Vegetarianism Done Right
We know that vegetarianism can work. Some traditional cultures have successfully been on meatless diets, and have enjoyed good health and longevity for centuries. But despite knowing a lot more about plant-based nutrition than we did 50 years ago, meat-free diets are sometimes criticized for being deficient.
And if your children decided on their own that they don’t want to eat animals anymore, you might wonder… What are the nutrients vegetarian children need to be healthy?
Can My Child Be Vegetarian?
The short answer is yes, but if we look at ancestral diets that were heavily plant-based, we can see that they relied on sacred foods which are now being forgotten. Unfortunately, without these foods, being a healthy vegetarian is much more difficult, and children are the first to suffer.
Slower growth rates, cavities, and low energy (or hyperactivity) start to appear. Here are 5 nutrients vegetarian children need to meet their nutritional needs, along with the most common food sources.
Nutrients Vegetarian Children Need: Iodine
According to the World Health Organization, iodine is one of the most important nutrients vegetarian children need as iodine deficiencies are the #1 cause of brain damage in childhood. But, they add: “No food group serves as a better iodine source than sea vegetables.”
While it is easier to get children to eat seaweed if you start when they are very little, you can start anytime. For example, sprinkle mild and salty kelp granules on scrambled eggs. Soak wakame for a few minutes, cut off the spine, and serve it with a ginger/tamari dipping sauce.
Add addictive dulse to your salads; it will soften and provide a nice salty flavor without being overpowering (or eat it right out of the bag!). And who hasn’t tried toasted nori sheets, seasoned with nothing more than a little olive oil and salt?
Nutrients Vegetarian Children Need: Vitamin D
Low vitamin D can cause anything from cavities and rickets to low birth weight and a higher risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. Yet, the 400 IU of vitamin D a day we are told to get is now being thought of as being much too low. Unless you’re running around naked under the sun, it’s likely you need more vitamin D.
Vegetarian sources children often love are pastured egg yolks (make an omelet, and add an additional egg yolk), and mushrooms (add them to the omelet!). And don’t forget to ask your doctor about supplementation especially if you live in areas with long, gray winters.
Nutrients Vegetarian Children Need: Vitamin K2
Aren’t greens loaded with vitamin K? Yes, but that’s vitamin K1. K2 is often found in animal products that aren’t vegetarian but fret not. Natto, a fermented soybean paste, is loaded with it (if you can stomach it). Hard cheeses like raw gouda are also high in K2, and so are egg yolks and butter.
Why does K2 matter? Because it’s a crucial vitamin and bone mineralization. If you’re doing all you can to prevent cavities but your child still has weak enamel, it could be due to low K2 levels. If your children like buttered toast, that’s one way to get vitamin K2!
While some might comment on the fat content of some of these foods, it’s important to remember that children need more fat than adults.
Nutrients Vegetarian Children Need: Vitamin B12
Vegetarians are always asked about iron and protein, but rarely about vitamin B12. It’s puzzling because vitamin B12 is much more difficult to get on a vegetarian diet. Once again, eggs are the shining stars – a duck egg contains over 50% of the DV.
Pastured dairy products are also good sources of vitamin B12. It’s especially important for children to get enough vitamin B12 since deficiencies can lead to weakness, developmental delays, and even seizures. I occasionally give my children extra vitamin B12 with a tasty sublingual tablet as well.
Nutrients Your Vegetarian Children Need: Zinc
Do you get sick often during flu season, or do you get unexplained breakouts? If so, you might be low in zinc. I once tried to create a perfect vegetarian diet that did not rely on any supplements and found to my surprise that reaching 100% of the DV for zinc was way more difficult than for any other nutrient.
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, up to 2 billion people are low on zinc. Symptoms of deficiency include weak immunity, allergies, hair loss, and acne.
Getting enough zinc isn’t hard if you can eat a variety of nuts and seeds. Pumpkin seeds are very high in zinc and are super fun to make in the fall when you are making Jack O’Lanterns. This Vitamin C Rich Green Smoothie is another good source of zinc thanks to the leafy greens.
A properly planned vegetarian diet for children can be loaded with vitamins and minerals, and lower the chances of getting countless diseases. But it isn’t difficult to end up with a deficient diet, and kids are the first to suffer from a lack of nutrition.
If your children wish to follow a vegetarian diet, you can support them while also making sure they are as healthy as possible, and these 5 nutrients vegetarian children need are the perfect place to get started!