Vegetarian diet in children
The vegetarian diet is suitable from childhood if it is planned well. We explain this diet’s pros and cons in children and adolescents and recommendations to make it healthy and avoid nutritional deficits.
The vegetarian diet is one in which the consumption of meat and fish and their derivatives are suppressed. In the case of ovo-lacto-vegetarian diets, although these products are also excluded, eggs and dairy consumption (such as milk, yogurt, or cheese) is considered. Despite the myths that still circulate food, well planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for all life cycle stages, including pregnancy and lactation and, of course, also in childhood.
Myths about the vegetarian diet in childhood
Does following a vegetarian diet in childhood still sound “strange” to us? What are the main myths in this regard regarding children?
Miriam Martínez responds that they are very similar to those attributed to the vegetarian diet for adults (“plant foods do not have enough protein “, “these diets are incomplete” or “only iron from meat is well absorbed”), adding in the case of children, myths such as that they “need the amino acids in meat to grow” or that “the human brain developed thanks to animal proteins and fats.”
But the most common of all, according to the expert, is surely the one that affirms that the fact that children are vegetarians or vegans “is an imposition of the parents.” “Of course, it is a parent’s choice, as is giving them meat and fish. When children are young, their parents decide what is best for them, and they do it according to their own criteria and principles,” he says.
How should a healthy vegetarian diet be in children?
How it should be a vegetarian diet in children and adolescents so we can consider a healthy diet, Miriam Martinez explains that from two years should be like adults: “abundance of vegetables and vegetables, fruits and whole grains as the basis of the diet, along with foods rich in protein, which in the case of vegetarian diets are legumes (including tofu, tempeh, and other soy-derived products; and peanuts ), dried fruits (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios …) and seeds (sesame, sunflower, flax, pumpkin).
In the case of ovo-lacto-vegetarian diets, eggs and dairy can be included in a small proportion (10-15% of the diet)”. In addition to the above, the expert adds that it is advisable to use olive oil and iodized salt in a small amount and avoid sugar. “As you can see, it is not very different from what a balanced non-vegetarian diet should be, except that legumes, nuts, and seeds replace meat and fish. Before the age of two, babies have different needs, since milk (breast milk or formula) is their main food”, he says.
Infant feeding is not without its doubts, whatever the type of diet followed at home, and one of the most common mistakes is forcing us to eat when our sons and daughters have not eaten what we consider they should have. Eaten. Are we overly concerned with quantity, even more than quality? For the pediatrician, the answer is yes. This is a mistake for the expert in vegetarian nutrition since children grow as dictated by their genetic programming and will eat according to their needs as long as they have enough food at their fingertips.
But by eating more, nobody grows more than what their genes dictate; what they do is gain weight. Forcing people to eat more than their real needs and offering hypercaloric and unhealthy food such as sugary foods, soft drinks, cold cuts, or pastries is one of the reasons.