New Vegetarian Baby
An Entirely New, Updated Edition of the Classic Guide to Raising your Baby on the Healthiest Possible Diet
By Sharon K. Yntema, Christine H. Beard
McBooks Press, Inc. Copyright © 2000 Christine H. Beard
All rights reserved.
Vegetarian Babies in Science and Society
Nature's methods, perfected over millions of centuries, are always purposeful and nearly always right.
Dr. Jelliffe, under the auspices of the World Health Organization
One day in the future, everyone will be as aware of the harmfulness of eating animal products as we today are aware of the necessity of physicians' washing their hands before delivering a baby.
Sharon's Story: Exploring Other Cultures
The first reading I did was an exploration of other vegetarian cultures, searching for clues as to what those people fed their babies and why. This reading also gave me confidence that our decision to raise our baby as a vegetarian was the wisest one.
Being a vegetarian is more than not eating meat. Finding out about other peoples whose whole lives are based on vegetarian philosophy can be deeply inspiring. Every group of vegetarians has some ideas that will aid in our growth as vegetarian parents. Having a feeling for the universality of vegetarianism, whether as an integral part of a culture or as a solution to the problems of malnutrition, can help new vegetarians to better understand their own philosophies.
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Many societies and cultural groups around the world have either greatly reduced or completely excluded meat, and sometimes other animal products, from their diet for religious, philosophic, and economic reasons. The majority of Indian yogic groups, for example, are vegetarian because their members do not want to take the life of another living being. Similarly, some Christian orders, sects, and organizations believe that the Bible and other religious writings specifically speak against the eating of flesh. Among them are the Seventh Day Adventists, approximately half of whom are vegetarian for both religious and health reasons.
This chapter describes various cultures which have successfully incorporated either a plant-based or a completely vegetarian diet as a way of life, whether on the basis of philosophy or economy, or both. These cultures offer a wealth of knowledge regarding infant-rearing practices, food preparation, and other issues of interest to members of the modern vegetarian movement. Data are scant in some cases and profoundly detailed in others, but taken together they are a testament to the ability of humans of all ages to thrive under a wide variety of conditions while eating vegetarian foods.
No such presentation would be complete without mention of some vegetarian cultures which have experienced health problems, usually due to premature weaning, poor hygiene, or restrictions among plant foods, in the course of their elimination of animal products. These isolated cases are equally instructive as they show what practices to avoid when raising your vegetarian baby. The goal of these investigations is the growth of a new vegetarian culture that incorporates the best of other such cultures while rejecting those elements that have been shown to be harmful. Your vegetarian baby will reap the benefits of this knowledge.
What Kind of Vegetarian Is Your Baby?
The definition of the word "vegetarian" has become rather fluid over the years, so any book on the subject needs to define its terms.
Vegetarians do not eat meat or meat by-products of any kind. All vegetarians, therefore, eschew red meats, poultry, fish, seafood, gelatin, lard, animal-based broth, and similar foods.
"Lacto" refers to milk and other dairy products, while "ovo" (or, more properly, "ova") refers to eggs and egg products. Some people are either lacto-vegetarians or ovo-vegetarians, but most include both eggs and dairy products in their otherwise non-meat diet. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the United States government are among the many respected institutions which have sanctioned the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.
Vegans eat no meat, meat by-products, dairy products, or eggs. Some people prefer to use the term "strict vegetarian" to distinguish such dietary vegans from ethical vegans who also avoid eating other animal products, such as honey, and seek cruelty-free clothing, household products, cosmetics, medicines, and entertainment.
Although many doctors and nutritionists still lack basic knowledge of what constitutes a healthy vegan diet, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dietetic Association, and the Institute of Food Technologists are three major organizations which state that a carefully planned vegan diet can be adequate for infants and small children.
A comprehensive term, mostly used on the Internet, which includes both lacto-ovo vegetarians and vegans.
Many people who consider themselves to be vegetarian actually are pisco-pollarians, meaning they avoid mammalian ("red") meats but still eat poultry ("pollo") and fish ("pisco") or other seafoods. In common parlance, they often are referred to as near-vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, or partial vegetarians. If meat constitutes only a small part of the diet, it can more accurately be called a plant-based diet. This diet is increasingly being adopted by those meat-eaters who are concerned with their health, and it is well accepted by the medical and nutrition communities, but it should not be confused with a truly vegetarian diet.
