Kids Health

World Vegetarian Day: How to ensure your veggie child is getting enough nutrients

World Vegetarian Day: Here are some pointers for parents raising vegetarian kids.

By Dr Seema Khanna

Research suggests that vegetarian diets are healthier than meals with meat. Regular consumption of vegetarian meals could prevent early deaths, stated Dr Walter Willet, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition during a medical conference. There is good evidence and many healthy benefits of a vegetarian diet when consumed in a proper, planned way. These diets are tied to lower risk of heart diseases, high blood pressure, obesity, cancer and many other chronic diseases.

There is evidence that patients eating only vegetarian foods witnessed a positive impact on autoimmune disorders. When a vegetarian diet is cultivated from childhood, parents should choose the following:

  • High fibre whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and oil seeds
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Other low glycemic index foods

It is advised to give your child cottage cheese and curd other than the above, which completes non-vegetarian proteins. A study conducted among children with high cholesterol levels and HbA1c (a blood test to measure sugar control) compared plant-based diets to non-vegetarian or animal-based diets. After four weeks, it was seen that, on a vegetarian diet, the blood cholesterol levels and HbA1c levels came nearly normal and they shed their excess pounds too.

A common concern about vegetarian diets is that they lack in few vitamins and minerals. The most important nutrient is B12 as it is a water soluble vitamin and easily destroyed by heat and washing cereals before cooking. Likewise, rice contains vitamin B12 on the first layer, which is washed away while washing rice. Others are Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids. Very few foods contain Vitamin D, long chain (a type of Omega 3 fatty acids), Omega 3 fatty acids. Only a handful foods contain nutrients that are important for the heart, brain and eyes.

Making up the deficits in a vegetarian diet

These deficits of Vitamin B12 can be completed by consuming Vitamin B 12 fortified foods, nutritional yeast and taking vitamin supplements. Vitamin D can be completed in small amounts through sun exposure. People living in cold weather can take Vitamin D supplements like pediasure, sprouted moong ragi mix, etc. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in good amounts in almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds. Roasted flaxseeds and chia seeds can be consumed raw or powdered, added to various flours and pulses. For iron consumption, food can be cooked in iron utensils. Iron intake can also be taken through palak pooris, palak parantha, and bajra flour and methi vadas.

Those on a vegetarian diet are advised to follow a balanced diet and consult a nutritionist. With plant-based diets, a lot of water needs to be consumed, since a lot of heat is produced in various exothermic reactions occurring in digestion of plant-based foods.

(The writer is a consultant nutritionist.)

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