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Vegan childhoods, a phenomenon that is here to stay

Every day more girls, boys and adolescents choose to stop consuming food of animal origin. Is a vegan diet adequate in childhood? What science says, in the voice of renowned pediatrician Ilanit Bomer

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Every day more girls, boys and adolescents are interested in vegan diets (Getty Images)

“Stop it, I don’t want to eat more meat”, “Ma, I didn’t know that cows, chicks, and pigs could feel the same way as me”, “Daddy, I’m not going to drink any more cow’s milk, I don’t want to feel guilty that they drive away the babies of their mothers to sell their milk in the supermarket”. These are some of the many phrases that different families told that they heard dumbfounded without knowing how to respond.

Every day more girls, boys, and adolescents come home with this type of concern and they make the decision to change their type of diet. In the case of adolescents with Internet access, in addition to empathy with animals of other species, the motivation of caring for the environment is usually added.

According to a study by UN Environment, the consumption of meat is one of the most destructive ways in which we leave our mark on the planet. “If cows formed a country, it would be the third in greenhouse gas emissions. Producing a hamburger drains about 1,695 liters of water. Besides increasing the polluting gases that influence climate change, cow farming contributes to deforestation and the displacement of rural and indigenous communities”.

The Argentine Vegan Union revealed that in 2020 there were 12% of people who chose a vegan or vegetarian diet in our country, 3 points more than the previous year, and 12% of the flexitarian population, who are those who prefer not to eat animal meat but tend to have some flexibility with the subject.

It is a reality that little by little is staining the customs in the tables and homes of the whole country and also the world. The questions in pediatric offices grow day by day in relation to how to handle this issue.

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Many Times, It Is Adults Who Follow Their Sons And Daughters, And Take Veganism As The Main Mode Of Food (Getty Images)

According to a recent study on families in Italy, where more and more families are adopting a vegan diet from infancy, “parents did not inform their primary care pediatricians (PCP) about the vegan diet (DV) in 36.2% of the cases” and “in 70.8% of the cases, the PCPs were perceived as skeptical or against a DV”.

This is truly a big problem because the vegan diet does not necessarily mean a healthy or deficient diet, and adequate medical and nutritional advice is necessary. Like all existing diets, it is essential that they are planned to achieve good nutrition, and especially in stages of growth, in which food is vital for development.

In addition, an adequate accompaniment is essential to avoid the association of food with negative patterns and generate unhealthy behaviors.

“Neither threats, punishments, bribes and of course nor force is techniques that we should use. Making the moment of eating an unpleasant situation affects the development of a proper relationship with food and the creation of healthy eating habits. Either way, you have to see the context in which it occurs, if the family can carry out the recommendations to do it properly, if not, you have to see how you can work as a team so that at least the change is gradual”, assured the pediatrician specialist in vegetarian and vegan nutrition Ilanit Bomer.

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When They Begin To Understand Where Food Comes From, Many Girls And Boys Begin To Reject It. It Is Essential To Be Adequately Informed In Order To Be Able To Monitor Their Decisions And Take Care Of Their Development With A Good Diet (Getty Images)

What science says

Fortunately, there is a strong foundation to lean on for added peace of mind. There are many organizations that endorse this type of diet at any stage of life, as long as they are properly planned and supplemented.

According to Bomer, this type of diet is endorsed by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the United Kingdom Health Service, the Association of Dietitians of Canada, the Australian Government Department of Health, the Pediatric Society of Canada, the Academy Americana de Pediatrics and the Italian Society for Human Nutrition, among others.

In addition, he assured, there is no difference in the development of vegan and non-vegan childhoods: “The latest scientific studies comparing growth and development do not show differences, of course in cases where feeding is well planned.”

“The main institutions worldwide say that a vegan diet is possible and appropriate in childhood, as well as in all stages of the life cycle. Although it is important to do it in a responsible way, supervised and supplementing vitamin B12 and vitamin D”, specified the pediatrician.

