A plant-based diet for babies

Dr Sophie Niedermaier

Are you one of the ⅓ of Brits who have reduced or stopped their meat-consumption? Interest in plant-based diets has skyrocketed between 2014 and 2019 and research on google has increased by seven fold (Source: The Vegan Society). A plant-based diet can make you more conscious about your food choices but also has an impact on our environment. Animal farming contributes 18% to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing a plant-based diet for you and your family seems, therefore, like a good choice!

When considering a plant-based diet for your little one, there are a few things to consider before you get started. Little Tummy is, as always, here for you to support you with the necessary facts.

First of all, let’s look at the official recommendations: The NHS suggests that children on a plant-based diet should eat a wide variety of foods to provide the energy and vitamins they need for growth. The German Society for Nutrition or the American Academy of Pediatrics state that a well-planned vegan diet is possible but vitamin supplementation has to be considered. 

Vitamins and micronutrients from animal sources are usually more easily absorbed and the protein composition of meat is more favourable for us than of plants. Therefore, the main concern about plant-based diets is the risk of vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies. Especially for a child, these can have detrimental effects on development and growth. 

With some planning and background knowledge, you can easily tackle these concerns. We have listed some of the nutrients, which need most attention in a plant-based diet:

  • Iron: Iron from plant-based sources is less well absorbed than from animal-based sources. Your child’s diet should be rich in whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, green-leafy vegetables and iron-fortified cereal products. Combine these foods with a source of Vitamin C (e.g. fruit for dessert) to enhance iron absorption.
  • Calcium: Most non-organic plant-based milk products are supplemented with calcium. Other sources of calcium are soy products such as tofu, green leafy vegetables and almonds. Avoid rice milk in the first five years of life due to concerns about arsenic. 
  • Zinc: Look again to whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to stock up on zinc. Processing and cooking these foods decreases the amount of phytates, which can inhibit zinc absorption.
  • Omega 3-polyunsaturated fatty acids: Walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds and vegetable oils, such as sunflower or rapeseed oil are a great source of this essential fatty acid.
  • Iodine: Fortified plant-based milks or sea vegetables are good sources of iodine in a vegan diet. Sea vegetables should not be consumed in high amounts, though, as there are concerns about contamination with heavy metals. 
  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to severe developmental delays. Reliable Vitamin B12 sources are meat, dairy and eggs. Some plant-based milks are fortified but infants and children on a plant-based diet should receive a vitamin supplement, which contains adequate amounts of Vitamin B12. 
  • Vitamin D: In the UK, a Vitamin D supplement is generally recommended for all children under the age of 4 years. 

When thinking of starting your baby on a plant-based diet, it might be a good idea to talk to a dietitian or nutritionist about meal plans. A suitable supplement is a must for your little one and not all available supplements might match your child’s actual need. Make sure you discuss any vitamin supplementation and its dosage with a health professional. 

Little Tummy’s meals are suitable for all babies on a plant-based diet. We use chickpeas and lentils to ensure protein and iron intake for your little one. Rapeseed oil provides omega 3 fatty acids. Our green meals are rich in calcium. Did you know that our Kale&Apple meal provides 25% or your little one’s daily recommended intake of calcium?

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