Q: My nine-year-old daughter has, for the last three weeks, been eating a vegetarian diet without eggs and very little dairy. Thinking this was going to be short-lived, I didn’t really worry about her not getting enough nutrients. But I’ve noticed her listening skills declining and she seems unable to stop herself from behaving in a manner that she knows is not acceptable. Could a lack of a particular nutrient be the cause of her behaviour?
A: Most nine-year-olds are too busy with nine-year-old things to have the time to get enough nutrients in a strict vegan diet. It certainly can be done and we know vegetarian and vegan diets can be extremely healthy. However, careful planning is required to make certain the diet includes grains, vegetables and fruits, beans and bean alternatives, and milk or milk substitutes (like soy). Even then, there is some concern that children following a strict vegan diet grow more slowly. Decreased intake of calories, protein, vitamin B and iron can all lead to growth, behaviour and even learning problems.
So now to my concern: Has your daughter explained her choice to you? Even at age nine, an eating disorder can rear its emaciated head. Visit her doctor to rule out this and other physical issues. Then if she wishes to be a vegan — and you agree — check out some good books from your library. You must read and learn, and maybe visit a nutritionist, to find out just how to do it in a healthy way.
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