By: Dr. Derek Kwan
Both our health and the planet's health can get better on a plant-based diet, plus it is much kinder for the animals. It is a win-win-win situation.
We all want to take better care of ourselves and also be good stewards of the earth. Adopting a more plant-based diet makes complete sense. Sure, a plant-based diet can be a healthy lifestyle choice for adults who want to reduce harm to the environment and decrease their risk of chronic disease. But is it healthy for children?
As a loving parent to a three-year-old daughter, I understand the concern. I get it.
But the short answer is yes, children can be healthy and thrive on a plant-based diet!
Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets
At first, I was skeptical. I had many questions. Can my child meet her nutritional needs solely on a plant-based diet?
After doing a little research, I found that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics unequivocally states that plant-based diets are nutritionally adequate, appropriate for all stages of life, and may also provide a variety of health benefits.
Below is a direct quote from the abstract of their position statement:
"It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and athletes."
Designing An Appropriately Planned Plant-Based Diet
Yes, an appropriately planned plant-based diet can be nutritionally adequate for everyone, even children. But the key operative words here areappropriately planned.
So, what exactly is an appropriately planned plant-based diet?
First, I will tell you what is not. A diet of processed vegan junk food is NOT an appropriately planned diet. For example, feeding your child cookies, chips, fries, and vegan chicken nuggets every day is not going to fulfill her nutritional needs.
An appropriately planned plant-based diet consists primarily of unprocessed, whole plant foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
A Healthy Plant-Based Plate
A healthy, appropriately planned plant-based diet should consist of the following:
- Healthy fats. This should come from whole foods that are naturally rich in unsaturated fat such as avocados, hummus, nuts, nut butter, and seeds such as flax, hemp, and chia seeds.
- Protein from plant-based sources. An excellent source of plant-based protein is legumes and beans. Examples include tofu, black beans, chickpeas, and lentils.
- Non-starchy vegetables and leafy greens such as broccoli, kale, spinach, collard greens.
- Complex carbohydrates from starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots as well as from whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, wild or brown rice.
- Fermented vegetables such as kimchi and sauerkraut can be an excellent source of probiotics that support gut health.
- Fruit. Examples include berries, oranges, apples, bananas, mangoes and so much more. Choose an assortment of different colors to consume a variety of phytonutrients. Kids are encouraged to eat the rainbow!
- Plant-based milk can also be included, but it is not necessary. This includes plant milk made from soy, almond, rice, oat, and hemp. Soy milk is a popular alternative to cow’s milk because it is smooth, creamy, and is often more nutrient-rich compared to other plant milk alternatives.
This is what a healthy plant-based plate looks like.
This is what a typical meal for us looks like. A plate that contains many of the components of a healthy plant-based diet.
Following the guidelines above should fulfill a child’s nutritional needs and more.
The food we consume plays a key role in our health and happiness. Our food can make us feel nourished and give us energy. Or it can make us feel lethargic and give us brain fog.
As parents, we should make it a priority to eat well and teach our kids good nutritional habits. It is important to show our kids how empowering and fun preparing healthy meals can be! A plant-based diet will certainly help in accomplishing these goals.
Finally, don't miss out on PART. 2 were we will be talking about frequently asked questions, making healthy plant based meals at home, and quick tips to get you started.
Dr. Derek Kwan MD is a husband, father, anesthesiologist, and interventional pain specialist in San Diego, California. He works at Kaiser Permanente where he is a physician wellness champion and lead project manager of the physician wellness committee. San Diego Magazine has listed Dr. Kwan as one of San Diego’s Top Doctors.
Dr. Kwan is also the founder of Dr. McFrugal, a lifestyle website dedicated to helping people in various realms of life including personal finance, investing, health, wellness, plant-based diet and nutrition, travel, minimalism, environmentalism, and non-toxic clean living. He is also a Climate For Health Ambassador as well as the host of the Finding Meaning In and Out of Medicine wellness podcast. When he’s not at work, he really enjoys spending quality time with his wife and daughter, reading, working out, writing, and traveling.