Supporting Normal Growth in Vegetarian Infants, Kids and Teens
Tips for Supporting Normal Growth in Vegetarian Infants, Kids and Teens
growth of vegetarian infants being breast fed, OR being fed a commercial infant formula (in required amounts), is normal. When solid foods are introduced, provision of good sources of energy and nutrients can ensure normal growth.
Breastfeeding (highly recommended) is common in vegetarian women. The breast milk of vegetarian women is similar in composition to that of non-vegetarians, and is nutritionally adequate.
Should the baby not be breast fed, then a commercial infant formula should be used, with soy formula being the only option for vegan infants. Other preparations such as soy milk, rice milk and homemade formulas are NOT recommended, as these are nutritionally inadequate.
Solid foods should be introduced in the same progression as for non-vegetarian infants.
Replace strained meat with:
- mashed/pureed tofu
- pureed and strained legumes
- Soy or dairy yoghurt
- Cooked egg yolk
- Cottage cheese
- Another good weaning food: mashed avocado
7-10 months introduce:
- cubed tofu
- Cheese / soy cheese
- Bite size pieces of veggie burgers
- introduce commercial, full-fat fortified soy milk or pasteurized cow’s milk as the primary beverage
- supplement with vitamin B12 and possibly zinc (assess zinc intake)
- It is not necessary to restrict dietary fat in children younger than 2 years
- Restrictive fruitarian and other raw food diets cannot be recommended for infants and children, due to these having insufficient energy, protein, and some vitamins and minerals.
Compared with non-vegetarian children, growth of lacto-ovo vegetarian children is similar, while it has been seen that vegan children tend to be slightly smaller but within normal ranges of the standards for height and weight.
Poor growth in children has only really been seen in those on extremely restrictive diets.
Specialized diet and menu planning is required for vegetarian and vegan children to ensure all the nutrients for growth and development are included in the daily intake.
The critical nutrients required include: IRON, ZINC, FOLATE, VIT B6, and VIT B12 (all of these are found in animal products).
Plant foods are not concentrated sources of amino acids (building blocks of proteins), and as such, if the diet is not carefully planned it can affect the growth and development of the child. The exception to this rule is soya: which has a complement of amino acids similar to that found in animal foods. Use Soya Life Porridge as a protein-rich start to the day.
Meeting energy and nutrient needs:
- Frequent meals and snacks
- Use of low GI starch foods: high fibre breakfast cereals, Low GI breads, durum wheat pasta, rice, oats porridge, baby and sweet potatoes
- Use of foods higher in unsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado, olives, almonds).
Meeting protein needs:
- Average protein intakes of vegetarian and vegan children generally meet or exceed recommendations.
- Vegan children have slightly higher protein needs due to differences in protein digestibility and amino acid composition, but these protein needs are generally met when diets contain adequate energy and a wide variety of plant foods.
Ideas for protein:
- Eggs (e.g. poached, boiled, scrambled, omelettes)
- Dairy / Soy Milk and yoghurt
- Cheese, cottage cheese, and soy cheese
- Baked beans, butter beans, borlotti beans, 4-bean mix, lentils, Soy beans, ALL beans!
- Chickpeas, humus, falafels
- Soya patties, soya sausages, soya strips, soya cubes, soya mince, soya meatballs
- Nuts and seeds
- Peanut butter
- Soya Life Porridge
- Soya Life Instant Meal Replacement Drink.
- Protein bars (often half a bar will be more than sufficient as a snack for a growing child)
Growth of lacto-ovo vegetarian teens is very similar. And in girls, recent studies show that there is no difference in the age at which vegetarian vs non-vegetarian girls reach menarche.
If planned properly, vegetarian diets offer some nutritional advantages for teens:
- More fibre, iron, folate, Vitamin A and Vitamin C is consumed than non-vegetarians
- More fruits and veggies are consumed
- Generally fewer sweets, fast foods and salty snack are consumed compared with non-vegetarians.
Due to these nutritional advantages, there will be benefits to health: less overweight, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels etc.
Nutrients of concern: (the diet needs to be assessed by a Dietician and appropriate supplements recommended if necessary)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
Being vegetarian does not cause disordered eating as some have suggested, although a vegetarian diet may be selected to camouflage an existing eating disorder. Because of this, vegetarian diets are somewhat more common amongst teens with eating disorders than in the general teen population. As such, health and nutrition professionals should be aware of young clients who greatly limit food choices and who exhibit symptoms of eating disorders.
With guidance in meal planning from a Registered Dietician, vegetarian diets can be appropriate and healthful choices in adolescents.