The moment you become a parent - actually from pregnancy onwards - you worry about the food: what you eat affects the fetus, what you eat post-partum affects your breast milk (i.e. your baby), and later on, when the baby starts eating solids, what they eat reflects on their growth and development.
Anyway, meat is something almost all pediatricians advise you to give your child when they're between six and eight months old. Some parents decide not to feed their babies an omnivorous diet, but instead go vegetarian, pescatarian, or even vegan.
Who is right and who is wrong, if anyone? There are several arguments on all sides; we'll try to cover them.
Diet Reporting Inaccuracies
Mind you, it is difficult to be 100 percent certain about most of the issues in nutrition since it's not that easy to have clear-cut research. First, the data we have on the children's meatless diet is not conclusive regarding its health benefit. This may be so because they are compared to the otherwise unhealthy Standard American Diet, or not enough children are included, or because nutrition research generally faces problems due to "inaccuracies in diet reporting."
Also, when it comes to discussing whether kids should stop eating meat, at least processed meat, there is controversy as well, since a large portion of research is just observational, due to multiple logistical and ethical difficulties regarding making children - or adults for that matter - change their diets to have "a randomized controlled trial," as is the case with other research. Therefore, experts are driven to cancel data from various studies.
Processed Vs. Lean Vs. Meatless
However, the World Health Organization declared processed meat to be "human carcinogen, with strong links to colorectal cancer," recommending eating it less. On the other hand, lean meat is safe and necessary, since it's a source of the dense nutrients - protein, healthy fats, various vitamins B12 and D, zinc, iron, iodine, and calcium.
Are there any health adversities if your kids eat a meatless diet (vegetarian) or the one excluding all animal products (vegan)? Louisa Matwiejczyk, an advanced accredited dietitian at Australian Flinders University, says that vegetarian children do not develop eating disorders or are underdeveloped. Fruit and vitamin C-rich foods help absorb non-heme iron, the one found in plants, which is otherwise poorly-absorbed. Vegan children have it way more difficult, due to vitamin D and B12, iodine and calcium needs. Have your children checked by their doctor twice a year, she adds.
The premise that is being questioned here is that "appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are…appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, [and] adolescence," and "may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." Apparently, there is not enough evidence to make such a definite claim.
Chris Kresser from the Kresser Institute claims that these children are at a major risk of nutrient déficiences with huge health consequences. And the more restrictive the diet, the more deficient in nutrients. In his writing, he explains some of the key elements missing from the meat-free diet.
- Vitamin B12 - it influences intelligence and memory, the lack of it leads to developmental delays and neurological issues.
- Vitamin D - no vitamin D in vegan and restricted intake in vegetarian diets, leading to stunted growth of the bones and lower bone mass. Not even calcium can help vegetarians, compared to omnivores.
- Iodine - insufficient intake may lead to hypothyroidism.
- DHA and EPA - "Compared to breast milk from omnivorous mothers, breast milk from vegan mothers had lower levels of DHA and EPA, which are vital for brain development, especially in the first year of life, when a baby's brain literally doubles in size."
- Iron, vitamin A, and zinc, all less taken in meatless diets.
For your children to thrive, they need to eat meat, since even consistent supplementation cannot alleviate dire developmental risks for children or a fetus even. Childhood is the most important period for growth and development, and therefore, nutrition. Kids are notorious for picky eating, so make sure that they have all the nutrients with every bite. It's a great risk to skip meat altogether.
Mary Fewtrell, a professor of Childhood Nutrition at UCL – London’s Global University - who is also chairman of the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) committee, says that a mismanaged vegan diet for children can lead to cognitive impairment beyond repair, or even death. Due to the large fiber intake, children eating only plants think they are full more quickly than they actually are, which prevents them from taking other nutrients.
Then again, vegetarian diets that include milk and eggs are considered safer, due to lesser fat and more antioxidants. As you have seen, it's no wonder people get lost in facts and fiction regarding children's diets. Same goes for the adults.
What About The Adults?
In his very insightful article where he poses this question whether adults should avoid meat for good health, a cardiologist and nutrition professor Dariush Mozaffarian, offers five myths and five facts to that avail. He claims that no major study could claim that eating red meat is beneficial to our health. Occasional eating won't kill us, but it won't improve our health either. On top of that, too much heme iron may induce type 2 diabetes.
On the other hand, poultry and eggs are fine; dairy is good for metabolic issues, and it reduces body fat. The professor claims that "plant-based" diets are not automatically healthy, au contraire - e.g. white rice and bread, processed food, sweets, and refined cereals…and compared to soda, processed high-sugar foods or those full of sodium and starch, even eating red meat is modest in health impact
No diet is healthy if you choose to eat unhealthy products. He goes on to bust the myth of grass-fed livestock that is allegedly better for your health. There's no study to prove it. The differences in nutrients are "very modest." If you'd like to consider other options, like meatless patties, again, be careful: they are full of saturated fat and sodium and the ingredients are a far cry from unprocessed - thickeners, starches, concentrates, genetically engineered yeast. They may be better for the environment, but not for our health.
Here's one fact though - when it comes to adults, there are many uncertainties. And like many other things in science, it's not black or white regarding meat either.
Still, childhood is the most vulnerable period of human life. Be very careful when making these important decisions, such as a diet, and always talk to your child's physician first. Help your child have a good start with balanced and healthy eating. Food is one of your top concerns about children no matter the age, so make sure your nanny or a governess is on the same page. You can find great ones at the renowned British governess agency, they'll try their best to meet your guidelines and keep your kids on the right nutritious track.
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Anne Harris is an HR specialist working for londongoverness.com. She recruits nannies, governesses and other childcare professionals, ensuring top-notch services for parents worldwide. In her free time she likes reading about education, and children's welfare, as well as visiting sports events.
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.