Saturday, 21 July 2012

Baby plant-eater vitamin essentials

In this first look in detail at my one year old's plant diet, I'm looking at four vitamins and minerals that are essential but which also can be tricky to get right. 

Vitamin B12
This is a really important vitamin, essential for forming red blood cells and a healthy nervous system. Too little can lead to nerve damage in babies. We can store some in our bodies, but a daily supply is the best approach.

Felix is 13 months so needs around 0.5 micrograms (mcg) a day. The best sources are fortified products such as plant milks and yoghurts (check they are fortified with B12 specifically), yeast extracts and nuturitional yeast flakes. We use a mix of these to get his daily intake: 60 ml of soya milk with his cereal or in a smoothie or yoghurt pudding, plus 1g of yeast flakes gives him the right amount. Often he has more than this over the course of a day as he tends to have a second milk or yoghurt portion.  The yeast flakes can be sprinkled into anything from a smoothie to a stew (with hot food it's best done just before serving so the vitamins aren't lost through too much heating).

Alternatively, you can give a supplement. B12 is available in palatable powdered form and I take a daily supplement which includes B12 as I am still breastfeeding (which means Felix gets some from me as well).

Vitamin D
Astonishingly, rickets is on the rise in Britain, amongst the general population regardless of diet. This vitamin helps bone growth and health, calcium absorption and the immune system. It can be produced by the body direct with sufficient sunlight on the skin (half an hour outside three times a week is what we aim for but Felix gets more than that). There aren't many vegan sources of vitamin D so we use fortified milks and yoghurt, and fortified breakfast cereal (Weetabix in our case) to be sure Felix is getting enough. 

Omega 3
Fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6 come from polyunsaturated vegetable fats and cannot be made by the body. They are essential in children for the development and health of the brain, eyes, and nervous system. A balance is needed between the two types and it is easy as a vegan to have too much Omega 6 (from vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, seeds and sunflower oils) and too little Omega 3 (from flaxseeds, walunt and rapeseed oils, green leafy vegetables and grains). There is also some current uncertainty as to whether it is enough to get Omega 3 from the sources listed above or whether you need to take a DHA (a particular kind of Omega 3) supplement to ensure your body has enough of each of the three kinds of Omega 3 (see for a good explanation of all this).

At the moment we are giving Felix 1 tsp of ground flaxseed a day, sprinkled on his cereal or in smoothies. I am still looking into DHA supplements. We are also minimising our use of sunflower and vegetable blended oils, and instead are using rapeseed and olive oils. 

Iodine is necessary for producing thyroid hormones and therefore regulating your metabolism. It is an essential mineral but is a common deficiency. Like Vitamin D it is not found in many foods, and seaweed is the only reliable vegan source. Annoyingly, many plant foods (such as soy, flaxseed and members of the cabbage family) actually block iodine uptake so this can contribute to low levels. You can also take too much iodine. 

At the moment I have my iodine amount from my supplement (as I'm breastfeeding) and Felix gets his from seaweed crumbled over food (such as stew) three times a week. Check the amount of iodine in whichever seaweed you have as they vary a lot. I am considering using a supplement for this instead as I find it difficult to know exactly how much seaweed to give him. 

Please note that I am not a healthcare professional, but a mum who has done a lot of research. If you are considering changing your child's diet I recommend going to the sources direct yourself to be sure of what you are doing.

I find these sources really useful:

'Feeding your vegan infant - with confidence' by Sandra Hood (The Vegan Society - their  website is great too)
'Becoming Vegan' by Brenda Davis & Vesanto Melina (American, so the recommended daily amounts can vary and tend to be higher than UK) (a great factsheet on B12)

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