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Believe It Or Not: Kids Who Really Like Their Veggies

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"Vegan and macrobiotic diets are another matter entirely," Roberts tells WebMD. In her recent book, Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health, she concludes that such diets are not safe. Vegan is a diet in which someone eats food only from plant sources and avoids all animal-based supplements. Vegan is the strictest vegetarian diet. A macrobiotic diet is a type of vegan diet but with more protein and nutrients.

Robert says, "There are multiple deficiencies commonly linked to [vegan and macrobiotic] diets, including calcium, vitamin B-12, etc. And we now know that deficiencies in childhood can have permanent effects. I strongly recommend that kids should not be given these diets. If parents follow them, they should consider adding milk, eggs, and cheese plus the multivitamin/mineral supplement to keep their kids from developing any deficiencies."

Very often, people use loose definitions of "vegetarian," says Sheah Rarback, RD, director of nutrition at Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami. "I've had people who come in and say 'I'm a vegetarian. ... I don't eat fish or I don't eat red meat or fish, or I eat it once in a while. There are so many different levels of being a vegetarian."

With any vegetarian diet, parents must make sure their child gets necessary nutrients, which means consulting with a pediatrician and registered dietitian who can evaluate the diet and check for deficiencies, Rarback tells WebMD. While vitamin and mineral supplements can correct some deficiencies, so can eating the right foods.

Her suggestions for avoiding some of these deficiencies:

  • Vitamin B-12 -- Vitamin B-12 is found in breakfast cereal and some breads. And because the USDA's recommended daily allowance for B-12 is small (two micrograms), a daily bowl of cereal should take care of that problem.
  • Calcium -- Calcium is found in soy products, which typically are fortified with calcium, says Rarback. In fact, powdered soy can be sprinkled on breakfast cereal. Many vegetables, including broccoli and kale, also have calcium.
  • Iron -- To replace iron (found in animal products), she advises eating peas, beans, whole-wheat products, and iron-fortified grains. "The absorption of those products is improved if you have a source of vitamin C like orange juice or another citrus fruit with it," Rarback tells WebMD. Also, dried fruits and prune juice have some iron.
  • Zinc -- Zinc (also in animal products) can be replaced by eating yogurt, cheese, whole-wheat breads and grains. "They have to be whole-wheat because the outside layer of germ has the zinc," she advises. To make sure your child is getting enough calories (if they aren't eating animal products), seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils can substitute.

Protein deficiency is common with many vegetarian diets, DeAntonis tells WebMD. All animal and soy products are complete proteins. But if the diet is restricted but contains some protein, the child is unlikely to have a protein problem, she says.

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