MY wife is a vegetarian and insists on a vegetarian diet for our two children aged two and four. This has led to much conflict between us. I believe growing children need protein from fish, chicken and eggs and my wife is depriving them of these nutritious food. Am I right to feel this way? Please advise.
Anxious Dad, Kota Damansara
A VEGETARIAN diet can be a healthy choice for all children, as they take in less cholesterol, saturated fat/total fat, eat more fruits, vegetables and fibre.
But parents may wonder if children can safely follow a vegetarian diet and still get all the necessary nutrients.
The principles of planning a vegetarian diet are the same as planning any healthy diet — provide a variety of foods and include foods from all of the different food groups.
A balanced diet will provide the right combination to meet nutritional needs.
Depending on the type of vegetarian diet chosen, children may miss out on some of the important nutrients if the diet isn't monitored by parents.
The less restrictive the vegetarian diet, the easier it will be for your child to get enough of the necessary nutrients. In some cases, fortified foods or supplements can help meet nutritional needs as well.
Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency among vegetarians, especially those who don't eat any animal products.
Vitamin B-12 is found naturally only in animal products. Vegans may also be at risk of insufficient intake of vitamin D, calcium, zinc and riboflavin.
Compensating for possible nutritional deficiencies could be as simple as looking for plant sources of vitamins and minerals that are missing.
For example, instead of eating meat to get protein and iron, try soybeans.
To get enough riboflavin, vegans can opt for asparagus or broccoli. It is important to serve fortified cereals and nutrient-dense foods too.
Vitamin supplementation is recommended for young children whose diets may not provide adequate nutrients.
Answers provided by Dr Lim Kok Chong
consultant paediatrician, Columbia Asia Hospital- Bukit Rimau.
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