Families follow vegetarian diets for a variety of reasons – whatever your reason, plan your family's diet to ensure they're getting all the required nutrients. Children can get all the nutrients they need to thrive from a well planned vegetarian diet.
The food based dietary guidelines apply the same way - eating plenty of vegetables and fruit and starchy foods such as bread, cereals and potatoes; moderate amounts of meat/fish alternatives; some dairy foods or alternatives; and a small amount of food high in fat and/or sugar.
Vegetarian diets are associated with lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers and lower cholesterol levels. This could be because such diets are lower in saturated fat and contain more fibre and phytonutrients/phytochemicals. However, there are some specific nutrients you need to consider:
Vegetarian sources of protein include:
• beans, lentils and chickpeas
• soya and soya products e.g. soya dairy alternatives, tofu, soya nuts and soya mince • seeds
• nuts and nut butters (e.g. peanut butter)
• grains such as wheat (found in cereals, pasta and bread), rice and maize.
• milk and dairy products (yoghurts and cheese)
Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids - essential for your child's growth. The body can make amino acids but not all of them. Some amino acids are called essential amino acids as we have to get them from food. Animal proteins contain the complete mix of essential amino acids. Soya, quinoa and hemp are plant foods containing all the essential amino acids. Most other plant proteins provide some, with each plant providing a different combination. So, as long as you’re eating a mixture of different plant proteins you’ll be getting all the essential amino acids your body needs. If you eat dairy foods, don’t over rely on cheese for protein or you may end up having too much unhealthy saturated fat in your diet.
Low iron levels will impair cognitive function, immune function, appetite and energy levels.
Red meat is the most easily absorbed source of iron, but various plant foods also contribute:
• fortified breakfast cereals
• dried fruit
• leafy green vegetables
To help your body absorb iron from plant foods, include a source of vitamin C with your meal
Phytates found in plant foods such as wholegrains and beans reduce zinc absorption. Eat beans (soak dried beans then rinse before cooking to increase zinc absorption); wholegrains; nuts; seeds and some fortified breakfast cereals.
Selenium Meat, fish and nuts are good sources of selenium. If you don’t eat meat/fish include some nuts into your diet.
IodineEggs and milk are a good source of iodine. If you don't eat these then include small amounts of iodised salt.
We get docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from fish and alpha linolenic acid (ALA) plant oils like flaxseed, rapeseed and soya.
Although our bodies can convert some ALA into EPA and DHA, the conversion isn’t very efficient. To help, limit vegetable oils high in linoleic acid (an omega-6 fat) such as sunflower and corn oils. If you don't have fish then consider an Omega 3 supplement - you can get algae derived Omega 3 supplements.
So there is a lot to think about as with any restricted diet but it can easily be done! If you would like your child's diet analysed to ensure they are getting all the essential nutrients required for development in the right amounts BOOK a consult NOW!