
    • Iodine: Include iodised salt in moderation, in some cases supplementation may be required.
    • Vitamin D: Important for all children, regardless of diet. Supplementation is generally recommended for infants and young children but is based on factors such as sun exposure and fortified foods. It is important to discuss your child’s unique needs with a specialised dietitian or paediatrician.

  • Planning and Support: Planning a balanced plant-based diet for your child takes knowledge and support. Working alongside a experienced dietitian can assist you on your journey.

Beyond the Plate

  • Environmental Advocates: Plant-based diets have a lower environmental impact when compared to omnivores, requiring less land and water resources. This conscious choice can foster a sense of environmental responsibility in your child.

  • Compassionate Approach: Choosing a plant-based diet can align with values of compassion and respect for all living beings, fostering empathy and understanding in your child.

Remember

When it comes to diet, there's no one-size-fits-all, especially for our little ones. However, prioritising a variety of plant-based foods on their plates is key. These vibrant fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds provide essential nutrients to support their growth and development. Beyond nourishment, embracing a plant-based approach can instil values of sustainability and compassion in our children, shaping a brighter future. Remember, every child is unique, so monitoring growth and development is vital. If you have any concerns, always consult your child's medical team to ensure their individual needs are met.


For personalised nutrition and supplementation support, you can find me  here or contact me via email at plantbasedfamilynutrition@gmail.com



About the Author:
Monica Rundle, is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, and founder of  Plant Based Family Nutrition,  an online nutrition clinic dedicated to helping families make small, sustainable dietary changes that can make a big difference to their overall health and that of the environment. 

Disclaimer: This article is for information and educational purposes only. The information provided does not substitute medical advice. As required, please consult a qualified medical professional relevant to your particular circumstance.


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