raise healthy children

IS plant-based diets safe and healthy for growing children? Is my child getting enough nutrition on a plant-based diet? My children are small, where do they get their protein, iron and calcium from? These are common questions asked by many parents who are new to this organic way of eating and looking at food.

The world’s largest organization of nutrition professionals, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says vegan diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including infancy, childhood and adolescence.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also advocated in 2016 that “properly planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthy, nutritionally appropriate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

The key here is a well-planned meal. As the parent of an 11-year-old boy, well-planned meals are essential for growing children, whether it’s a plant-based diet or any type of diet that parents are raising their children on. One should make sure that all meals contain sufficient nutrients.

Health Benefits

I was not raised either vegetarian or vegan and had little knowledge of this diet, although vegetarianism is a common religious practice among the Chinese.

In 2017, I decided to give up my favorite foods, which consisted of fish, cheese, butter, and yogurt, when I learned that these foods didn’t bring many benefits to my health.

As I did more research, I learned that a plant-based diet is rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber that are often lacking in a typical Malaysian diet. I didn’t wait long to switch my then 7-year-old son to a plant-based diet.

It didn’t take him long to adjust to and accept this radical change as he also had the opportunity to learn about the foods he ate and the nutrition he put on his plate.

Plant-based foods come in a variety of colors, flavors, and textures that offer children a complete nutritional experience. Then there was our family
also able to learn valuable life lessons, such as B. Environmental protection and compassion for living beings.

My concerns about food intake are no different than those of other parents raising their children on a meat-based diet. Small children should be introduced to a variety of
plant foods from a young age. Many books and parenting courses have taught us to puree vegetable and fruit puree, various beans and grains when a baby starts weaning, so these foods must have great benefits.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day. According to the Malaysian dietary guidelines, vegetables and fruits
now form the basis of the Malaysian food pyramid.

Most Malaysians, both adults and children, fall short of the recommended amount, with some not even consuming one serving a day. Typically, a plate of chicken rice comes with rice, a serving of chicken, a few slices of cucumber, and a few sprigs of coriander to garnish. But many only eat rice and chicken and leave out the cucumber and coriander leaves.

The same scenario can also be observed with children, where they pick the vegetables from their plate because they are not used to eating vegetables. Would these non-plant-based children get enough food? What more if they’ve been exposed to junk and processed foods from a young age?

The common question I’m often asked by many adults is, “Do it
plant-based foods contain protein, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12?” A well-planned plant-based diet can provide children with the essential nutrients and calories they need to grow and thrive.

However, we must be aware that there are certain nutrients that are naturally lower in a plant-based diet. Likewise, there are nutrients that are lower in a meat-based diet compared to a plant-based diet, for example fiber, vitamin C, to name a few.

Therefore, when raising children on a plant-based diet, care must be taken to ensure that they receive an adequate amount of nutrients.

How much protein does a child need?

Protein is an important macronutrient for building, repairing and maintaining bones, muscles, skin and blood. It also provides the building blocks for enzymes, hormones, and vitamins.

Can our kids get enough protein on a plant-based diet? Children who eat a variety of foods
A plant-based diet can easily meet the protein requirement.

A healthy source of plant-based protein includes beans, nuts, seeds, soy (tofu and tempeh), whole grains, and vegetables. Almost all plant foods contain protein.


Calcium is a mineral needed for the growth of strong and healthy bones. A common misconception among non-plant-based friends and family members is that children who grow up on a plant-based diet are generally smaller and weaker.

In general, children who eat a plant-based diet may be shorter and tend to weigh less because the food they eat is nutrient-dense and not high in calories or fat. This does not mean that they have stunted growth, are weaker or have it
unhealthy bones.

So, where can non-dairy kids get their calcium? Broccoli, kale, tofu, soy milk, almond milk, tahini, beans are all excellent sources of calcium.

According to pediatrics
Plant-based Nutrition Quick Start Guide published by the Plantrician Project can fulfill one cup of tofu
the daily calcium requirement of a preschool child.

Interestingly, the guide also points out that studies have not shown a strong link between the amount of calcium we eat and the strength of our bones. Children should get strong, healthy bones through daily play and physical activity, combined with sunshine for adequate vitamin D to support calcium absorption.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that are vital for brain development, maintaining heart health, kidney function, eye health, and skin health. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine states that plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids are in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the only omega-3 essential fatty acid.

Our bodies cannot synthesize it, so we must get ALA through our diet. The body naturally converts ALA into longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is important for brain health, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Fish contains both DHA and EPA. But that doesn’t mean those on a plant-based diet are deficient in these longer-chain omega-3s. So what should we feed our plant-based children? Omega-3 fatty acids are found in a variety of plant foods, including walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, edamame, seaweed, and seaweed.

Consider an herbal supplement

A common perception is that a
A plant-based diet can lead to deficiencies in vitamin B12 and iron. These nutrients are important to prevent anemia and nervousness
system damage. Common Beliefs
are it can only be found in animals
and dairy products.

However, iron deficiency is common in children and adults, including those on a non-vegetable diet due to malabsorption. Iron-rich foods should be combined with vitamin C-rich foods to improve absorption. This means that eating iron-rich foods such as strawberries or citrus fruits will boost the absorption of iron into our bodies.

Children on a plant-based diet should eat plenty of beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and nut butters, which are high in iron.

On the other hand, vitamin B12 is found in some plant-based foods such as fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, fermented foods, and some fortified plant-based dairy products.

Vitamin B12 supplementation may be necessary as most experts agree that this is the most reliable way to ensure adequate B12 intake. Take expert advice when considering herbal supplements for the right amount and type of supplements. And get advice from doctors, paediatricians, nutritionists and health coaches who support and practice a plant-based diet.

Eating a whole plant-based meal with the family is rewarding, healthy and easy. For most people, including me, the personal change
and transitioning the family to a plant-based diet can be overwhelming, especially in the beginning. Transitioning and getting everyone on board can be challenging, especially when dealing with older children. But knowing that children who grow up on a plant-based diet live in good health throughout their lives makes it worthwhile.

Interesting tips:

1. Keep fruits and vegetables accessible

Have washed and chopped vegetables and fruit ready after meals or as a snack. Make it your mission to make food presentable and pleasing to the eye, because our eyes eat first! I use healthy fats like nuts, hummus, plant-based creams, nut butters, and even dark chocolate to add flavor to our meals and as healthy treats.

2. Choose what works for your family

Your family may have made that choice
Go plant-based for a number of reasons – health and wellness, the environment, animal welfare, or a combination of these. It’s helpful to talk to your children about the whys and hows. I think it also helps to watch documentaries and discuss the content together.

3. Discover new foods together

However, exploring new foods can be exciting for most children
some may be skeptical. Check out plant-based restaurants near you and try your favorite dishes made with plant-based ingredients. You can also try different cuisines from the plant-based menu.

4. Include children

Food preparation can be fun for kids. Most of the time, kids are excited and willing to eat anything they make themselves. This also provides them with an opportunity to learn about the foods they eat and the nutrition on their plate.

In short, children who grow up on a plant-based diet naturally eat more fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, grains, nuts and seeds. These are foods associated with lifelong good health.

Last but not least, a plant-based diet enables children to put compassion for animals into practice and maintain a sustainably healthy planet for the next generation.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, adopting a plant-based diet can reduce food-based greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% and wildlife loss by up to 46% in agriculture
land use by at least 41% and premature deaths by at least 20%. This is something we can do multiple times a day just through our food choices to reduce our environmental impact.

Adeline loo is with the
Malaysian Vegetarian Society. Comments: [email protected]

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