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Growing Vegans:
Birth through Adolescence

Excerpted from: Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina

The greatest test of the adequacy of a vegan diet comes when it is given to the most vulnerable among us—infants and toddlers. As parents, we are committed to nourishing our children well. Infants and children have very different nutritional needs than adults. They are growing rapidly and require more protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals per pound of body weight than adults. Vegan diets, which are naturally less energy-dense (higher in bulk and often lower in fat), need to be adapted to support the unique nutritional needs of our children.

Vegan Infants & Toddlers… formula for success (0-3 years of age)

Babies will grow at an unprecedented rate during these first few years of life. We must take it upon ourselves to gain a thorough understanding of the unique nutritional needs of human infants, the potential pitfalls of vegan diets, and how to build a vegan diet that really works. The formula for success is not so much different than it is for omnivorous babies (although all babies are vegetarians for the fi rst 6 to 8 months of life!). There are four parts to the formula:

A) Breastfeed Your Baby

Breast milk is the only food your baby needs for the fi rst 4 to 6 months of life. Continue to breastfeed your baby for a minimum of one year, and preferably for a full two years or more. Breast milk is specifically designed to meet the needs of the human infant, just as the milk of other mammals is specifically designed to meet the needs of their young. Breastmilk also provides immune protection, reduces risk of allergies, decreases the incidence of respiratory, gastrointestinal, and other illnesses, helps to create a wonderful bond between you and your infant, and is extraordinarily convenient and economical. The benefits continue for as long as you breastfeed.

B) Unfortified nondairy beverages should not be used as a primary milk source for infants

These milks will not provide the nutrients necessary for optimal growth and development, and could lead to malnutrition, especially during the weaning period. Fortified non-soy beverages contain minimal amounts of protein and are not suitable as primary milks during the second year of life. The only acceptable alternative to breast milk in infancy is commercial infant formula.

C) Introduce appropriate solid foods when your baby is four to six months of age

Most infants have no need for solid foods before six months of age; however some are ready by four or five months, particularly if they are growing very quickly. Many parents are tempted to delay solids well beyond six months. This is not generally advised, as solid foods provide extra energy and nutrients that are needed at this time (protein, iron, and zinc) and are important to infant development. When your baby is ready for solids, you’ll know it! Here are a few of the signs:

Additional considerations when introducing solid foods Observe for allergies Insure sufficient iron Introduce textured foods before 9 months D) Make sure your little one gets sufficient calories

A lack of sufficient calories is the main reason vegan diets can fail to adequately nourish vegan toddlers. Babies are most vulnerable right around the time of weaning (usually between 1 and 3 years). Poorly planned vegan diets can be too high in bulk and too low in fat and calories to support the rapid growth and development of infants and toddlers. Recall that breast milk, the ideal food for infants, derives approximately 54% of its calories from fat and contains about 175 calories per cup. As your baby begins to eat more solid foods and drink less breast milk, it is important to insure that the foods selected provide an appropriate balance of fat, energy, and nutrients.

Energy-Packed Tips for Toddlers Vegan Children… the challenges (4-10 years old)

The primary dietary goal for vegan children is to insure that the diet is nutritionally adequate. However, as parents, we strive to provide the very best opportunity for optimal health – a diet that will enable our children to grow and develop to their fullest physical, mental, and emotional potential. We hope food will be a joy for them, something to appreciate and celebrate. Be assured that a vegan diet can accomplish all of these things - thousands of wonderfully healthy vegan children can testify to that!

The Question of Supplements

Vegan children have no need for nutritional supplements if the appropriate amounts of fortified foods are used. If fortified foods are not consistently used in suffi cient quantity, the following supplements may be required:

For vitamins B12 and D, a multivitamin/ mineral supplement is suitable (read labels). If using this type of supplement, check to make sure it also contains zinc.

Hey Teens!

So, you’ve decided to become a vegan – awesome! Your example will be a real inspiration to others, but it will be especially powerful if you take good care of yourself. Getting the right food is not such a big deal. These simple suggestions will get you past the biggest hurdles:

1. Eat something!

It would be great to see you sit down to a big breakfast of scrambled tofu, veggie bacon, whole grain toast, and freshly squeezed orange juice. But we get that breakfast may not be one of your top priorities. It is far better that you eat a granola bar and a juice box on your way to school than nothing at all.

2. Replace meat with nonanimal foods They’ll give you the important nutrients you used to get from meat, without all the fat, cho-lesterol and other stuff that you don’t want anyway. Eat Beans! Give Tofu a Chance! Try Veggie “Meats” Go nuts! 3. Replace cow’s milk with fortified soymilk*

You get the same key nutrients as you do from cow’s milk, but without the artery-clogging fat and cholesterol. Aim for at least 2-3 cups a day.

(* Buy fortified soymilk – there are huge differences in the calcium content of fortifi d and unfortified soymilks. If you don’t like soymilk, try some of the other fortified nondairy beverages such as rice milk.)

If you aren’t a big soymilk fan, start using fortified orange juice. It has about the same amount of calcium as fortified soymilk.

4. Eat your veggies

Now where have you heard this before? On this count, your mom is definitely right.

5. Buy some Red Star Nutritional Yeast (Vegetarian Support Formula)

It not only tastes great; it is loaded with vitamin B12 – the one nutrient that we don’t get from plants.

6. Use flax oil

There are some very nutritious fats that vegans don’t seem to get enough of. Flax oil is loaded with good stuff, so give it a try. It could make a big difference in the long haul.

OK, we know we are pushing it here, but you can’t blame us for trying. This stuff is pretty good. You can even buy flavored flax oils. Aim for about a teaspoon a day.

Note: Don’t cook with flax oil – it is very easily damaged by heat.

7. Take a multivitamin/mineral supplement

Technically, if you eat really well and use foods fortified with vitamin B12 and vitamin D, you don’t need a supplement. However, if any of the following apply to you, take a supplement:

If none of these apply to you, we wholeheartedly applaud you. For all others, take an adult multivitamin/mineral supplement.