A 14-month-old baby was taken to hospital by his grandparents in milan, Italy, on July 2. Severe malnutrition, due to a strict vegetarian diet, the baby is extremely underweight, and suffers from a variety of nutrient deficiencies, including severe calcium deficiency, which doctors say exacerbates congenital heart disease. Now recovering from heart surgery, the baby has been taken away by the parents. The children’s court will decide whether to give full custody to grandparents.
This is the fourth such report in Italy in the past 18 months. So that begs the question: is a vegan diet safe for children?
“Because they are growing and developing, it is important that children get enough nutrition,” said Laura Gibofsky, a pediatrician who is certified by the New York City board of directors. “A carefully planned vegan diet can meet the nutritional needs of infants, children and adolescents,” she explained, “but it emphasizes the careful planning.” That is to say: “any child can be a vegan diet, parents should be under the guidance of a registered dietitian to do this, to ensure that their children get enough nutrition, in order to obtain optimal growth and development.
Some nutrients Gibofsky says parents should pay special attention to children in a vegetarian diet: “protein, omega-3s (essential fatty acids), iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins 12. She recommends vitamin B 12 supplements, especially because it is a common defect in vegetarianism and increases the possible calcium and vitamin d supplements. Parents and caregivers can also choose to supplement other nutrients, and they feel that the child may be at risk of missing. While they are not a substitute for food, she says dietary supplements can help address gaps in the diet without paediatric supplements for animal products.
While adults may not have to worry about the same nutritional problems as their children, nutritional deficiencies in plant-based diets are still worth noting. A healthy vegetarian diet requires planning and extra attention to certain nutrients to ensure that you cover your nutritional basics. Here are some things to watch for:
Protein: plant-based proteins can be found in nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils, and even some vegetables (albeit in small quantities).
Calcium: tofu, black leafy vegetables and white beans are just a few of the many sources of plant calcium. You can also strengthen dairy substitutes or use supplements. The goal is about 1,000 milligrams a day. (hint: non-calcium dairy sources.)
Iron: no red meat? No problem! Iron can be found in foods like beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and dark, leafy greens. Use foods rich in vitamin C to increase absorption. (look at the iron-rich foods that aren’t red meat.)
Vitamin B 12: algae is a rare natural source of vitamin B 12. Non-dairy milk, meat substitutes, food products and other products are often strengthened to B 12. If you don’t want to jump on the artificial meat bandwagon, daily supplements may be your best bet.
Vitamin D: mushrooms are one of the few plant foods that contain vitamin D, but not a lot. Daily supplements or supplements of food or beverages, such as food products or non-milk, will probably be your best bet for this one. (here: healthy foods with vitamin D.)
Plus – it’s important for any diet – be sure to listen to your body. If there is something wrong, it might not be. Therefore, contact your doctor and make an appointment with a dietitian to help you ensure that you get the food you need.