One of the best gifts parents can give their children is a pescetarian or vegetarian life-style, giving them a head start in life and an added advantage in preventing and fighting disease. According to the Journal of Pediatric Health Care, "research has highlighted nutritional advantages to vegetarian diets and has indicated that this style of eating can lead to lifelong healthy eating habits when adopted at a young age." The advantages include, but are not limited to, the prevention and treatment of certain diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, renal disease and dementia, as well as diverticular disease, gallstones and rheumatoid arthritis. (See PubMed.gov)
Vegetarian Diets for Children: Right from the Start
Eating habits are set in early childhood. Choosing a vegetarian diet can give your child - and your whole family - the opportunity to learn to enjoy a variety of wonderful, nutritious foods.
Children raised on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes grow up to be slimmer and healthier and even live longer than their meat-eating friends. It is much easier to build a nutritious diet from plant foods than from animal products, which contain saturated fat, cholesterol, and other substances that growing children can do without. As for essential nutrients, plant foods are the preferred source because they provide sufficient energy and protein packaged with other health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, antioxidant vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
Complete Nutrition for Children
Vegetarian diets provide excellent nutrition for all stages of childhood, from birth through adolescence. Of course, an infant's nutritional needs are best met by his or her mother's breast milk. It's nature's way of boosting the baby's immunity as well as his or her psychological well-being.
Doctors recommend introducing solid foods in the middle of the first year of life. The best weaning foods are soft plant foods such as ground, cooked cereals, mashed fruits, and well-cooked vegetables. Given a chance, toddlers and young children usually enjoy a wide variety fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes - even more so if they are involved in the preparation. School-aged children are often curious about where their food comes from and delight in learning how to cook, visiting farmers' markets, and gardening. Adolescents raised on a vegetarian diet often find they have an easy time maintaining a healthy weight and have fewer problems with acne, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems than their meat-eating peers.
For dietary recommendations, download the entire PDF fact sheet by clicking here. If you do not have Acrobat Reader, you may download it here.
Calcium, Building Healthy Bones, and the Downside of Cow's Milk
Download your bone building fact sheet here. (PDF file - 480 KB)
Q: Do children need milk for strong bones and overall health?
A: No. Humans are the only animals on the planet who drink milk beyong infancy. In addition, the milk we drink comes from a different species, a most unusual choice, one that, due to cultural influences, we rarely question.
Mammals produce milk for one reason, and one reason only: to feed their infants. The milk each species produces is nutritionally adapted to ensure the survival and optimum health of its offspring. The nutrients found in cow's milk, for instance, are different and/or are present in different quantities from those found in human milk, for obvious reasons (i.e. the milk of a cow contains all the necessary nutrients to help a calf put on 500 lbs in one year). We give it to our children, who are supposed to grow slowly, and preferably under 500 lbs, without considering the milk's species-specific purpose.
Lactose intolerance is normal. This is nature's way of saying "you're beyond infancy now, start eating your species specific foods". Many people, denying their nature, take over the counter pills and chewables to overcome their lactose intolerance, and/or purchase products that have added bacteria to help make digestion easier. Some cultures, particularly those of Asian descent, do not fight nature. Instead, they embrace it by feeding their infants mother's milk, then weaning them and switching to the consumption of foods devoid of dairy products. This is one reason Chinese food has no dairy in it.
Aside from the above mentioned facts, there are plenty of other reasons not to continue subscribing to our parents' and grandparents' ill conceived notions that milk is a wholesome food necessary for proper child development. Milk from another species creates health problems most people assume are unrelated.
Cow's Milk Is Risky
Researchers have linked cow's milk consumption to a number of childhood ailments from minor to very serious. In children under the age of one, risks include iron deficiency, colic, and increased risk of Type I diabetes. Naturally, the best beverage for infants and small toddlers is mother's breast milk. Even after the first year, food allergies to milk and milk products are common. A recent study also linked cow's milk consumption to chronic constipation in children. Many children and teens with irritable bowel syndrome, autism, asthma, and allergies improve when they stop drinking cow's milk.
