Vegetarian and vegan diets typically include a high proportion of foods rich in beneficial nutrients such as fruits, vegetables and pulses and appropriately planned can provide a highly nutritious and healthy diet.
In childhood and adolescence, a time of rapid growth and development, it is especially important to ensure the consumption of foods that provide an adequate intake of nutrients.
For infants and young children, a good supply of energy and nutrients are important to meet the high requirements of the body. Yet vegetarian and particularly vegan diets tend to be high in fibre and filling so that young children can get full before they have taken in enough calories. Diets low in energy and fat and high in bulk may therefore pose a nutritional risk for these young age groups, and they should include nutrient rich foods for example milk and cheese (for lacto-ovo-vegetarians), smooth nut* and seed butters, vegetable oils, pulses, tofu and bananas.
As milk and dairy products are currently the largest contributors of Vitamin B2 and B12, calcium, iodine and phosphorus in the UK diet, should these be eliminated it is important to ensure that adequate intake of these nutrients are included in the diet. Fortified soya products and fortified breakfast cereals may be useful sources of nutrients, and vegans in particular should include a reliable source of vitamin B12 such as fortified foods or a supplement.
Children and teenagers following vegetarian diets should try to consume as wide a range of foods as possible to increase the sources of nutrients available to them. Important nutritional considerations are adequate calcium and vitamin D for bone health and iron, particularly a concern in adolescent females.
If the diets are well planned and a variety of alternative sources of nutrients are consumed these diets can provide adequate nutrient intakes. Although restricted, these diets should try to follow the principles of the balance of good health as much as possible and replace excluded foods with suitable alternatives.
*whole nuts should not be given to children under five years of age. If they already have a known allergy or here is a history of allergy in their immediate family talk to your GP or health visitor before you give peanuts or food containing peanuts to your child for the first time.