Going vegetarian is fast becoming a global trend that is being embraced by a growing number of people across cultures. Many people today are consciously making the choice, driven by medical, ethical and environmental reasons, to avoid meat and other products derived from animals in their diet and their lifestyle. They add to an already existing class of people who are vegetarians by virtue of their religious, cultural or social circumstances.
Is it the right choice for children?
If you are vegetarian, you may also want your children to follow suit. However, due to widely diverging opinions and constantly changing views regarding nutrition, you may not be so sure. You may wonder whether a vegetarian diet would be able to fulfil the dietary requirements of your growing children adequately.
Types of vegetarians
Vegetarians typically confirm to one of the following groups:
Vegans: Vegans are people who believe in eliminating the use of any animal derived product from their life. This includes not just meat, fish, and poultry, but eggs, dairy products, and also honey, wool, silk etc.
Lacto-vegetarians: Vegetarians of this class exclude all kinds of meat, fish, and poultry, including eggs. However, they include milk and dairy products in their diet.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians: This class of vegetarians excludes meat and fish, but consumes eggs and dairy products.
The advantages of going green
Earlier, at least in the West, a vegetarian diet was considered a fad favoured mainly by eccentrics; today its health benefits are quite universally accepted. While the debate on the health benefits of complete abstinence from animal-derived foods rages on, most health experts agree that turning vegetarian has its benefits.
Medical studies suggest a strong correlation between vegetarian diets and a reduced incidence of many diseases. The incidence of hypertension and heart disease is also significantly lower amongst vegetarians. Doctors now agree that avoiding meat and other high-fat animal foods helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Besides, a diet rich in plant foods is also said to be a sure safeguard against the risk of cancer.
Ensuring a balance
Paediatricians and nutritionists agree that children do perfectly well when brought up as vegetarians as long as they get a balanced diet that is able to address their nutritional requirements. The fact is, just avoiding meat, fish, and eggs, may not be enough. If your child routinely binges on junk food such as potato chips and aerated drinks, do not expect vegetarian food to work great wonders!
Strict vegetarians may also need to take care to ensure that their diet is nutritionally complete. Vitamins B12 and D, for instance, are found only in foods derived from animal sources. Proteins and iron are more easily accessible through non-vegetarian food items than vegetarian. Parents of vegetarian children thus may need to complement their diet with supplements or fortified food items to make up for the any lack or deficiency from natural vegetarian foods. Here is a beginner's nutrition list:
Plenty of helpings of fresh fruits and vegetables
Protein in the form of lentils, pulses, nuts, soya milk, tofu and dairy and eggs
Iron in the form of beans, lentils, cereals, dried fruit and green vegetables
Vitamin B12, in the form of dairy products, eggs, or vitamin B12 fortified soya milk or cereal
Vitamin C from fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables and fruit juices
Vitamin D from dairy products and eggs or fortified food such as margarine or cereal
Calcium from cow's milk, yogurt, cheese, green vegetables, beans, lentils, sesame, almonds and fortified soya milk
Zinc from nuts, pumpkin and other seeds, pulses, tofu and cheese
Fat from healthy plant or dairy based sources
Adequate fibre from wholemeal bread or cereals
Explain reasons for your choice
The responsibility for parents may extend to more than ensuring the golden balance in their children's diet. Raising children as vegetarians may involve helping children "fit in" without seeing themselves as different from their peers and the society they are growing up in; this is rather more typical in predominantly meat-eating cultures, such as the West, than in traditionally vegetarian societies such as in India. It is important that parents use tact and discuss the issue with children, explaining the reasons for their choice.
"Why are you vegetarian?" is a question, that children may often encounter from friends and peers. It is important that parents teach their children how to respond to such queries without inviting defensive reactions. Educating them on the right way to handle such queries may also help them to formulate their own ideas and strengthen their own belief in their choice. Once they are convinced and have children of their own, you can be sure they will bring them up as vegetarians as well.
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- The Indiaparenting Team