My question is being a vegetarian safe and healthy for growing kids? Can this cause any harm?
Thank you for responding!
For example, Asian Indian culture has been vegetarian for generations. However, in recent generations, parents will often feed their children eggs and milk. What has been observed in recent generations of Asian Indian children, those who eat animal protein are taller than previous generations who only ate plant-based proteins.
Other than soy (soybeans, soy milk, tofu, tempeh) and nuts (peanuts and tree nuts), other plant sources of protein don’t have all 8 of the essential amino acids. Tho a plant-based protein can be combined with another plant-based protein that has the missing amino acid to provide all 8 essential amino acids (building blocks of protein), animal protein (beef, pork, lamb, poultry, eggs, seafood, dairy including milk, cheese, and yogurt) contains all 8 essential amino acids and does not need to be combined with other foods to be complete.
The quality of protein has an effect on growth rate as well as brain size. This is especially true for a pregnant woman’s fetus. However vegetarian mothers who eat plant-based foods that combine all 8 essential amino acids to support healthy fetal development, still need to take vitamin B12 supplements which are needed to make red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products.
Iron is another at risk nutrient for teenage girls who are still growing. Growth in height and weight expands blood volume. While dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale contain iron, they also contain oxylates which bind with iron as well as calcium and prevents absorption. Iron deficiency anemia can result if adequate food sources of iron are not eaten. Unfortunately, vitamin and mineral supplements are not absorbed as well (around 10%) as food sources of nutrients so taking supplements may not prevent iron or vitamin B12 deficiencies.
Vegetarianism is not just about eliminating animal products. What is important to remember in feeding children only vegetarian foods is they need more than vegeburgers and meat alternatives (soy-based meat analogs). Which is why the Asian Indian food culture has succeeded for generations. It sounds like you are new to vegetarianism or a family member is vegetarian. If you choose to provide a vegetarian meal plan to growing kids, I would highly suggest you search online for a vegetarian cookbook written by a dietitian who would understand the nutrient needs of growing children and vegetarian food sources. You could also make an appointment to talk to a vegetarian dietitian who could guide you if you are new to vegetarianism.