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Vegetarian Diets (cont.)

IN THIS ARTICLE

Is it safe for children to be vegetarians?

A well-planned vegetarian diet can be healthy for children. Young vegan children tend to be slightly smaller but still within growth normal ranges. And they tend to catch up to other children in size as they get older.

If you are raising a child on a vegetarian diet, consider the following:

  • Babies who get only breast milk should have supplements of iron after the age of 4 to 6 months. (This is not necessary if you add iron-fortified infant cereal to the child's diet at this age.)
  • A vitamin D supplement may be appropriate for children under 1 year of age. Talk with your doctor about how much and what sources of vitamin D are right for your child.
  • Breast-fed babies of vegan mothers need vitamin B12 supplements if the mother's diet is not fortified.
  • Children younger than 2 years need the extra fat in whole milk for brain and nerve development. Don't give them low-fat or fat-free milk. If you are using soy milk instead of cow's milk, make sure that it's full-fat soy milk, and talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to make sure your child is getting enough fat.
  • Vegan diets can contain a lot of fiber. Fiber is great because it fills you up without adding a lot of calories. But children have small stomachs, and the fiber they eat can fill them up before they get enough calories. Frequent meals and snacks—with plenty of cereals, legumes, and nuts—will help children get the energy and nutrients they need for healthy growth.

What if your teenager decides to become a vegetarian?

With careful planning, a vegetarian diet can be very healthy for teens. In fact, it can be a great way to get them into a lifelong habit of healthy eating.

If your teen decides to become a vegetarian, teach him or her how to plan meals to get all the right nutrients every day. Teens need calcium and vitamin D. And iron is especially important for teen girls who are menstruating. Talk with your doctor about how much of these vitamins and minerals your child needs. Ask if your teen needs to take a daily supplement.

You may want him or her to talk to a registered dietitian to learn how to plan a healthy vegetarian diet.

It's important to find out why your teen wants to follow a vegetarian diet. Some teens adopt a vegetarian diet as a way to lose weight, and "being a vegetarian" can hide an eating disorder like anorexia.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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