Milk proteins, milk sugar, fat, and saturated fat found in dairy products may pose health risks for children and lead to chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, some types of cancer, and formation of atherosclerotic plaques that can lead to heart disease. The consumption of three servings of whole milk each day adds up to a total of 450 calories and more than 24 grams of fat, most of which is artery-clogging saturated fat.
The dairy industry often suggests that drinking milk or chocolate milk instead of soda will reduce problems with overweight, reduce sugar intake, and improve bone health. But the nutritional facts say otherwise. Two-percent chocolate milk has 80 percent more calories and the same amount of sugar as an equivalent serving of cola.
Milk Makes Many Children Sick
Many children by their fourth or fifth birthdays have grown out of their ability to digest the milk sugar lactose. Drinking milk can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and other uncomfortable symptoms in lactose-intolerant children. There is no need to take pills or buy special lactose-reduced dairy products. Instead, you might look at this change as a signal that breast milk is no longer needed, and that cow's milk shouldn't take its place. It is a time to expand your child's diet to include a wide variety of plant-based foods.
Dairy Products Edge Out Healthier Foods
Plant foods are chock full of important nutrients that strengthen immune function, improve bone strength, and protect against cancer and heart disease. For example, complex carbohydrates, vitamin C, fiber, folate, iron, and antioxidants are not found in dairy products, but are plentiful in vegetables, fruits, and beans. And plant food sources of calcium are low in saturated fat and always devoid of cholesterol.
Putting it All Together
As a parent you already have plenty of opportunities for worry. Your child's bone health need not be one of them. A few simple guidelines will keep children on the right track—a diet built from grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit, along with plenty of activity, and avoiding smoking, severe dieting, salty foods, and excess protein from meats, eggs, and cheeses is all you need to do. Your child's body will take care of the rest.
Together, these factors, along with your child's hormones and genes, will determine the strength of his or her bones. When it comes to bone health, it pays to look beyond the “get more calcium” message and offer your child a diet that both promotes bone building and reduces bone loss. Because dairy products are high in salt, animal protein, calories, and fat, plant sources of calcium, along with vitamin D and calcium-fortified products, are the preferred foods for your child's bones. (From The Physicians' Committee of Responsible Medicine - Parents' Guide to Building Better Bones. You may download the fact sheet in its entirety HERE, in PDF format.)
As if all this isn't enough to question milk's suitability for human consumption, there are additional factors to consider, such as the presence of neu5Gc in dairy products, particularly those derived from goat and sheep milk. For more information, check 101 Reasons Not to Drink Milk, by Dr. Linda Folden Palmer.
Q: I understand cow's milk is not the best alternative to breast milk, yet the vast majority of baby formula available is made with cow's milk. Can I replace the formula with soy or rice milks?
A: Absolutely not! If breast milk is not available, you can safely switch to an organic soy-based formula, such as Earth's Best Organic Infant Formula. If your child is allergic to soy, other options include: Enfamil Nutramigen, Neocate Infant Formula Powder with DHA and ARA, Enfamil Pregestimil Iron Fortified Formula, and/or Similac Alimentum Hypoallergenic Ready-To-Feed Formula with Iron and DHA/ARA.
Unlike soy milk, or any other nut or rice milks, soy-based and/or hypoallergenic formulas are specially formulated to meet all of your baby's nutritional needs. Soy, nut, and rice milks must be considered "snacks" or "treats", NEVER a substitute for breast milk or baby formula. After all, soy-milk is nothing more than bean juice, hardly a suitable substitute for mother's milk. No infant animal (mammal) could survive on such a diet regardless of its classification (carnivorous, omnivorous, herbivorous, or frugivorous).
Registered dietitians Dina Aronson and Marty Davey are one mouse click away from answering your questions about nutrition.|