With a lot of contradicting information regarding vegan diets, it can be hard to know whether or not it’s safe to raise our little ones on a diet that doesn’t include any animal products.
The great news is that plant-based diets are growing in popularity every day! So, whilst you may have been met with concerned eyebrows and a jaw drop following the announcement of raising your child as a vegan a mere 5 years ago, now you’ll find that you have access to much more support – from both professionals and loved ones – if you decide to raise your child on a vegan diet.
So how can we be sure that we’re making the right decision?
Well, the best thing to do is to look at factual information only. Sure, your friends, family, and colleagues may (and probably will) have a certain opinion about you raising your child on a vegan diet, but what does the science say?
In this article, we’re going to look at whether or not a vegan diet is safe for babies, the nutrients that your baby may be missing, and how to fill that gap, as well as some final tips for the vegan parent.
Vegetarian vs. Vegan
When raising your child on a plant-based diet, it’s up to you to decide whether you want them to eat vegetarian or vegan food.
The difference is this:
- A vegetarian diet excludes meat and fish.
- A vegan diet excludes all forms of animal products – including dairy and eggs.
With a vegetarian diet, your child will be getting some of the nutrients that they’re missing from meat by eating animal products such as butter, eggs, and cheese. For the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on raising children with a vegan diet, where all animal-derived products are off-limits.
Why people decide to opt for a vegan diet
There are many factors behind the decision to raise children on a vegan diet, and these will be personal to you, your beliefs, and your lifestyle.
For some, the choice to follow a vegan diet comes from a desire to reduce animal cruelty. With the most recent statistics stating that around 77 billion land animals are killed for food consumption every year, it’s understandable that the world is turning towards a more animal-friendly diet.
Others may choose to eat vegan as a way of living more sustainably and, therefore, contributing towards the health of the planet. This decision is supported by the fact that livestock alone contributes to 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
There are various other reasons for raising children on a vegan diet, including:
- Dairy intolerance
So, are vegan babies at risk?
The short answer is no! Your vegan baby is not at risk.
Eating a vegan diet has never been more accessible, more affordable, or more supported. The plant foods that your baby needs to thrive are available at every supermarket and can be prepared in no time at all.
Saying that your baby can lack nutrition due to a poorly planned vegan diet. But that’s what we hope to help you avoid with the information that we’ll be sharing in this post.
We’ll be looking at the most important nutrients and how, exactly, you can guarantee that your baby is getting all of the goodness their little body requires.
How to ensure complete nutrition
Firstly, note that babies younger than 6 months will be receiving all of the nutrition that they need from breastmilk or formula. Before your baby starts eating solids, there’s no need to supplement their diet.
Once your baby has started solids, there are a few things that you’ll need to consider to make sure that their diet includes everything their body needs to grow and develop.
Keeping meat and animal products away from your baby’s dinner tray will not necessarily put them at risk. However, it’s important to understand that meal planning might not be as simple as it is for those following a non-vegan diet. All this means is that you’ll have to take the time to get good at planning your daily meals and weekly shop! With a little practice, this is something that will come naturally to you.
Here are our best tips for ensuring complete nutrition on a vegan diet:
Although vegan diets will be lower in fat than diets including meat, it is possible to ensure that your baby is getting enough fat in their diet. You can do this by including a small portion of any of the following food with their meals.
- Vegetable oils
- Nut kinds of butter
- Chia seeds
DHA omega-3 fatty acids are important for neural and cognitive development but, unfortunately, come from animal products. Consider speaking to your healthcare provider or pediatrician to see if your child can begin taking a DHA supplement like this vegan one on Amazon.
Meeting your little one’s protein needs through a vegan diet is fairly simple, you just have to make sure they’re eating enough plant-based proteins! Many of which you probably already have stored in your kitchen cupboard.
Here are some plant-based proteins that are easy to include with meals or as snacks:
- Nut kinds of butter
- Seed kinds of butter
Use caution when giving your baby low-protein plant-based kinds of milk – such as almond and coconut milk – as these are very filling and will leave little room for nutrient-rich foods.
How to avoid deficiency
Though it’s easier for your baby to reach their recommended nutrient intake by eating animal products, it’s still possible to do this on a plant-based diet. The nutrients that you most need to be concerned with include B12, iron, iodine, and calcium.
Though B12 is found mainly in animal products, you can ensure that your baby is getting enough by providing them with B12-fortified plant milk and cereals.
Iron is most important for babies between 7-12 months of age because of the rapid growth that they experience during this time. The best way to get enough iron into your baby’s diet is by providing them with iron-rich foods such as:
- Iron-fortified baby cereal
- Dried fruit
- Nut kinds of butter
You can increase the body’s absorption of iron by serving a source of vitamin C such as strawberries, broccoli, potatoes, and oranges.
Salt is a primary source of iodine. But as salt is not recommended for babies younger than 12 months, you might want to consider giving your baby an iodine supplement. Consult your healthcare provider or pediatrician for recommendations.
Calcium is one of the easiest nutrients to source for those on a vegan diet and can be found in food such as:
- Almond butter
- Leafy greens
- Soy milk
Can you give a baby too much fiber?
It’s actually quite easy to give your baby too much fiber on a vegan diet. After all, lots of vegan-friendly foods are full of fiber and your baby’s gastrointestinal tract is tiny.
Trust us when we say that you’ll know when your baby has had too much fiber. They’ll likely be gassy, fussy, and potentially struggling with diarrhea. The other downside to feeding your baby too much fiber is that this will reduce their body’s ability to absorb the other important nutrients that we discussed above.
So, how can you avoid feeding your baby too much fiber?
- Offer water, milk, or fruit with their meals to increase fluid
- Introduce fiber into your baby’s diet gradually
- Soak beans, nuts, and seeds in water before serving to make them easier for your baby to digest
Things to bear in mind
Sometimes, depending on the individual child, it is more straightforward to raise your baby on a diet that is made up of all of the food groups – including meat.
This could be due to health issues, having an incredibly fussy baby, or the fact that the rest of the family eats meat. With that in mind, it is 100% your decision as to whether or not you decide to raise your baby on a vegan diet.
Though you may face adversity from (some) health professionals and loving family members, you will have your own personal reasons for how you choose to raise your baby, and that’s something that you can absolutely stick by if you choose to.
The best thing to do is to get in contact with a child nutritionist who supports plant-based diets so that you can receive personalized and unbiased support from them in how to guarantee that your baby stays healthy.
Raising a vegan baby doesn’t have to be a source of stress, uncomfortable conversations, and general uncertainty. In fact, your vegan baby can grow up as strong and healthy as every other child out there! And that’s all anybody else needs to know.
How you choose to raise your children is your decision and your decision only. Read about it, plan your meals, and provide your baby with lots of new food to try and you’re sure to be successful.