August 08, 2022

Is Plant-Based Eating Right For Your Baby?

Is Plant-Based Eating Right For Your Baby?

Written by Dr. Natalie Epton Tan,

Most babies will start eating complementary foods at around 6 months of life, and it is advisable to start with foods that are easy to digest and have a low risk of allergy. Most people will start with simple fruit and vegetable first tastes, with some parents choosing rice or oat porridge as their baby’s first foods.

Whichever food you choose to start giving your baby, by the time you have been regularly offering solid food for around 4 to 6 weeks, it is time to start expanding your baby’s diet to include protein-rich foods.

Why is protein important?

Breast and formula milk contain sufficient protein for your baby in the first 6 months, but your baby requires even more protein in their diet from six months onwards to support healthy growth and development.

Protein has been linked to achieving optimum height, as well as maintaining healthy hair, nails, muscle and bones. Babies also need additional protein if they have had a recent infection, to help them recover faster. Proteins are also responsible for repair and maintenance of the body’s tissues and organs.

Proteins are made up of units called amino acids. The body needs twenty different amino acids to be able to function properly. Although the human body can make eleven of these amino acids, there are 9 amino acids that the body cannot make and must be derived from the diet. These are called essential amino acids.

Can my baby get all of their essential amino acids from non-meat protein sources?

Although animal sources of protein contain all of the essential amino acids, and plant sources do not contain all essential amino acids, you can ensure your baby gets all their essential amino acids by providing a wide variety of different plant-based proteins.

What are important plant-based sources of protein?
  1. Nuts, which can be introduced as peanut, almond amd cashew nut butters or pastes
  2. Legumes such as chickpeas, green peas and lentils
  3. Seeds such as sesame, pumpkin and sunflower, many of which can also be found as useful butters and pastes
  4. Soy, tofu and tempeh
  5. Ancient grains, such as quinoa, farro, spelt, barley, black rice and buckwheat
  6. Avocado
  7. Whole grains such as brown rice
What are the advantages of a plant-based diet for your baby?

Some studies have shown that children raised on a plant-based diet have lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, as well as a reduced risk of obesity.

A plant-based diet is also kinder to the environment, resulting in reduced water wastage and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

So what is a plant-based diet?

Unlike a vegetarian diet, a plant based diet may include other rich dietary sources of protein, such as dairy and eggs, as well as occasional fish or meat (although a true plant based diet would only include meat or fish a couple of times per week). The majority of nutrients comes from a wide variety of plant-based foods.

Including dairy and eggs helps to ensure adequate intake of other essential nutrients, such as zinc and vitamin B12, as well as iron, calcium and vitamin D.

However, if you wish to exclude all animal based foods from your child’ diet, it is possible, but you will need to ensure a good intake of these nutrients from other sources, such as kale, nuts, legumes, whole grains, etc.