Veggie Health for Kids

Every nutrient a child needs and how to get it.

A guide for parents showing why vegetarian/vegan diets are the healthiest option for children.

World turned upside down! / What You Need and Where You Get It / How Animal Products Affect Children / How Animal Products Affect Adults / Conclusions

World turned upside down!

Just imagine if you read of a diet that produced these headlines – Heart disease rates tumble! 30,000 heart patients taken off critical list – misery lifted for relatives and friends. Top heart surgeon says most heart ops avoidable. Cancer deaths slump! Millions taken off ‘fatty’ list. Diabetes figures fall for first time. Food poisoning cases tumble – records no longer worth maintaining.

What diet could it possibly be? That’s easy! The same diet that children should be eating now so they enjoy good health throughout their lives – a well-balanced, vegetarian or vegan diet.

If statistics were reversed and 95 per cent of the population became vegetarian or vegan, and only five per cent ate meat, these headlines could be accurate. Unbelievable isn’t it? The scientific evidence to justify them is there in abundance and this guide will show just how strong it is.

“People stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”
Sir Winston Churchill.

One thing is certain, research showing that a meat-based diet cuts cancer or cuts heart disease by a quarter doesn’t exist. It does for vegetarian/vegan diets. One by one, all the world’s leading health advisory bodies have confirmed that avoiding animal products is the way to avoid – or at least greatly reduce – the risk of many diseases, and that includes the growing threat from obesity.

Although human beings eat meat, we are not natural carnivores. No matter how much fat carnivores eat, they do not develop atherosclerosis [clogged up arteries]. When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores.

So what’s all this got to do with your littl’uns – those fussy eaters, messy eaters, must-have-chips-with-everything eaters?

Every leading health advisory body is saying the same thing – what you feed your children today will determine their health in the future. And it isn’t going to change because the science is now just too overwhelming.

But fear not! By opening this guide, you’ve already taken the first step in the right direction. It will take you through the science, much of which may be new to you. Why? Because of the power of the vested interests who profit from meat and dairy. If you think I’m exaggerating, remember the tobacco industry. The damage that smoking does to human health has been known since the 1950’s but it’s only recently that serious action has been taken against it.

Dietary Definitions
A vegetarian doesn’t eat red meat, white meat (poultry such as chicken, duck and turkey), fish or other water life (prawns, lobsters, crabs, shellfish) or slaughterhouse by-products (gelatine, animal fat, lard or animal rennet). Most vegetarians are ‘lacto-ovo’, which means they don’t eat meat or fish but do eat dairy products and eggs. Vegans don’t eat any animal products at all and exclude meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey.

Although excluding things sounds as though we’re restricting our choices, in fact it’s the opposite. Most meaty diets are based on just three main food types – meat, dairy and wheat. By giving them different names we kid ourselves we’re eating a huge variety but we’re not. Pork, beef, chicken and lamb are in the same food group; cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream and butter are in the same; and bread, rolls, buns, baps, crispbread, pasta, pies, pasties, cakes and ‘baked goods’ are in the same. Whichever way you list them, it’s still just three food types.

This isn’t the case with fruit and veg. – they are not two food groups but several different ones. Diets based in part or entirely on plant foods include hundreds of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and pulses. Judge vegetarian diets on what is included not what’s excluded and you’ll see them through different eyes.

What foods should children eat?
Animal products actually promote disease. They are laden with artery-clogging saturated fats, contain too much protein, have no fibre, no starchy carbohydrates, no vitamins C, E or beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A). A lack of these antioxidant vitamins, low fibre, and high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol are risk factors for some cancers, heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and several other diseases. A meat-based lunchbox is not the healthiest lunch-box by any stretch of the imagination.

A varied, veggie lunch-box based on fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds is bursting with all the ingredients known to be health promoting and health protecting. There’s loads of protein in vegetables, particularly beans, lentils and pulses. Veggie diets also contain essential ('good') fats, fibre, minerals and starchy carbohydrates, antioxidant vitamins and minerals – all that’s needed to stay fit and healthy.

What Foods do Children Eat?
June 2000 saw the publication of a national diet and nutrition survey which looked into the eating habits of young people aged 4 to 18 years in Great Britain. It probably comes as no surprise to most parents but makes for grim reading nevertheless. Roughly 80 per cent of kids are guzzling away on white bread, savoury snacks, biscuits, chips and chocolate confectionery. Roughly 60-75 per cent had not eaten any citrus fruits or leafy green vegetables during the week of the survey.

The survey finds:

  • Protein intake considerably too high for all ages.
  • Sugar and honey intake too high.
  • Fibre intake well below a healthy level.
  • A third of children did not have a daily bowel movement.
  • Over 90 per cent were eating 20 per cent too much saturated fat.
  • Cholesterol levels high or too high in 10 per cent of children.
  • One in five older girls grossly deficient in vitamins A and B2.
  • The disease-busting form of Vitamin A intake (beta-carotene) was zero for 2 per cent of boys and girls!
  • Folate levels too low in up to four per cent of all children.
  • Too much vitamin C came from fruit juice and soft drinks and not fresh fruit.
  • Half of all older girls eat diets grossly deficient in iron and magnesium.
  • Nine per cent of older girls suffer iron-deficiency anaemia.
  • Calcium intakes were too low for 11-18 year olds.
  • Zinc intakes were too low for all ages.
  • Over half of children consume more than the recommended amount of salt.

As for physical activity – also important in maintaining healthy body weight – 40 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls had less than the recommended one hour per day.

About a quarter of all children were unwell on at least one day during the seven days records were kept. About five per cent had been diagnosed by their GPs as having food allergies. About twice this number had undiagnosed yet unpleasant reactions to food.

