My great nephew’s first birthday got me to thinking about a question I get asked quite a bit: Is it healthy to raise children vegan? The answer is yes – as many lifelong vegans can attest.
And here’s what Dr. Ruby Thomas, MD, a board-certified pediatrician based in Atlanta, who raised her own children vegan, has to say. This is an excerpt from our free African American Vegan Starter Guide.
Many women who are vegan and become pregnant wonder if they should adjust their diets to ensure a healthy pregnancy, but a vegan diet can be totally healthy for you and your baby.
A vegan diet can be completely healthy for pregnant women. In fact, it may actually help lower your risk for pregnancy-related complications, such as elevated blood pressure or gestational diabetes. The key to nourishing yourself and your growing baby is to eat as many whole foods as possible from each plant-based food group, including whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes, as well as healthy fats. And make extra sure to get adequate amounts of folic acid, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D and iron, found in your standard prenatal vitamin. Your doctor may also recommend an extra vitamin D supplement because many women are deficient in this vitamin. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water each day.
A vegan diet can be one of the best ways to ensure a healthy start for your baby, and can help decrease the risk of obesity, heart disease, and cancer later in life. Vegan children may also have fewer problems with allergies and digestive problems. Breastfeeding is best for your baby during the first year of life, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 4-6 months. All exclusively breastfed babies should also receive a vitamin D supplement, since it is very important for bone health and development. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in the United States, and breastfed babies and African Americans are at increased risk for this deficiency and its complications.
For your child’s first foods, you can start with pureed fruits and vegetables, such as bananas and sweet potatoes. Avocado is also a great first food for vegan babies due to the high amount of good fats that it contains, which are important for brain growth and development.
As your baby gets older, you can introduce an even greater variety of food such as whole grains, seeds and nut butters. You can also begin to introduce plant milks such as hemp, almond or coconut milk into your child’s diet once breastfeeding is complete. At this time, you may also want to begin your child on a children’s multivitamin supplement that includes vitamin B12.
By starting your child on a vegan diet from birth, you’re ensuring that your child is exposed to a wide variety of food that will help to enhance the immune system, lower the risk for childhood obesity, and help to guarantee a healthy future.
To hear more guidance from Dr. Thomas about raising children vegan, check out her interview on the Brown Vegan podcast, hosted by my friend Monique Koch. And check out Dr. Thomas’s website and book.