What is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes and eliminates animal products (meat, dairy, eggs). A low-fat plant-based diet also minimizes the use of free oils and instead opts for fats found in whole foods such as nuts, avocados and coconut.
Is a plant-based diet dangerous for children?
A well-planned plant-based diet is not only safe, but it can help prevent many of the most common chronic diseases that we face in the United States. Prevention starts during pregnancy and can be continued throughout childhood. A position statement from the American Dietetic Association in 2009 stated:
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
Will my children obtain all the protein they need from a plant-based diet?
Eating a plant-based diet has many advantages. There is a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity among vegetarian children and adults. Vegetarian diets are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol which lead to lower rates of heart disease. Plant-based diets also tend to be higher in fiber, complex carbohydrates, folic acid, vitamin C and E, carotenoids as well as other phytochemicals. This may help explain the lower rates of cancers and higher rates of cancer survival in vegetarians. Vegetarians also have lower rates of diabetes. Other favorable side effects of consuming a low-fat, plant-based diet for children and adolescents are a decreased risk of constipation, acne and menstrual cramps.
Where will my child obtain calcium if he avoids dairy?
Calcium is found in a variety of plant foods. The best sources of absorbable calcium from plant origin are greens (collard greens, turnip greens, kale, bok choy, mustard greens, broccoli), tofu, calcium fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified plant milks, beans (soy beans, navy beans), nuts and seeds (tahini, almonds). Blackstrap molasses also has a very high amount of absorbable calcium.
Will my child become iron-deficient and anemic on a plant-based diet?
The iron absorbed from animal products is derived from the blood cells of that animal (heme), but there is also non-heme iron found in plants. Iron deficiency is a risk for all children even those that consume meat and animal products. Good sources of plant-derived iron are found in a variety of beans (soybeans, tofu, white beans, lentils), nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds) as well as greens (spinach), and even whole grains (quinoa). Blackstrap molasses also has a high iron content. Consuming foods rich in iron along with foods high in vitamin C helps boost the absorption of iron into the body
What are Whole Foods?
Whole foods are foods that are unrefined or unprocessed and without additives or preservatives. They are foods that are consumed as close to their natural state as possible. Examples of whole foods are fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans. In contrast, processed foods are usually refined and have added ingredients such as preservatives and additives (like food dyes used to enhance color). An apple is a whole food. Apple juice is a processed food. Wheat berries are a whole food. Refined white flour is a processed food. A general rule of thumb is that if it comes in a box or a bag it may be a processed food. If it is still in the form that it would look like if you picked it from a tree or your garden, then it is likely a whole food.
Isn't it difficult to make healthy plant-based meals?
Preparation may take a little longer at first, but once you learn the basics it may not take much longer than your usual routine. It is also possible to make meals ahead of time and use some convenience foods such as frozen vegetables and canned beans that cut down on prep time. Because the ingredients in a whole-food plant-based diet are often simple, the kids can even chip in and give you a hand. Even if it does take a bit longer than your usual routine, the payoff could be so great that it is worth the extra time.