What is a vegetarian?
Vegetarians and vegans don’t eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea (such as crab or lobster) or animal by-products (such as gelatine).
Their diet consists of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables, dairy products and eggs. Vegetarians who also don’t eat eggs and dairy products are called vegans.
There are three main types of vegetarian:
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat both dairy products and eggs. This is the most common type of vegetarian diet.
Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but not eggs.
Vegans do not eat dairy products, eggs or any other animal product.
At what age is it safe to become a vegetarian or vegan?
As long as they get all the nutrients they need, children can be brought up healthily on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Children need plenty of energy to help them grow and develop.
Children also need protein and iron to grow and develop. Good sources of protein and iron for vegetarians are eggs, nuts (don’t give whole nuts to children under five as they could choke), pulses, such as beans, lentils and peas and foods made from pulses, such as tofu, hummus and soya mince.
It’s also important that children get enough vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Vitamin drops are important for vegetarian and vegan children between six months and five years old. If your child is older than this, speak to your GP or a dietician to see whether vitamin drops should be included in their diet.
All children aged six months to five years old are advised to take vitamin D supplements, unless they drink more than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day.
Can babies and children eat a vegetarian diet?
If you’re bringing up your child on a diet without meat (vegetarian) or without any food from animals (vegan), they will need two or three portions of vegetable protein or nuts every day to give them enough protein and iron.
Don’t give whole nuts to children under five as they could choke. Grind the nuts finely or use a smooth nut butter. You’ll also need to make sure they get enough calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Vitamin drops are especially important for vegetarian and vegan children between six months and five years old.
Can babies and children have a vegan diet?
If you’re breastfeeding and you’re on a vegan diet, it’s especially important for you to take a vitamin D supplement. You may also need extra vitamin B12.
Take care when feeding children on a vegan diet. Young children need a good variety of foods to provide energy and vitamins they need for growth.
A vegan diet can be bulky and high in fibre. This can mean that children get full up before they’ve eaten enough calories. Because of this, they may need extra supplements. Ask a dietitian or doctor for advice before you start introducing your child to solids.
Is it safe to be a vegetarian or vegan during pregnancy?
A varied and balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can provide enough nutrients for you and your baby during pregnancy. However, you might find it hard to get enough iron, vitamin D and vitamin B12. Talk to your doctor or midwife about how to get enough of these important nutrients. Read more about having a healthy diet during pregnancy. All pregnant and breastfeeding women, regardless of their diet, are advised to take a vitamin D supplement.
Do vegetarians and vegans need vitamin supplements?
With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy balanced vegetarian and vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs to be healthy without the need for supplements.