“To plan them properly, it is necessary to offer a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds (with the appropriate considerations according to age), with a contribution of adequate calories and good quality fats, the necessary calcium according to requirements by age, and verify that there is a good state of vitamin D and vitamin B12″ Detailed the expert.

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Bomer Carried Out His Post-Basic Medical Residency In Child Nutrition At The Garrahan Hospital And Did A Specialization In Vegetarian And Vegan Nutrition At The Uba

– Are there many boys and girls who decide on this diet even though their family is not?

– If many. I see it more frequently in adolescents, but also in the age range of 5 to 7 years when they begin to ask and understand where foods of animal origin come from. I think it is part of evolution as humanity that we are having. Many because of their great empathy decide not to consume them more and do so immediately, from one day to the next.

– What are the main reasons why you choose veganism?

– The main motivation is to avoid animal abuse, some also for the care of the environment and others for health. But many times all these motivations add up. Sometimes they cannot detail the exact reason, it is an internal sensation that increases after experiencing it.

– How to properly accompany vegan childhoods? And where can families be informed?

– The family requires being well informed, as with any eating pattern. It is important to look for professionals with specific training on this diet, who can advise and guide them properly so that they have correct growth and development. In addition, there are websites that you can access to have an initial orientation. For example, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Australian government, among others. Also, updated information at the national level will be given shortly.

– In what sense will information be given at the national level?

– The Ministry of Health of the Nation summoned different professionals through societies dedicated to nutrition. I represent the Argentine Nutrition Society with other professionals. I am part of what is called today Ad hoc Committee of the First National Consensus on Vegetarian and Vegan Food. The name is still under review, the objective of the Ministry is to develop a consensus on plant-based nutrition, with very interesting scientific evidence.

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When A Person Begins A Vegan Diet, Almost A New World Opens Up Before Him, With Multiple Options That He Did Not Know And That Are Actually At Hand. In The Photo, We See A Vegetable Called Romanesco. It Tastes Similar To Broccoli And Cauliflower, And Provides Great Nutrients (Photo: @ Dra.bomer.pediatraplantbased)

Some cases of so many

It would be impossible to transcribe in a single note all the stories received regarding vegan families. The following are just a few cases out of so many, and they somehow summarize the common patterns most observed in life stories.

Dante is 12 years old and at the age of 10 he wanted to stop eating meat: “He didn’t like eating red meat very much and from one day to the next he told me that he wanted to give it up. Thus he became a vegetarian. We went to a nutritionist, she put together the diet and supplemented it with vitamin B12″, his mother, Rosario.

But it didn’t stop there, she not only accepted his decision but also decided to join the plan: “I followed him, and last year I proposed to go a little further and become vegans. He wanted to do it and luckily we are very well”.

“At age 9, my son told me that eating meat made him feel sad and guilty because it implied ‘causing unnecessary suffering’, although he is not vegan because he sometimes eats cheese,” Eve told. Today, 6 years later, he tells her that” on an ethical and moral level it would be totally wrong to consume meat.” In her words, her son trains have very good muscle mass and are the best student in school: “He never had health problems or a vitamin or protein deficiency.”

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Lentil Burgers, With Potatoes And Salad (Photo: @ Dra.bomer.pediatraplantbased /)

“Cata never ate meat because I gave up animal products when she was one year old,” Maggie told. But he did not impose or forbid anything. “From then on I did not give her anything animal, but in many social situations, she consumed things with milk, eggs, cakes, or desserts and cookies. He always knew where those products came from and why I chose not to participate in the exploitation of animals, but I let him choose. I did not pressure her because she was small and it seemed counterproductive to me,” he recalled.

“When I was 4 or 5 years old, if we were at someone’s house or on a birthday, I would ask myself: ‘Mom, does this have milk?’ And if I said yes, he generally chose not to eat it. Later on, I didn’t want anything that wasn’t vegan anymore, no matter how much it looked,” he continued.

Today Cata is “an absolutely convinced vegan”. At only 9 years old, he has incredible knowledge and level of awareness on the subject. Some of his phrases that his mother transmitted are “It seems cruel to me to hurt animals because of a human desire” and “It is not difficult for me not to eat unsuitable things because I say there they hurt an animal, I do not know how people you can eat that.”

