Other than going green by doing things in a way that protects the natural environment such as recycling, do you know that being a vegetarian or vegan is also eco-friendly? Instilling green minds since young brings great impact to not just the environment, but also his health throughout adolescence or adulthood. What comes to your mind if your child wishes to be a vegetarian or vegan?
What It Takes to Be Vegetarian?
A vegetarian is a person who omits any animal-based foods from his food choices. A vegetarian diet can be vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, and ovo-vegetarian. Here are the differences:
• Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: No meat, fish, poultry or products containing these foods, but include dairy and eggs.
• Lacto-vegetarian: No meat, fish, poultry or products containing these foods, but include dairy
• Ovo-vegetarian: No meat, fish, poultry or products containing these foods, but include eggs
• Semi-vegetarian: Only excluding red meat
• Vegans: Does not consume any form of animal-derived foods, which excludes all meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey
A well-planned vegetarian diet can be tasty, nutritious and healthy. If your child does not like meat and willing to go for vegetarian or vegan diet, it is important to make sure the diet is balanced and varied so that he/she can obtain all the nutrients required for growth and health.
What do you need to keep an eye on your child’s vegetarian diet?
Your child needs calories from foods to grow and develop. Vegetarian diets are often high in fibre, which can cause young children to feel full before they have eaten enough calories. You may offer potatoes, sweet potatoes or nut butter on breads, cook with health fats like olive oil or blended oil and prepare tofu, tempeh or other meat substitutes.
Your child needs protein to build and maintain muscles, organs, and immunity especially they are at rapid growth period. Good sources of plant protein include peas, beans, lentils, seeds, nuts and whole grains. Lacto-ovo vegetarians also can get protein from eggs and dairy products. If your child does not have nut allergy, peanut butter or almond butter are great choices too!
Your red blood cells need iron to carry oxygen throughout your body and children need even more! Meat is a good source of absorbable iron so you will need to offer alternative source to ensure your growing children get enough. Try wholegrain cereals, green leafy vegetables, blackstrap molasses, spirulina, soymilk, cashews and lentils. Don’t forget vitamin C helps body to absorb iron from non-meat source, so try to include fruits and vegetables at every meal time.
This is important to maintain healthy nerve and blood cells, found only in animal source. Vegetarians or vegan can get it from eggs, dairy products, fortified cereals, nutritional yeast or spirulina.
Calcium cannot be made by our body, and hence must be obtained from foods we eat. It is the key nutrient to build and maintain strong bones and teeth, in particular growing children. Plant-based milk, sesame seeds, dried fruits, tofu and leafy green vegetables are good sources of calcium. Don’t forget to get at least 15-30 minutes sunshine every day for optimal vitamin D level, also another essential nutrient required for healthy bones and metabolism.
Last but not least, consult a dietitian/nutritionist to help you plan a vegetarian diet that is right for your family and fulfils your child’s nutrient needs.
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2. Agnoli C et al. 2017. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 27:1037-1052.
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This article is written by Suet Kei (Biogreen Nutritionist) for Green Image Organic Enterprise Sdn Bhd.