Vegan and vegetarian diets have grown in popularity. But while they may be good for your health, the environment and animal welfare, are they good for growing bodies?
"A plant-based diet tends to be higher in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants - and all of these nutrients can help lower the risk of chronic disease," Amy Gorin, an inclusive plant-based dietitian, told Fox News. "By following a plant-based diet, you teach your child about sustainability and soil protection."
"Raising a child as a vegan or vegetarian has many long-term health benefits when done correctly and really focuses on nutritious and healthy foods. It sets a child up for a lifetime with healthy habits and focuses on foods that fight information and fend off off disease, "repeats Tammy Lakatos Shames, registered dietitian nutritionist and one half of the duo, The Nutrition Twins. "Cutting back on animal products and high-fat meat products can also have long-term health benefits, including reduced risk of cancer and heart disease."
There have been many, many studies showing the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, says Gorin, noting that these benefits range from improved heart health to improved blood pressure, weight control and even help prevent type 2 diabetes. . "In particular, research shows that vegan children are often less overweight than non-vegan children," she adds.
Despite these potential health benefits, Gorin warns that it is extremely important to know about and address dietary changes when raising a child as a vegan or vegetarian. "These changes can affect how a child grows - for example, calcium is extremely important for teeth and bone health, and vitamin D is also very important for both bone health and even energy levels. Nutrients that are particularly important to be aware of are including protein, iron, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B12 and omega-3, ”she says.
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"Growing children also need a lot of calories - and plant-based foods tend to be lower in calories than many animal-based ones," she continues, adding that it is important to plan your child's meals so they eat enough calories and get them real nutrients.
More to consider on the nutrition front: "A review study shows that vegan children are at risk of inadequate intake of protein, calories, long-chain fatty acids, iron, zinc, vitamin D, iodine, calcium and vitamin B12. But another study found limited evidence that that vegan children can consume enough calories, protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and folate, "says Gorin.
Gorin explains that you can not "wing a vegan diet" and it is crucial to plan snacks and meals to include the necessary nutrients.
To help address this, Gorin recommends incorporating a source of protein at every meal and snack. Some of her best choices for vegans include tofu, edamame, tempeh, beans and lentils. For vegetarian eaters, she recommends eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese.
"It's also really helpful to use some 'tricks' to increase the uptake of some of these nutrients. For example, plant-based iron is not so easily absorbed by the body," she says. "But if you pair a source of plant-based iron, such as spinach, with a source of vitamin C, such as lemon juice, vitamin C will help increase the body's uptake of iron."
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In addition, Gorin suggests buying fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals, that tend to contain nutrients such as vitamin D. "Enriched beverages, such as 100% orange juice and soy milk, may also contain calcium," she says.
Fiber is also a nutrient to zoom in on when considering a vegan or vegetarian diet for teens. "Fiber is great for good health, but children have small stomachs and fiber can quickly fill them up. Plant-based foods tend to be higher in fiber. So it's a good idea to feed your plant-based child frequent meals and snacks, "she says.
Lakatos Shames also has advice from first-hand experience: "As a mother who has raised a vegetarian and sometimes a vegan child, the most important thing is to focus on getting plenty of nutrients," she says.
"Many parents or children call themselves vegetarians and then stuff chips and pretzels," she adds. Focus on getting all the colors of the rainbow in your products, protein sources like tofu and beans, and if you include eggs, this can also be a good source of protein. Also work to get in well before- you fats from avocados, nuts and frog."
It is also likely that your child will need to take supplements to compensate for some of the nutrients in which an animal-based diet is naturally higher, Gorin comments. "Your child may benefit from a multivitamin and perhaps also vitamin D and EPA / DHA omega-3 supplements."
If your child is switching to eating vegan or vegetarian, Gorin emphasizes the importance of being aware of their emotions and energy levels. "Everyone is different on a plant-based diet, and it's possible that your child may need more protein to feel better," she says.
Gorin says she feels it is beneficial for children to explore and decide for themselves what foods they like or dislike.
"Because of this, I am moving more towards the inclusive plant-based mindset - which means focusing on eating a predominantly plant-based diet, but with the flexibility to include animal products when needed," she says.