It’s clear that a large proportion of children are lacking many of the vital vitamins and minerals needed to help combat disease. They are eating a diet high in fat, salt and sugar largely due to convenience foods based on processed meat and dairy products. Fresh fruit and vegetables – along with energy-rich starchy foods such as unrefined cereals, breads, pasta and rice – all take a back seat when it comes to young people's dinner plates, if they appear at all.

Meat and dairy products take centre stage at every meal and, sadly, children are likely to suffer the consequences in terms of poor health and a reduced quality of life.

The emphasis of our meals needs to be reversed; it is plant foods that should be the focal point of our dinner plate, not meat and dairy products.

The survey also made clear that as children get older they are more inclined to move towards a vegetarian diet. It seems that some older children, freer of parental influence, are thinking for themselves and starting to choose a healthier diet but the majority of children have a bad diet. The daily pushing of the most unhealthy types of junk foods on TV and in magazines is making profits for food manufacturers but is helping to destroy the health of our children.

A recent report from the Cancer Research Campaign paints a similarly worrying picture. One-in-20 of the 2,635 children questioned (aged 11-16) claimed not to have eaten any vegetables in the previous week, with one in 17 not eating any fruit. The recommended intake is 35 portions of fruit and vegetables a week yet most children had eaten fewer than 13 portions. Vegetarian children nearly always eat more fruit and veg. and a recent study found that vegetarian pre-school children had a better intake of nutrients than meat-eating children. They ate less fat overall, less saturated fat, cholesterol and salt and had higher intakes of ‘good’ nutrients, such as potassium and the vitamins C, E and beta-carotene.

Protect your child! Even more cancer deaths are thought to be caused by bad diets than smoking.

Left Unprotected
Imagine finding that your child was smoking! You'd be understandably horrified – and why? Because it’s now known that smoking is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in adults – a staggering 30 per cent. Less known is that even more cancer deaths – about 35 per cent – are thought to be caused by diet. What you and your children eat may determine whether or not you become a future cancer statistic. A child whose diet is based largely around animal products and is lacking in fresh fruit and veg. is, quite simply, unprotected.

Vegetarian diets (offer) a reduced risk for several chronic diseases including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes and some types of cancer… Vegetarians often have lower morbidity and mortality rates. …Vegetarian diets offer disease protection benefits because of their lower saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein content and often higher concentration of folate, antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, carotinoids and phytochemicals…

Eat veggie – live longer
Many of the ailments we associate with old age are not a result of getting older but are caused by eating the wrong foods earlier in life. High blood pressure is a good example – often seen as inevitable in old people. Yet in countries where a plant-based diet is the norm, this simply isn ’t the case.

A massive piece of research looked at the diets of 11,000 people over a period of 13 years and found that vegetarians have a 20 per lower ‘premature’ death rate than meat-eaters. They live longer! And it shows in lower life assurance premiums!

If we ate only meat and cow’s milk we would die – and pretty quickly. If we ate only plant foods, we would be likely to live for a very long time. People on the Japanese island of Okinawa are the longest-lived and healthiest people in the world, according to a 25-year-long study. One of the most important factors is their diet – based on wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and soya products. One of their favourite foods has been dubbed ‘immortal pate’. It is vegan and based on tofu (soya bean curd), miso (fermented soya paste), mushrooms and garlic. It tastes as good as the good it does you!

Lethal Double Whammy
Today's younger generation is facing a potentially lethal, diet-related double whammy thanks to a diet centered around animal products.

Today’s disease statistics are alarming and although previous generations may have had their own problems, rampant heart disease, obesity and cancer weren’t among them. One reason why these diseases have become epidemics is likely to be the diets people ate when they were young – the meat-and-two-veg syndrome.

Even more disturbing is the fact that our children’s diets have got worse since then. Thirty-odd years ago, fatty junk and convenience foods weren't around to the same degree. Now, kids are eating the same amount of meat and dairy their parents did when they were kids PLUS higher quantities of saturated fat, animal protein, sugar and salt. Today’s children will almost certainly face even worse health statistics when they grow up than today’s adults. And kids don’t even have to ‘grow up’ before they get diseases once only seen in adulthood – obesity and type II diabetes are now afflicting teenagers.

Veggie Kids are Healthier
A vegetarian diet is very close to the official recommendations for healthy eating. But is it suitable for children? Of course it is. After the age of two, children should eat the same kinds of foods as their parents. Below that age they need more fat than adults. (See Viva!/VVF Vegetarian and Vegan Mother & Baby Guide for information on bringing up vegetarian and vegan babies.)

Appropriately planned vegan and vegetarian diets satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children and adolescents and promote normal growth. They are appropriate and healthful choices for adolescents and can meet the nutrient and energy needs of pregnant women.

There has been a wealth of research and it consistently shows that vegetarian and vegan children obtain all the protein, energy and vitamins they need. Fat intake is nearly always lower but adequate (particularly in vegan children) and intakes of vital vitamins beta-carotene, C and E as well as fibre, iron and folate are often higher.

The most recent research comes from the American Dietetic Association and has the full backing of the American Academy of Paediatrics. It says that well-planned vegan diets can provide all the nutrients infants and children need, produces normal growth and may also reduce the risk of some chronic diseases which show in later life. Their final point – and it’s an important one – was that because vegan children eat a wider variety of whole plant foods, it may help to establish healthy, lifelong eating habits.

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by Laura Scott (MSc Nutrition), VVF Senior Nutritionist
Editor: Tony Wardle

A guide by Viva! Health
Registered Charity No. 1037486

Copyright: Viva! Health 2004.
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