C an a vegan diet damage your child’s health? Social workers in Lewisham believe it can, which is why they tried to take a five-year-old who appeared to have rickets into care. The boy’s parents have just won their legal battle to prevent this, and they have also succeeded in having their son removed from the at-risk register. The couple say they don’t eat dairy produce because asthma runs in the family — but they’re not vegans, as social workers claimed, because they do eat fish. However, the case raises questions about how difficult it is to nourish a young child adequately on a restrictive diet — and whether the risks involved are too great. Paediatric dietician Helen Wilcock, a member of the British Dietetic Association, says she tries not to be judgmental about the rights and wrongs of vegan diets for young children, but any parent wanting to raise their child as a vegan needs to be very well-informed. Another big issue is that a vegan diet isn’t very energy-dense: you have to eat a lot of it to get enough energy. But children typically don’t eat a lot, so getting enough calories into them can be difficult. Another difficulty is protein.
Back to Your pregnancy and baby guide. Advice on introducing your baby to solid foods from around 6 months is the same for vegetarian and vegan babies as it is for non-vegetarian babies. Babies and young children on a vegetarian or vegan diet can get the energy and most of the nutrients they need to grow and develop from a well-planned varied and balanced diet. Find out more about vegetarian diet and vegan diets. But they might need specific supplements such as vitamin B12 in addition to the usual vitamin supplements recommended for all babies. Talk to a health professional for advice. If your baby or child has a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet that does not include dairy or eggs, they’ll need to take a supplement that contains vitamin B12 or eat foods fortified with B Vitamin B12 can also be found in some yeast extracts, which is suitable for vegans choose a brand with no added salt for your baby. In the UK, fish, cows’ milk and other dairy products are the main sources of iodine in our diet.
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