A vegetarian diet for children?
DevelopmentEcologyNutrition
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A vegetarian diet for children?

More and more adults are opting for a vegetarian diet and are also feeding their children in the same way. This diet limits the consumption of animal products, which can lead to deficiencies in certain nutrients in the child. What is the best way to nourish children with a vegetarian diet?

The vegetarian diet and its variations

A well-balanced diet should provide the body with all the necessary nutrients, such as

  • protein:
    • vegetable,
    • animal;
  • carbohydrates;
  • fats;
  • minerals and vitamins;
  • bioactive substances.

When a parent decides to give up certain foods or modify a child’s diet, he or she should balance the diet in such a way as to provide the child with all the nutrients necessary for his or her body.

Vegetarian diet excludes meat and dishes and products that have it in their composition. The basis for it are fruits and vegetables and other products of plant origin.

Types of vegetarian diets taking into account the products consumed:

  • lactovo-vegetarianism – products of plant origin and dairy and eggs;
  • lacto-vegetarianism – products of plant origin and dairy products;
  • ovo-vegetarianism – products of plant origin and eggs;
  • veganism – only products of plant origin;
  • vitarianism – only raw products of plant origin; the diet excludes any heat treatment of vegetables and fruits. People on this diet also do not drink coffee or tea;
  • frutarianism – only those fruits and vegetables that fall off the plant themselves.

Other varieties of pseudo-vegetarianism include:

  • semivegetarianism – plant-based products, poultry, and fish;
  • polyvegetarianism – products of plant origin and poultry;
  • flexitarianism – products of plant origin and occasional meat.

Can a vegetarian diet be used in children?

Proper nutrition in the first years of a child’s life is very important for his or her development. It also affects his later eating habits. This is why it is so important to ensure a well-balanced diet.

Any variation of a vegetarian diet requires constant monitoring of the child’s development and test results. The use of a vegetarian diet in a child may cause deficiencies in some nutrients and minerals. It is not recommended that young children and adolescents be fed frutarian and vitarian diets. These diets are also not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

The lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is the most popular in Poland, but feeding a child this way may cause an allergy to cow’s milk protein or lactose intolerance (due to its consumption in large amounts). This type of diet requires constant monitoring of the levels of:

  • vitamin D,
  • iron,
  • vitamin B12.

Studies show that children who are on a vegetarian diet, have a lower body weight than their peers on a traditional diet.

Advantages and disadvantages of a vegetarian diet in children

The main advantages of following a vegetarian diet in children are:

  • low calorie foods,
  • the high nutritional value of the diet,
  • the low amount of fats and saturated fatty acids,
  • little or no cholesterol,
  • rich in vitamins,
  • large amount of dietary fiber,
  • high amount of bioactive substances,
  • little salt in the products.

The main disadvantages of using a vegetarian diet in children are:

  • the foods do not fully meet the energy needs,
  • too little protein,
  • a shortage of essential amino acids,
  • lack or insufficient amounts of vitamin B12,
  • too low an intake:
    • calcium,
    • iron,
    • zinc,
    • vitamin D.

Clinical studies have shown that children on a vegetarian diet develop properly if the diet is well balanced. Studies have also shown that children on a vegetarian diet are much slimmer than children on a traditional diet – plant foods prevent the occurrence of obesity

The most important aspects of a vegetarian diet for children

1. Increasing the energy value of meals by adding:

  • seeds e.g.: sunflower, pumpkin,
  • oleaginous plants e.g. olives, avocado,
  • nuts,
  • good quality vegetable oils,
  • tofu,
  • full fat dairy products.

2. Getting the right amount of protein in your diet by serving a variety of plant-based foods each day.

3. Vitamin B12 supplementation.

4. Regular testing for the presence of iron and zinc. In case of bad results, their supplementation is recommended.

5. Vitamin D supplementation.

A vegetarian diet can be used in children if it is properly balanced and deficiencies are supplemented.

Main Photo: Author: hessam nabavi, Source: unsplash.com

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