You’ve probably heard people talk about veganism or a plant-based diet over the last few years. This diet has become increasingly popular among adults in the 18 to 24 age bracket, but is this diet right for children? Is a plant-based diet right for your special needs child, considering their unique nutritional and digestive needs? The major characteristic of a plant-based diet is that it does not include any animal products, such as meat, dairy or eggs. Here are 5 things to consider before feeding your child a strictly plant-based diet:
A Plant-Based Diet Does Not Include Dairy
For many children with special needs, dairy can be an obstacle. You may have already removed dairy from your child’s diet, which is great – That means you’re one step closer to a fully plant-based diet, which can have many health benefits. You may be concerned about your child’s calcium intake with dairy out of the picture, but you can easily replace this core nutrient with almond milk (assuming your child isn’t allergic to nuts), rice milk, coconut milk or soy milk.
Some research has shown that soy in a child’s diet may cause certain hormones to develop early, so you may consider rice milk as a safe alternative.
A Plant-Based Diet Is Rich in Fiber
A common health issue for children with special needs is constipation. This, in large part, is due to a fiber deficiency. Many children with special needs have cravings for fast food – who doesn’t, right? – and have a hard time hearing that they should eat it in moderation, so many parents, to keep the peace, let their child eat whatever they want. A plant-based diet will be a tough transition at first, but as your child gets used to the new flavors, they will find them more and more satisfying, making their fiber goals easier to achieve.
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A Plant-Based Diet Can Be Just as Rich in Protein … If You’re Mindful
You probably hear a lot of concern about protein deficiency with plant-based diets, but protein can be found in many foods that do not come from animals:
- Black Beans
- Chia Seeds
These foods may not be found in your child’s diet yet, so again, the transition will take some time, but eventually, you won’t have to worry if your child is getting enough protein.
A Plant-Based Diet Does Not Naturally Include B12 Vitamins
The one major vitamin that you can’t get from a plant-based diet, naturally, is B12. Many vegan foods have to be fortified with B12 so that those on a plant-based diet don’t run the risk of heart disease or anemia. There are also vegan gummy vitamins available to ensure your child gets all the B12 they need.
A Plant-Based Diet Does Not Include Fish Oils
Some studies have shown that fish oil supplements can help with behaviors for those with autism. If your child is on a strict plant-based diet, then fish oil would not be included. However, there’s no rule that says you have to go all-in. If you want your child to be on a predominantly plant-based diet for health reasons but also have them take fish oil supplements for behavioral reasons, then that’s perfectly fine! The vegan police are not coming for you.
Consult with your doctor before making any major changes to your child’s diet. This article is not intended to substitute the guidance of a licensed practitioner.
If you’re interested in enhancing your child’s health, another factor that can play a huge role is consistent exercise. Sign your child up for private training sessions or a local boot camp today!
Special Strong provides fitness and nutrition for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs fitness certification courses for personal trainers and service providers who want to work autism and other disabilities.