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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Nutrition for Vegetarian Children

Emily Sohn in the Los Angeles Times gave a number of good tips for ensuring that children who want to be vegetarians continue to get a full complement of the vitamins, minerals, and esential dietary components.

Some of the major points:

Protein needs range from 13 grams for toddlers to 34 grams for middle-school students and about 50 grams for teenagers. However, most Americans get too much protein, including vegetarians.

Dairy products and eggs are complete proteins that, like meat, contain all essential amino acids. These foods also provide calcium and vitamin D, essential for healthy muscles and bone development, especially during growth spurts and adolescence. One large egg contains 5 grams of protein, a cup of milk has 8 grams, and a cup of yogurt has 11 grams.

To get complete proteins from plant-based sources, you need to combine foods such as beans, rice, corn, nuts and tofu, but dietitians no longer believe that you need to eat those foods at the same meal. Eating a variety of foods throughout the day works just as well.

Vitamin B-12 is one of the nutrients that vegetarians most commonly miss. Essential for making DNA and maintaining healthy nerve and red blood cells, it is plentiful in seafood and beef and is found in lesser amounts in milk and yogurt. Vegans can get it from fortified cereals or supplements. Doctors often recommend B-12 supplements for breast-feeding mothers who are vegan.

Iron, which is abundant in meat, is present in a harder-to-absorb form in beans, tofu, spinach and raisins. Absorption is enhanced by consuming a source of vitamin C at the same time as a vegetarian source of iron, says Ruth Frenchman, a registered dietitian in Burbank and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Assn. (Pair a cup of orange juice with a peanut butter sandwich, for example.) ...

Calcium and vitamin D are found in leafy greens and fortified soy milk or juice. Make sure to look at the labels on dairy-free versions of milk and yogurt and on organic cereals because they're not always fortified with added nutrients.

Fat: A baby's brain needs enough fat to develop properly. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends full-fat versions of milk, yogurt and other foods until age 2.

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