A vegan approach to eating is becoming increasingly popular and many parents, including, reportedly, Meghan and Harry Sussex are deciding to raise their children on a vegan diet.
A vegan diet has so many nutritional benefits. Provided a variety of fresh, nutrient-rich plant foods (as opposed to processed foods) are chosen, a vegan diet can be packed full of fibre, beneficial fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Parents who are interested in raising a vegan family are understandably concerned that their plant-based diet should contain all the nutrients required for the demands of a growing baby or active toddler. The type of nutrients and the food sources we need to particularly focus on within any vegan meals are:
For optimum bone density, mood and immune health. As well as the sunshine, mushrooms that have been left in the sun are a great vegan source of vitamin D.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids
For optimum brain development, immunity and eye health. Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, hemp, chia and flaxseed are all brilliant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Particularly important considering the calcium demands of the bones and teeth of a growing baby. For calcium-rich plant foods look to green leafy veg (i.e. spinach, kale, broccoli and cauliflower), tahini, tofu, sesame seeds and almonds.
Essential for healthy formation of red blood cells and optimum energy levels. Green leafy veg and legumes (i.e. lentils, peas, chickpeas, beans, soybeans and peanuts) are excellent sources of iron.
For energy metabolism, optimum immune function and healthy red blood cell development. Whilst vegetables do contain some levels of vitamin B12, it is so challenging to get enough vitamin B12 from plants alone that supplementation is recommended.
Needed for every cell within the body for growth, development and repair. Excellent vegan sources of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are legumes (lentils, peas, chickpeas, any beans, soybeans and peanuts), hemp seeds, chia seeds, quinoa, nut butters and nuts. It’s important that a variety of protein sources are consumed so that our bodies receive the complete range of amino acids essential for optimum growth.
We also need to consider how we are getting zinc (nuts and seeds), vitamin B6 (avocados, pistachios and butternut squash) and iodine (seaweed) from a vegan diet. A variety of foods within the diet is key to ensuring that your child is getting a variety of nutrients and that their diet is meeting their nutritional needs.
It’s worth noting that many of these minerals and vitamins – when obtained through plant foods – are not as easily absorbed by the body as those same nutrients when consumed in animal products.
To address this we need to consider either combining foods so that nutrients can work synergistically to ensure optimum absorption. So, things to think about:
- When eating plant sources of iron, try to combine with vitamin C-rich foods. Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron which comes from plant sources.
- When consuming plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, try to also eat zinc rich foods to help the body convert these omega-3s to their more active form.
In order to help your babies extract maximum nutrition from their meals we have taken this all important synergistic approach to nutrients when putting together our Bellota Baby products.
For example, the tomatoes within our Red Lentil, Mariana Puree help support your baby’s absorption of the iron from the red lentils; the same applies to the vitamin C (peas) and iron (cannellini beans) within our delicious White Bean, Pea and Mint Puree; the zinc within the pumpkin seeds in our Lemon Zesty Bliss Balls can help your baby’s body to convert the ALA from the chia, hemp and pumpkin seeds into the more active forms of EPA and DHA.
As mentioned, we may need to consider nutritional supplementation for a vegan diet so we would recommend seeing a nutritional therapist or pediatrician to ensure the correct nutritional requirements are met.
Mary van der Westhuizen, Nutritionist and Weaning Expert at Bellota Baby