Vegan Diet: How To Ensure Your Child Gets The Essential Nutrients
Vegans consume only plant-based food sources, not animal or dairy products. This World Vegan Day, we look at how this diet can give your child the right nutrition for optimum growth and development.
By Priya Kathpal • 9 min read
What is veganism?
As November 1 is celebrated as World Vegan Day globally, this is the right opportunity to look at veganism as a lifestyle and way of life. Veganism is about living a cruelty-free life, without using or consuming animal products in any form — be it in terms of diet or food (no eggs, meat, fish or poultry) and also, clothing and accessories (not using silk or leather products).
Vegans therefore embrace plant-based food sources (cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, etc.). So, if you want to become a vegan, you will need to avoid even honey as that is sourced from bees. What's more, unlike vegetarians, vegans also do not consume any dairy-based food products.
This means, as a vegan, you cannot depend on milk or milk-based products as a source of nutrition. Naturally, this means that if you choose to become a vegan, you need to look for other sources of nourishment. In fact, the vegan lifestyle requires regular supplements in order to prevent any nutrition deficiencies.
Veganism and children
This begs the question, what about children? Can they also take up or be raised on a vegan diet considering that they need the best nutrition possible in their growing-up years for optimum growth and development? If you are a vegan and want to also raise your child as one, do not fret. A healthy and nourishing vegan diet will be sufficient and can compensate for the absence of animal or dairy-based sources of nutrition.
However, keep in mind that growing children need enough proteins, calcium and other nutrients to support growth. Since a vegan diet eliminates dairy, meat, eggs, fish and other animal products, it leaves you visibly limited choices to achieve your child's nutrient needs. Special attention should be paid to providing vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron.
Supplements for your child’s vegan diet
So, how can you ensure that a child gets the required essential nutrients on a vegan diet? As a vegan, your child's diet must be supplemented in other ways.
Here is a list of some foods that can help make up the deficiencies of a purely vegan diet:
With products like tofu, tempeh and edamame — soybean is a whole source of protein. Tofu and tempeh also contain iron and calcium. These can also be used in a variety of recipes. Edamame is rich in probiotics, B vitamins, magnesium and phosphorous.
These are a source of slow-digesting carbs and are also, protein-rich. Fibre from lentils feed good bacteria and promote a healthy gut. Lentils are also rich in folate, iron and manganese.
A serving of green peas gives more than 25% of your child's daily fibre, vitamins A, C, K, thiamine, folate and manganese requirements. It is also a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and several other B vitamins.
Cereals like amaranth and quinoa are also great sources of protein and minerals.
A great source of proteins, minerals and healthy fats. Most nuts can be consumed in more than one way. For example, cashew cheese is a healthy and tasty option.
Chia, flax seeds and products made from them, are good sources of fibre and omega-3 fats. You can add these to smoothie bowls, fresh juice and shakes. And also, sprinkle over baked items.
Low-oxalate (oxalate is the molecule in plants that on excess consumption can lead to kidney stones), dark leafy greens are great sources of calcium for vegans — these include, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, or bok choy. Besides calcium, these greens also contain potassium, vitamin K, and magnesium, which contribute to stronger bones.
While spinach, Swiss chard, and beet greens are high in calcium, due to their high content of oxalate, the calcium isn’t well absorbed in the body. What happens is that the high oxalate content binds calcium and prevents absorption from the digestive tract. Other sources of calcium for vegans include fortified drinks, calcium-set tofu, oranges, figs, and supplements.
Keep in mind that besides natural foods, your child will need to be given fortified foods and supplements — for certain nutrients like vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Also, apart from the choice of food, how it is processed is also important. Sprouting and fermenting are methods to increase nutritional absorption and reduce the anti-nutritional properties of many foods.
Also read: Giving your child nuts and dried fruits
Some healthy vegan meals can be:
- Vegan pancakes that can have coconut oil in place of eggs
- Beans and toast
- Black beans with quinoa
- Snacking seeds like pumpkin seeds
How to make cashew cheese
If you are a vegan and you still want to make pizza for your child, then look at cashew cheese as a substitute for regular cheese. As the name suggests, this is made from blended cashews. Here is an easy recipe to make it at home:
- ½ cup cashews
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- ¼ cup cold pressed virgin coconut oil
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- Soak the cashews for 10 minutes in boiling water.
- Drain and then place cashews in a blender along with the rest of the ingredients.
- Process until smooth.
- In a saucepan, add the cashew cream or paste and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until it thickens.
- Pour into lightly oiled ramekins and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- To remove, flip each ramekin upside down and tap the contents onto a board. Your cashew cheese is ready!
Going the vegan way can help your child eat healthy, from a very young age. Also, as veganism is about living a cruelty-free life, becoming vegan can also make your child more aware of food choices. However, do ensure that the diet you provide includes the four food groups — legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and also, the essential required supplements.
The writer is a nutritionist and the founder of Nutrify.
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