Macrobiotics is a dietary philosophy, rather than a diet, which is based upon the Eastern concept of yin-yang and which emphasizes eating locally grown, seasonal foods. A macrobiotic diet is not necessarily vegetarian, but many vegetarians eat a macrobiotic-style diet. While the macrobiotic philosophy has much to recommend it, some macrobiotic practices are potentially harmful for young children, and those will be specifically pointed out in the section on macrobiotics so parents can avoid associated problems.
Fruitarians eat only plant foods that can be obtained without ultimate harm to the plant, but exactly what that includes is very much up to the individual. A fruitarian diet that includes both raw and cooked nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, fruits, and some fruit-type and leafy vegetables, is essentially a vegan diet as explained above, but it still will lack certain important plant foods such as root vegetables. A fruitarian diet generally is not, therefore, adequate for a child, and even more restrictive fruitarian diets which consist only of raw fruits and seeds are not recommended as a steady diet for anyone, either adult or child, because the variety of foods is too limited for long-term health.
Since our more distant ancestors, like all animals, had access only to raw foods, some people consider it unnatural to eat anything else. Raw foods diets usually are plant-based but may contain raw honey, raw eggs, raw dairy products, and raw meats, depending on individual philosophy. A completely raw foods diet can be very risky for babies as it is difficult for them to obtain enough calories and other nutrients, and it may expose them to harmful organisms, especially if raw animal foods are used (with the exception, of course, of breast milk). Raw plant foods are an important part of a healthy diet, however, and recipes based on raw plant foods can be included in the diets of toddlers and older children.
An interesting conclusion can be drawn from the above definitions, namely that essentially all babies are lacto -vegetarian, or even vegan, until seven or eight months of age! That is a natural result of feeding them breast milk or formula during infancy and weaning them onto cereals, fruits, and vegetables. Only when concentrated protein foods are introduced in the latter part of the first year is there a divergence between the diets of vegetarian and omnivorous children. But since legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are part of a healthy diet for vegetarians and omnivores alike, even then the difference is not great among nutritionally aware families.
Vegetarian parents sometimes feel alone in their efforts to raise vegetarian — and especially vegan — children. A success story, therefore, is quite encouraging. The Farm, a spiritual community founded in Tennessee in 1971, is an example of a vegetarian culture that works. A vegan diet was the standard on The Farm until 1983 when The Farm ceased being a strictly communal organization, and some members resumed eating eggs and dairy products.
Over the decades, The Farm has been home to many individuals and families. The population peaked in 1982 with around 750 adults and an equal number of children. Approximately two hundred people still live on The Farm today where they continue to practice "simple living and self -reliance" as well as conducting businesses like Mushroompeople and the Book Publishing Company.
A landmark dietary study was conducted at The Farm by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1984, the researchers directly gathered height and weight data for 144 children living on The Farm. That data was supplemented with growth measurements and demographic information previously gathered by The Farm's own health clinic and ETHOS, a Farm research organization. The final analysis included data for 404 children for the years 1980 to 1984. The ages of the children ranged from four months to ten years, and the majority had been vegan for the first two years of life (not counting breast milk).
The final report appeared in the September 1989 issue of Pediatrics. The researchers found that the children were growing normally, at rates generally falling within the 25th to 75th percentiles. As a group, the children's growth tended to be very slightly below the median for the general population: mean heights were 0.2 to 0.7 cm shorter and mean weights 0.1 to 1.1 kg lighter than the national averages for different age groups. The researchers concluded that "... the growth of The Farm children even though modestly less than that of the reference population, showed no evidence of marked abnormality. [With] attention to weaning foods and nutrient intake, a group of children raised with a relatively strict vegetarian diet (vegan) can achieve adequate growth."
The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook describes in detail how vegan children on the Farm are fed. No animal products, including milk and eggs, are used in the traditional Farm diet. Soy milk manufactured on The Farm is fortified with vitamins A, B-12, and D, and supplementation of vitamin B-12 is obtained through the use of fortified nutritional yeast.
Mothers are encouraged to nurse for at least six to eight months. Strained vegetables, fruits, and soft, bland processed cereals are introduced to babies after four to six months, and starches and unprocessed grains after six to eight months. Soy milk, soy yogurt, and tofu are introduced when the baby is seven to eight months old, but not before, because his or her digestive system is not ready for soy products until that time.
Soups made from legumes other than soybeans (e.g., well-blended and diluted split pea soup), and well-mashed, de-skinned beans, are given to Farm children a month or so after soy products. Whole soybeans are hard to digest unless they are very well cooked; some children can't eat them until age two or three years.
