Around 6 months of age your growing baby will be ready to begin trying to eat some soft, solid foods in addition to breast milk or formula. With the growing popularity of vegetarianism, many parents consider introducing their children to a vegan diet at this stage of development. Some parents, however, worry and have concerns with this choice of diet and wonder if it’s really safe for their infants and toddlers.
Awareness and concerns about the potential nutritional deficiencies found in a traditional vegan diet were in the spotlight earlier this year. In October, there were several news stories about a mother in Pennsylvania when it was reported that she was charged with child endangerment after placing her son on a vegan diet. In this particular case, the child’s diet allegedly consisted of only fruits and nuts, which are foods typically found in high concentrations in vegan diets.
Is a Vegan Diet Safe for My Baby or Toddler?
Since vegans avoid animal based food products such as eggs, milk, honey and cheese, as well as meats, it can be very difficult for vegans to receive all of the vitamins, minerals and amino acids that they need each day to support optimal health. Some common nutrients that are often missing or found in low concentrations in vegan diets include vitamins A, D and B-12. Minerals such calcium and zinc as well as DHA and omega-3 fatty acids are also in low supply in some vegan diets.
Despite these challenges, adding supplements to a vegan diet can help followers to fortify the nutrition of their diets. Also, making a point to eat a wide variety of foods each day can help to improve the nutritional quality and diversity of vegan diets.
Organizations in Support of Vegetarianism and Vegan Diets
The Vegan Society and the British Dietetic Association are two international organizations that encourage vegan diets for the whole family. According to information from these two organizations, eating a wide variety of different types of plant based foods each day, as well as using supplementation to make up for any missing nutrients, can provide vegans with just as much nutritional value as other types of diets.
In fact, nutritionists with both organizations claim that a vegan diet is far superior to one that includes eating out at fast food restaurants, which typically have food choices that have higher concentrations of fats, salt and sugar. There are some studies that seem to support this stance.
A recent article published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recently referred to studies that indicate a traditional omnivorous diet may lead to the common signs of puberty, such as menarche, occurring earlier in young girls that eat meat and other animal products. Other studies seem to indicate that these products can also negatively influence the development of children’s IQs when compared to children who only consume a plant based diet.
The American Dietetic Association and The American Academy of Pediatrics also support vegetarian diets for children as long as they are balanced, and well-planned to ensure that the diet has enough variety to nutritious.
Making the Decision
Some concerns remain when trying to decide whether or not to place your baby on a vegan diet. In a paper sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Use of Soy Protein-Based Formulas in Infant Feeding,” authors Jatinder Bhatia and Frank Greer rightfully point out that If your baby was born premature, and does not have access to breast milk, a strict vegan diet would be very risky and ill-advised as baby would not be able to receive adequate nutrition to meet their special needs.
There are also other conditions and health concerns that can impact your child’s nutritional needs and so making the decision on whether or not to choose a vegan diet for baby is probably one that is best made in consultation with your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare professional.
Whether or not you start your child on a vegan diet, it is important to remember that breast milk or formula should still make up the majority of your child’s diet until they reach one full year of age. Regardless of which diet you choose for your baby, remember that variety and balance are important to be able to meet their nutritional needs in infancy and in fact, throughout the rest of their lives.