A mum has revealed the reasons she's raising her son as a vegan and why she believes the plant-based diet is responsible for his good health.
Annabel Fenwick Elliott, 36, from London is mum to Jasper, who has just turned one, says she always planned for her child to have a plant-based diet and wishes she'd had the opportunity to be raised vegan herself.
"I'm starting Jasper off on a plant-based diet until he's old enough for me to explain why," she says. "After that, he can make his own choices about what to eat."
Jasper's varied diet includes:
pureed meals like oatmeal, coconut yoghurt, cinnamon, chai seeds and prunes for breakfast
potato, sweet potato, peas, carrot, silken tofu, and other ingredients like lemon juice for lunch
meals of chickpeas and beans
his mum's breast milk and vegan baby supplements
The mum-of-one says she hasn't had any criticism of the decision to raise her son on a plant-based diet. "I always expect healthcare providers to raise an eyebrow when I say he's vegan, but he's a healthy kid," she explains. "He has never once been sick and has hit all the milestones, so clearly, his diet is benefitting him."
Annabel advises any other parents considering raising their children vegan to educate themselves as much as possible and allow the occasional treat.
"You have to supplement Vitamin B12, for example," she shares. "Fake chicken nuggets and dairy-free ice cream are delicious and indistinguishable from the real thing. Most importantly, be honest when they ask you difficult questions about where food comes from. They're never too young to get the facts."
Fenwick Elliott is by no means the only person experimenting with plant-based diets. New research by The Vegan Society and Vegan Life Magazine reveals the number of vegans in the UK has spiked over 350% in the last 10 years.
The Ipsos MORI study found that at least 542,000 people in Britain now follow a vegan lifestyle, and many parents are choosing to raise their babies and children in the same way.
Health implications of raising a vegan child
While many experts note that a vegan diet can be perfectly healthy for children, some also warn that it must be done properly.
A 2021 study from the University College of London (UCL) found that children following a vegan diet were, on average, 3cm (1.1 inches) shorter, had a 4-6% lower bone mineral content, and were more than three times more likely to be deficient in vitamin B12 than their omnivore peers.
However, this same group had 25% lower levels of low-density lipoproteins, an unhealthy form of cholesterol, and lower levels of body fat.
The NHS says 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.
But there are certain things parents need to keep in mind if they plan on raising their baby or child as a vegan.
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How to raise a vegan child
Laura Southern, a nutritional therapist, has put together some tips for parents who are keen to raise their babies and children on a vegan diet.
1. Ensure your baby’s nutrient needs are met
B12, iron, calcium and zinc can all be lower in vegan children. "It is key to supplement your baby once they start weaning," Southern advises. "Check you’re using a 'multi' which has both minerals and vitamins, many baby vitamins don’t contain minerals (iron, zinc etc), and often don’t contain B12 either."
2. Protein is key
Protein is needed for growth. "Vegan protein sources are nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and soya," Southern says. "As long as there are no allergies, babies can eat these foods from weaning (though don’t give nuts and seeds whole – use nut butters or soak and grind into pastes)."
Southern says vegan parents should aim to give children two-three different protein sources at each meal, eg flax and ground almonds in porridge at breakfast, quinoa and butter beans at lunch, peas and lentils at dinner.
Southern suggests trying to include a wide variety of different plant-based foods. "Think colour, texture, cooking methods and where they grow," she adds.
4. Don't be too fixed
There can be babies who thrive on a vegan diet, however if you feel your baby is not thriving don’t ignore it. "Be aware that some people do need some meat or fish in their diet and that you might have to put some in for their health," Southern adds.
5. Seek professional advice
If parents decide to raise their babies/children as vegan Southern recommends doing so under professional supervision.
Additional reporting Caters.