Parents at The Farm have community support in their efforts to raise healthy vegetarian children. The Farm exemplifies a vegetarian culture based on knowledge of nutrition, cultural borrowing, and group sharing. Because Farm children have been objectively found to be healthy, The Farm diet model is an excellent one for other vegetarian parents to follow.
The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook edited by Louise Hagler and Dorothy R. Bates (Book Publishing Company, 1988).
Voices from the Farm: Adventures in Community Living edited by Rupert Fike (Book Publishing Company, 1998). http://www.thefarm.org
Seventh Day Adventist
Physicians are not employed to prescribe a flesh diet for patients, for it is this kind of diet that has made them sick. Seek the Lord. When you find Him, you will be meek and lowly of heart. Individually, you will not subsist upon the flesh of dead animals, neither will you put one morsel in the mouths of your children.
Ellen G. White
Another successful vegetarian community is that of the Seventh Day Adventists, a significant number of whom are lacto-ovo vegetarians and some of whom are vegan. The unique character of this Christian religion largely derives from Ellen G. White (1827–1915), who is seen by the church to be a prophet and whose writings "are considered to be an authoritative source of truth." According to the Ellen G. White Estate, those writings include more than 5,000 periodical articles and 49 books, as well as many manuscripts. Her writings on nutrition are largely responsible for the vegetarian nature of the Seventh Day Adventist church, and her work in establishing schools and hospitals can be seen in the many Seventh Day Adventist institutions that exist today, including Loma Linda University in California where "research and education in vegetarian nutrition have been a focus ... for 75 years."
One such research study followed over 27,000 vegetarian and omnivorous Seventh Day Adventists in California for a period of 21 years and established that "those consuming predominantly vegetarian diets had lower age-specific mortality rates than did non-vegetarians, even after controlling for factors such as history of smoking or chronic disease."
Another study looked at Canadian Seventh Day Adventist women who were long-term vegetarians and found that their iron and zinc status "appeared adequate despite their low intake of readily absorbed iron and zinc from flesh foods and their high intake of total dietary fiber and phytate." The results of this study underscore our limited knowledge of how food constituents react inside the body as opposed to in test tubes and theoretical models, and it offers pregnant and nursing vegetarian women some reassurance of their ability to absorb adequate iron and zinc from their foods, even when some of those foods contain mineral-binding substances such as phytates.
Researchers have also studied Seventh Day Adventist children. For example, a study comparing Seventh Day Adventist children with non-Adventist, Caucasian children in Southern California found that "vegetarian children and adolescents on a balanced diet grow at least as tall as children who consume meat." Another report reviewed several growth studies and concluded that while "11- to 12-year-old girls following a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet are 3 to 3.5 cm shorter than omnivore girls of the same age," this difference "is most likely due to a delayed onset of the pubertal growth spurt" and that "this maturation delay may carry potential health benefits in adult life."
The combined result of these and other studies has been the almost total acceptance of lacto-ovo vegetarian diets by the nutrition community. The Seventh Day Adventist model thus is an excellent one for lacto-ovo vegetarians to follow. As stated in another review of data from Seventh Day Adventists: "An early establishment of a healthy lifestyle seems to be of decisive importance in the risk of later disease."
Ten Talents by Frank J. Hurd and Rosalie Hurd (The College Press, 1985).
Total Health and Food Power: Principles of Healthful Living and Outstanding Vegetarian Recipes from Glendale Adventist Medical Center by Rose Budd Ludlow (Woodbridge Press, 1986).
Vegetarian Nutrition and Health Letter School of Public Health, Loma Linda University 1711 Nichol Hall, Loma Linda, CA 92350 (888) 558-8703; http://www.llu.edu/llu/vegetarian
Ellen G. White Estate Branch Office Andrews University Berrien Springs, Michigan 49104 (616) 471-3209; http://www.egwestate.andrews.edu
Above all, learn from your children. Observe them carefully — they will teach you to have confidence in life....
George Ohsawa, founder of the modern macrobiotic movement
The macrobiotic (literally "great life") philosophy, which originated in ancient Japan, is based on a concept that divides the aspects of the universe into two polarities, yin and yang. Basically, yin is the quiet principle: simplicity and receptiveness; yang is the moving principle: effortless and creative action. According to this philosophy, a balance between the two opposites is necessary for optimal spiritual, mental, and physical development. Foods are classified according to the yin and yang they contain, and recipes balance combinations of foods. (Continues...)
Excerpted from New Vegetarian Baby by Sharon K. Yntema, Christine H. Beard. Copyright © 2000 Christine H. Beard. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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