Friday, February 1, 2013

Kids and Vegetarianism-Do They Mix?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics chairman, Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, “Vegetarianism can be conducive to a healthy lifestyle, but you have to balance out what you omit.”   The American Dietetic Association shares that vegetarianism can benefit kids as research shows that vegetarian kids take in less cholesterol, saturated fat and total fat, and also consume more fruits, vegetables and fiber.  With the backing of these two professional associations many more people are opting to have their kids and teens follow this alternative diet.  In fact about 3% of today’s youth are in fact proclaimed vegetarians.
 vegetarianism children
For those who opt to have their kids follow a vegetarian lifestyle it is important to be sure to avoid the common pitfalls.  First, every child regardless of being a vegetarian or not should always have a yearly check up with their physician to track proper growth, health and lab values.  When any child has a limited diet, due to choice or allergies, this is especially pertinent.

A common pitfall for the vegetarian child is the absence of adequate meal planning.  Quite often parents wind up eliminating the protein from the meals and it is not properly replaced.  Many kids opt for pastas, plain salads, or side dishes and fail to take in enough protein, which is required for proper growth and development.  It is important that parents educate their children on vegetarian protein substitutes and work to include them in their diet. This might require kids being introduced to new or unfamiliar foods, such as beans, tofu, nuts, dairy foods or other sources.  It is important to at times prepare meals ahead, research restaurant menus, educate caregivers, and bring additional snacks for your vegetarian children. 

Despite trying to follow a balanced diet iron is often an issue.  The type of iron found in plants is significantly harder for the body to absorb than the iron found in animal products. It is essential that vegetarians be tested for iron deficiency because the symptoms tend to show up after damage has occurred.  Additionally, vitamin b-12 can be a problem as it is only found in animal products as well.  Vitamin D, calcium and riboflavin need to be considered as well.  Vegans are at greater risk than those vegetarians who take in eggs or fish as well.  It is often suggested that these kids take in fortified foods or additional vitamin supplementation to help provide further nutrients.

Balancing foods is another aspect that parents need to be sure to consider.  The only complete protein found in a vegetarian diet is that which comes from soybeans.  Thus it is important that when taking in other sources of proteins, to pair these with other starches or vegetables that make it a complete protein. A meal of rice and beans is an example of a complete balanced meal.

Be careful to avoid having your kids be “french-fry-aterians”, or another words, kids who skip the meat and only eat carbohydrate foods.  In order for your child to have the benefits of a vegetarian diet, it is essential that they understand the importance of incorporating an array of vegetables, fruits, unsaturated fats, whole grains and proteins to their daily plate.  Getting an early start on understanding how to feed your kids can indeed lead to a healthier lifestyle.

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