(The following is an excerpt from the book The “Plan A” Diet”)
Is a plant-based diet safe for children?
Of course it is, but I get your concern. You may be willing to change your own diet, but are leery of any perceived risks to your child. That’s understandable. But you can rest assured that the diet plan proven to be the healthiest one on the planet certainly applies to the children, too.
Because your child’s health is a priority, may I encourage you to change their diets now. Kids today are being fed WAY too much junk food. Consider these stats from Parents.com:
- By 12 months of age, more than 40 percent of babies are eating cookies, brownies, and salty snacks.
- By age 2, less than half of babies are eating ANY vegetables.
- By age 1, the top source of fruit for babies is juice.
- About 30 percent of babies are drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda.
- Among babies who are eating vegetables, potatoes (in the form of French fries and potato chips) are the top veggie consumed.
- By age 1, babies are getting 1,500 milligrams of sodium every day.
- At age 15 months, babies are getting 6.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day (as much as a cup of soda contains).
- Approximately 41 million children under 5 years of age are obese or overweight.
The Standard American Diet, filled with too much protein, fat, cholesterol, and environmental chemicals, leads to many common health issues for kids: acne, allergies, asthma, constipation, diarrhea, ear infections, early puberty, fatigue, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and artery disease, just to name a few. Dairy proteins are also linked to immune responses leading to juvenile (type 1) diabetes.
Dr. John McDougall explains that once weaned, children are just like small adults when it comes to nutrition. Starches must provide the bulk of the calories. Meat and dairy products, along with oils and simple sugars, make them sick. You never need to worry about children getting enough protein, essential amino acids, calcium, iron, zinc, or essential fats when they follow a starch-based diet. He does recommend, however, that extra attention be paid that children are getting enough calories for normal growth. Adding dried fruits, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and avocados can further enhance calorie intake, but children who are already overweight or obese should not be fed those high-fat plant foods until they’ve lost the excess weight. Children do need energy—and starches such as rice, corn, and potatoes are goldmines of energy.(1)
Depending on your child’s age, explain the reasoning for the new foods and the importance it has on their health, appearance, and their ability to be active or play sports. By becoming familiar with nutritional facts, you’ll be able to teach your children why healthy foods are good for them. Invite them into the processes of recipe selection, cooking, and shopping.
If you have picky eaters, offer them the choice between two healthy options, but don’t offer them a burger or chicken nuggets—those foods should no longer be in the house. All unhealthy foods should be removed from the kitchen or there will likely be some issues.
Eating habits are established early in life. Children raised on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes grow up to be slimmer and healthier and even live longer than their meat-eating friends.(2) Rest assured that plants provide protein, calcium, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals—the building blocks to good health—making it easy to build a nutritious diet from plant foods.
(1) Dr. John McDougall, “Diet, Children, and the Future.” The McDougall Newsletter dated September 2012. Accessed September 7, 2018. https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2012nl/sep/children.htm
(2) Dr. Neal Barnard, “Vegetarian Diets for Children: Right from the Start.” Accessed September 7, 2018. https://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/vegetarian-diets-for-children-right-from-the-start