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Raising a Vegetarian Baby
Vegetarian diets for babies can be highly nutritious and carry a lot of nutritional advantages. But what is a vegetarian and can a baby be raised on a vegetarian diet? How can vegetarian babies get enough protein and iron?
A vegetarian is a person whose diet generally consists of fruits and vegetables and in some cases milk and eggs. Most vegetarian parents naturally want to raise their babies as vegetarians or vegans but are met with skepticism about the safety of vegetarian diets for babies from their none vegetarian friends, work mates or even from family members.
Absolutely! Raising a baby on a vegetarian diet is a very positive thing to do as long as you make sure that your baby's meals are made as nutritiously dense as possible; leave no room for empty calories. People choose to become vegetarian for different reasons, but whatever the reason, a vegetarian diet can be very good for a baby's wellbeing and for the environment too. If you are vegetarian and would like to raise your baby on a vegetarian diet, then go for it. Vegetarian babies do and can thrive on a well balanced vegetarian diet.
Being vegetarian and raising your baby as one has loads of health benefits. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of fiber, vitamins, anti oxidants and minerals. All these properties found in fruits and vegetables help decrease the risk of many diseases such as later childhood obesity and heart disease. Furthermore, vegetables such as green leafy vegetables contain compounds that are known to reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer.
Vegetarian: This is a term that is commonly used to describe a person who does not eat meat, chicken and fish but eats vegetables, fruits and foods that are derived from animals products such gelatin, cheese, milk and eggs.
Vegan Diet: A vegan eats only vegetables and fruit products. Vegan's do not eat fish, meat, eggs, cheese or anything derived from animals products.
Lacto Vegetarian Diet: This diet includes dairy products such milk and cheese but excludes eggs.
Ovo - Vegetarian Diet: Ovo vegetarians abstain from meat, fish, pork, shellfish but eat eggs.
Pescatarian Diet: A pescatarian does not eat meat or chicken but eats fish. A pescatarian's diet will mainly consist of fish, fruits and vegetables
Note: Do not eliminate meat or meat products from your baby's diet without consulting your baby's pediatrician.
A vegetarian baby like any other baby should eat a wide variety of foods in order to thrive. Vegetarian diets for babies must include foods that are rich in carbohydrates, omega-3-fatty acids, vitamin D, iron, Calcium and vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin that can be found in meat, fish and dairy products. Vitamin B12 is necessary for the production of red blood cells, protein synthesis and the maintenance of the nervous system.
A deficiency in vitamin B12 can easily lead to anemia and nerve-related complications. A breast feed vegan baby will get his vitamin B12 from breast- milk provided the mother is taking B12 supplements. Formula feed vegan babies can be offered fortified vegetable based formulas like soy formula.
Babies are born with their own iron reserves but by the time they reach the age of 6 months their iron stores will normally have been depleted. Iron is an essential component of our red blood cells and the lack of it will inevitably lead to Iron-deficiency-anemia.
Red meat is one of the best sources of iron and can be introduced to babies at 6 months of age. Vegetarian babies will of course have to obtain their iron requirements from iron rich vegetables and fruits. You do not have to feed your baby red meat; however, care must be taken to insure that your baby eats enough iron rich vegetarian foods after the age of 6 months.
Proteins are essential for building cells and also form a part of our immune system. With babies developing at such rapid rates, their need for protein is even higher than ours. Vegetarian diets for babies can easily be designed to meet a baby's daily protein requirements.
Good Sources of Iron
Chickpeas, Soy beans, Quinoa, Peas, Wheat germ, Watercress, Green leafy vegetables ( avoid spinach in younger babies), Parsley and Broccoli.
Good Sources of Protein
Tofu, Quinoa, Beans, Lentils, Soy yoghurt, Quorn and Quino. Well cooked egg, full fat natural yoghurt and cheese are also great sources of protein for lacto-ovo babies
*Remember to introduce one new food at a time and to discuss the introduction of new foods with your baby's pediatrician.