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Are Vegan Diets OK for Babies and Toddlers?

Posted on Jul 11, 2011 | 0 comments

In general, vegetarian diets can be healthful for children as long as there are alternative foods to meet their nutritional needs. However, the question becomes more complicated when one considers a vegan diet for a young child or infant.

Vegan diets do not feature any animal products, including eggs or dairy,  and this poses some unique risks for babies and toddlers because of their extremely rapid growth rate. Infants and young children simply require more protein, calcium and vitamins D and B12 than adults, and these nutrients are abundant in milk and milk products, which vegan diets do not allow.

For most of the first year, you can ensure a healthful vegan diet for your newborn either by breastfeeding or by offering a soy-based infant formula approved by your pediatrician. Sometimes vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron supplements are given during the first year, but be sure to ask your pediatrician.

After your baby turns 1, it is more difficult to maintain proper nutrition on a vegan diet. Babies and toddlers need diets high in fat and protein and low in fiber, the exact opposite of many vegan diets. You will need to make sure your baby gets foods like cooked beans, lentils, tofu, avocados, soy yogurt and (after age 1 and with a pediatrician’s approval) nuts.

Because finicky toddlers may resist these restrictions, some parents decide to supplement their children’s diets with eggs and milk from organic farms that follow high standards for the humane treatment of animals.

The rules for adult nutrition can’t directly be applied to a baby or toddler. If you feel strongly about your child being on a vegan diet, be sure to find a pediatrician and nutritionist willing to work with and advise you. Otherwise, it is very likely your baby or child will have nutritional deficits, such as iron or vitamin B12 deficiencies.

Blog post contributed by Manisha Panchal, M.D., a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Santa Clara.

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