C writes to ask about her 8-year old daughter who suddenly decided she wants to be vegetarian. You're not alone, C - whether they've learned about eating this way on TV, have heard about it from friends or teachers, or simply out of concern for the welfare of animals and the environment, it seems many children today are becoming interested in vegetarian and vegan (no animal products / byproducts at all) diets.
A significant amount of research suggests that people who follow a diet mainly focused on fruits and vegetables are generally healthier than those who regularly eat animal protein. The data also suggest that children raised in this way typically meet the established norms for physical and scholastic development.
There are a few precautions, however:
- Be sure your child gets adequate protein: it's relatively easy to provide sufficient protein - focus on beans, soy, nuts and grains.
- Be sure your child receives adequate calories: vegetarian diets are usually high in fiber and bulky, so kids can feel full before they get all they need. Work to balance a healthy amount of fiber with less bulky food items.
- Be sure your child is exposed to a wide range of nutrients: this is especially important for children raised on vegan diets, who can become deficient in vitamins B12 and D, zinc, calcium and iron. Often this means your child should be taking a supplement to prevent deficiency.
The best way to move forward with supporting your child's wishes is to meet with a good nutritionist who can guide you and your family, and to meet with your child's doctor. There are some children for whom a vegetarian diet may not be best, such as those who are not meeting growth or developmental goals, and some children with chronic illnesses. The best way to know for sure is to ask your child's doctor.
I hope this helps, C. Enjoy, and be well.
** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **