Children's health

Eating healthily when young can influence what’s eaten during adulthood. Including tasty plant-based foods into children’s diets is a good choice.

It is important that the diet is well-balanced with a focus on healthy fats and sufficient calcium and vitamins.

Plant-based diets shift the balance in favour of plant foods. However it’s not necessary to eliminate all animal products. Eating smaller amounts of animal foods, and replacing them with more plant-based foods, can bring about major benefits to both our health and the planet.

It’s widely accepted that to achieve a healthy balanced diet, two thirds of it should come from plant foods and one third from animal based products. This is because plant foods contain more fibre, vitamins and minerals and less fat and saturated fat than animal foods. As such this way of eating has been associated with proven benefits to our health and is in line with national and international dietary recommendations.

Plant foods and plant-based eating patterns have shown a number of beneficial characteristics in cancer.
To stimulate achieving this in practice, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) suggests that when preparing meals at least two thirds of the plate should be made up of plant foods (vegetables, fruits, grains and beans) and foods from animals (like fish or meat) should make up less than a third. (http://www.aicr.org/new-american-plate/reduce_diet_new_american_plate_portion.html).

Most epidemiological studies examining the relationship between diet and cancer risk have focused on selected nutrients or food groups. To date there’s increasing evidence that meat-based dietary patterns have a detrimental effect on cancer risk. As such the World Cancer Research Fund recommends that red and processed meat intakes are limited.

Read more about balance animal/plant-based
To ensure a lifetime of healthy bones the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends it’s important to: achieve the highest possible bone mass during the time of growth (childhood and adolescence), maintain bone health in early adulthood and reduce the rate of bone loss later in life. Bone health throughout life is highly dependent on peak bone mass (PBM) achieved in young adulthood.  90% of PBM occurs by the age of 18 in girls and 20 in boys (when growth ceases).
Adequate calcium intake and vitamin D status is required for optimal bone health. Also, ensuring a sufficient protein intake is important to keep bones healthy.
Evidence from observational studies indicates those who follow plant-based eating patterns have a healthy bone mass, with no difference in bone mass between omnivore and vegetarian populations.
However, it appears that those who consume vegan-type diets should take care to preserve protein and calcium intake, particularly during adolescence and young adulthood when peak bone mass is attained. There are a wide variety of plant-based protein sources, including peas, beans, lentils, nuts, soya dairy alternatives, tofu and soya mince, that can be consumed to ensure protein intakes are maintained. To make sure sufficient calcium is provided in the diet preference should be given to dairy alternatives fortified with calcium. Calcium is also found in plant foods such as dried fruits, nuts, green leafy vegetables (especially Kale and Pak-Choi, but not spinach), sesame seeds and tahini.
A more alkaline diet, rich in fruit and vegetables with smaller amounts of meat, reduces the acid/base challenge that can result in minerals such as calcium being leached out of bones.
Plant-based eating tends to be associated with other beneficial lifestyle factors, such as being more physically active, smoking less and an overall lower energy dense, nutrient-rich diet, all of which contribute to good bone health.
 
As soya foods provide high quality protein and many are also a good source of calcium, soya can help and support normal growth and bone development. Many other plant-based drinks are enriched with calcium and vitamine D. As a result these foods can be helpful in maintaining bone health.
Cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) is a reaction by the immune system to the proteins found inter alia in milk. CMPA is different to lactose intolerance, which does not involve the immune system.
Poor growth is common in children with CMPA during their first year of life, so as well as an accurate diagnosis, appropriate dietary treatment is vital, including the right choice of formula, to ensure adequate nutrition is provided to support optimal weight gain and growth.

The decision as to which cow’s milk substitute to choose for CMPA will depend on whether the allergy is IgE mediated or non-IgE mediated.

Read more about cow's milk protein allergy
New, S.A., Intake of fruit and vegetables: implications for bone health. Proc Nutr Soc, 2003. 62(4): p. 889-99.

Egana JI, Fuentes A, Steinke FH, Uauy R: Protein quality comparison of a new isolated soy protein and milk in Chilean preschool children. Nutr Res 3,195-202 (1983)

Anonymous: Guidelines for school health programs to promote lifelong healthy eating. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR Recomm Rep 45, 1-41 (1996).
 
Health Survey for England 2007. Latest Trends. NHS. National Statistics. The Information Centre for Health and Social Care