One of his most moving phrases has undoubtedly been: “Every food that non-vegan people eat could have saved a life, and among all millions”.

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Pea Fainá Triangles With Spinach. Ideal To Enjoy At All Ages, Accompanied With Vegetables And A Variety Of Dips (Photo: @Mrspepita)

8 tips to have a healthy diet and achieve proper development, in the voice of pediatrician Ilanit Bomer:

1. Vegetables and fruits

The inclusion of vegetables and fruits of different colors. They will also provide us with vitamins, minerals and fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidant substances. It is necessary to take into account that their contribution is not excessive in children under 2 years of age since they can give early satiety and displace more energetic and nutritious foods.

2. Legumes

The daily consumption of legumes is necessary to adequately reach the protein intake. Plus, they are a great source of iron, zinc, and fiber. The amounts vary according to age.

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Hummus Is A Delicious Processed Chickpea Paste To Enjoy In Multiple Ways, For Example As A Spread (Photo: Dra.bomer.pediatraplantbased)

3. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds will give us good quality fats, proteins among other nutrients. In children under 5 years, it is recommended that they be ground or in the form of spreads to avoid choking.

4. Iron

The sources of iron are diverse (legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables), but plant-based iron requires culinary techniques to make it more available for absorption. Soaking, fermentation, and the germination of legumes and cereals help, and foods rich in vitamin C can also be added to increase absorption.

There are inhibitors for absorption iron: infusions such as common or herbal tea, coffee, chocolate, fortified vegetable drinks. It is necessary to wait at least two hours between eating these and foods rich in iron. At the same time, to improve absorption, it is recommended to consume citrus, avocado, bell pepper, tomato, strawberries, kiwi along foods rich in iron.

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Potato Cake With A Base Of Lentils Sautéed With Vegetables (Photo: @ Dra.bomer.pediatraplantbased)

5. Proteins

Within the diversity of food groups, the necessary protein intake is perfectly obtained according to each growth stage. Proteins can be found in all varieties of legumes, pseudo-cereals, nuts, and seeds.

6. Calcium

In children under one year old, calcium is obtained from breast milk or infant formula. Then, it is necessary to add sources of calcium of vegetable origin. Sometimes at this stage, you can choose to incorporate vegetable drinks added with calcium and without sugar in some preparation, but they do not replace breast milk or formula.

Some of the sources of calcium in plant-based foods are ground sesame seeds, tofu, figs, peanuts, white beans, chickpeas, and tree nuts.

It is important to highlight the vegetable milk added with calcium that is sold in supermarkets and health food stores: they have the same amount of calcium or more than cow’s milk and a similar absorption percentage.

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Vegan Oatmeal And Banana Pancakes, With Only Two Ingredients (Photo: @ Dra.bomer.pediatraplantbased)

7. Vitamin B12 supplement

Vitamin B12 is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system, the formation of blood cells, and it also acts at the DNA level. It is the most critical nutrient in this diet since there are no plant sources that provide vitamin B12 and it needs to be supplemented. The supplement is of bacterial synthesis. The bacteria that synthesize vitamin B12 are in the ground, if the cows are in feedlot (reduced spaces where many cows are enclosed) they receive the B12 through the feed that is offered to them.

Beyond it all, It is advisable to do a blood test to measure the value of b12 in any eating pattern.

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It Is Important To Take Care Of The Ingredients, Reduce The Intake Of Ultra-Processed Foods And Take Care Of The Appearance Of The Dishes So That They Are Tempting (Photo: @Mrspepita)

8. Vitamin D supplement

Vitamin D is a vitamin that is obtained mainly from sun exposure. It is necessary for good bone health but also has extra bone functions. It participates in the prevention of infections, immunity, and the prevention of autoimmune diseases, among other functions.

It can be low in any type of diet. It also requires supplementation in most cases, which is evaluated individually by the query.

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