When it comes to vegan infants and toddlers, the stakes are high as they are at their most crucial development stage and key nutrients may inadvertently be overlooked in the restrictive diet. We look at easy-to-miss-out essential nutrients for vegan children and the alternative plant sources.
Essential Amino Acids
The nine essential amino acids (ones the body does not produce) are easily found in animal proteins. Without the benefit of a flexitarian diet, the risk of missing out on them is very real. For vegan children, the key is to diversify the vegetable menu as no one vegetable contains all of them. If one is breastfeeding post-weaning, then they are covered. However, in case you stop breastfeeding, fortified soya milk formula should be good enough.
Plant sources: Legumes, seed butters from peanut and almonds among others.
Vitamins B12 and D
Vitamin B12 is responsible for the formation of red blood cells and normal functioning of the nervous and brain systems, while Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium leading to healthy bones. Vitamin B12 cannot be produced by the body (Vitamin D can and is activated when exposed to sunlight) but is plentiful in some meat and dairy products. For vegans, however, supplements and fortified foods may be the best bet. If one is breastfeeding, then consuming supplements allows the Vitamin B12 to be passed on to the baby. However, Vitamin D is low in breast milk and supplements may be necessary in climates with little to no sunlight.
Plant sources: Fortified cereals, adequate sun exposure (early morning or late evening), and supplements.
Calcium, together with Vitamin D, is essential for the formation of healthy bones and once again plentiful in meat and dairy products. There are plenty of sources from the plant kingdom but chances are one will have to supplement to get the required amount.
Plant sources: Green leafy vegetables, oranges, beans, and fortified foods such as margarine.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for cell formation and central nervous system, cardiovascular and brain development. Fish is among its richest source. They can also be found in some plant sources.
Plant sources: Linseed, flaxseed, walnut and rapeseed/canola oils or the seed alternatives.
The iron content in breast milk is generally low and is depleted after four to six months hence the need to supplement. Vitamin C rich foods also aid in iron absorption and it is advisable to include them in the diet as well.
Plant sources: Beans, leafy vegetables, raisins and oranges.
Published December 2016