We know that vegetarianism can work. Some traditional cultures have successfully been on meatless diets, and have enjoyed good health and longevity for centuries… Until vegetarianism became mainstream. Paradoxically, despite all the convenient foods and increased nutritional knowledge we all enjoy, meat free diets are now being criticized as being deficient. Some plant based dieters switch to Paleo diets, and report feeling healthier.
What is going on?
It’s simple. Ancestral diets relied on sacred foods which are now being forgotten. The problem is that, without these foods, being a healthy vegetarian is much more difficult, and children are the first to suffer. Slower growth rates, cavities, and low energy (or hyperactivity) start to appear. Here are 5 nutrients your vegetarian children need to be healthy, along with the most common food sources. Hint… These foods are all sacred, revered foods that had a prominent place in traditional vegetarian diets.
Iodine – According to the World Health Organization, iodine deficiencies are the #1 cause of brain damage. But, they add: “No food group serves as a better iodine source than sea vegetables.” It is important to ensure you eat enough iodine rich foods throughout your pregnancy, and get your children used to eating them at an early age. Sprinkle mild and salty kelp granules on scrambled eggs. Soak wakame for a few minutes, cut off the spine, and serve it with a ginger/tamari dipping sauce. Add addictive dulse to your salads, it will soften and provide a nice salty flavor without being overpowering (or eat it right out of the bag!).
Vitamin D – Low vitamin D can cause anything from cavities and rickets to low birth weight and a higher risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. Yet, the 400 IU of vitamin D a day we are told to get is now being thought of as being much too low. Unless you’re running around naked under the sun, it’s likely you need more vitamin D. Vegetarian sources children often love are pastured egg yolks (make an omelette, and add an additional egg yolk), and mushrooms (add them to the omelette!). And don’t forget to supplement (we use this supplement which also provides K2).
Vitamin K2 – Aren’t greens loaded with vitamin K? Yes, but that’s vitamin K1. K2 is often found in animal products that aren’t vegetarian, but fret not. Natto, a fermented soybean paste, is loaded with it (if you can stomach it). Hard cheeses like raw gouda are also high in K2, and so are egg yolks and butter. Why does K2 matter? Because it’s a crucial vitamin and bone mineralization. If you’re doing all you can to prevent cavities but your child still has weak enamel, it could be due to low K2 levels. Since I’m never really sure if we’re getting enough K2, I also add this separate K2 supplement to the one listed above.
Vitamin B12 – Vegetarians are always asked about iron and protein, but rarely about vitamin B12. It’s puzzling, because vitamin B12 is much more difficult to get on a vegetarian diet. Once again, egg are the shining stars – a duck egg contains over 50% of the DV. Pastured dairy products are also good sources of vitamin B12. It’s especially important for children to get enough vitamin B12, since deficiencies can lead to weakness, developmental delays, and even seizures. I occasionally give my children extra vitamin B12 with this tasty sublingual tablet.
Zinc – Do you get sick often during flu season, or do you get unexplained breakouts? If so, you might be low in zinc. I once tried to create a perfect vegetarian diet that did not rely on any supplements, and found to my surprise that reaching 100% of the DV for zinc was way more difficult than for any other nutrient. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, up to 2 billion people are low on zinc. Symptoms of deficiency include weak immunity, allergies, hair loss, and acne.
A properly planned vegetarian diet can be loaded with vitamins and minerals, and lower the chances of getting countless diseases. But it isn’t difficult to end up with a deficient diet, and children are the first to suffer from lack of nutrition. If your children wish to follow a vegetarian diet, you can support them while also making sure they are as healthy as possible, and these 5 nutrients are the perfect place to get started!