Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Raising a Healthy Hippie Vegan Baby

Raising a healthy hippie vegan baby. Dealing with concerns about Iron, Calcium, Vitamin B12 and fat.

Hippy babies love bongos.

It finally happened. I was outed to my family doctor. At our last check up appointment for my 15 month old daughter my Dr once again suggested that I give her homo cows milk. Since I am still breastfeeding (which my Dr is a huge proponent of) so I haven't felt the need to give her any other type of milk. When I asked her why she went into a generic diatribe about nutrition namely mentioning the importance of fat. Listening politely I then asked what nutrition she would be getting specifically from cows milk and if there was an alternative I could give her that would supply her with the needed nutrients. She looked at me blankly and asked why when giving her milk is so easy. My mother then decided to interject and fill her in on a fact I had eluded to in past visits but had been avoiding because of the hard time I knew I was about to get, we are vegan. (Well we are mostly vegan. We try our best to eat a whole food plant based diet, sometimes we can get free range eggs from a local farm so we occasionally include them as well.) Hearing this my doctor suggested Soy milk as an alternative (of course). I questioned her further into what benefit would my child get specifically from Soy milk that she couldn’t get elsewhere. She told me something I was already well aware of, vegans need to be very conscious of how much iron, calcium and vitamin B12 they get and this is especially important for growing kids. As this is something I already knew I told my doctor that we eat a variety of foods that supply all of us with these nutrients. She talked briefly about the bio availability of iron in plant based foods and suggested that I Google foods rich in iron and start her on fortified soy milk. Great doctorly advice right? So off I went to ask Dr Google what I should be feeding my toddler. Guess what? Almost everything on the list of plant based sources of iron are already a huge part of our diet. I called the Dr’s office and requested that at our next visit if she was still concerned that they run some bloodwork to give us an accurate idea of what is really needed in our diet (and not needed).

Lets go back in time for a minute. I subscribed to the baby led weaning method when first introducing solids to my daughter. We waited until 6 months (actually a week shy of 6 months because she was actively trying to steal food off my plate) and she skipped the baby cereal and went straight to "real" food. Since then she eats what we eat for the most part and our diet is what I consider pretty healthy. Almost everything we eat is home made and if it’s not it has very few ingredients with no crazy hard to pronounce stuff. We also try to get as much local organic produce as possible. We recently purchased a founding membership to a local co-op that prioritizes locally grown healthy food. It is in the works to open in the next year and we are very exited!  

First solid food. Loving her avacado.

So after the Dr’s appointment my OCD and I decided to do some more research and figure out exactly how much iron my little one was actually getting. It wasn’t enough for me to know I was feeding her an array of iron rich foods, I needed numbers. I got to work trying to figure out how many milligrams of iron was in the foods I frequently gave her. Most nutrition labels give you the iron as a percentage of your daily-recommended intake or daily values (DV). Converting this over to mg involved some math (which is not my forte). In Canada the adult DV is 14 mg of iron per day, 1/3 cup of our Steel Cut Oatmeal has 14% of your DV of iron. 14% of 14 h is 1.96 mg of iron per 1/3 cup of Oatmeal and so on. I also figured out fat and calcium content of everything so I knew what she was getting of those nutrients as well. After figuring all this out I looked up the DV for kids 1-3 yeas old here. Iron is 7mg per day and calcium is 700mg.

There are 2 things my baby girl gets almost everyday. Her breakfast of steal cut oatmeal and her snack "cookie". Now after a lot more math I could now see that in an average day she was getting all of her recommended iron and about half the recommended amount of calcium in these 2 meals alone. This wasn’t even factoring in all the other food she eats in a day. She also eats a ton of hummus and nut butters on my home made fortified organic whole wheat bread, tahini, spinach, kale, kiwi, tomato's, dried fruit, lentils, beans, tempeh etc. Here's a list of some other plant based sources of calcium to reference. So I'm pretty confidant that she's getting enough calcium.

The issue with plant based sources or non-heme iron is that the body doesn’t absorb them as readily as animal based ones. This doesn't mean that they aren’t as good for you, it just means that you need to be aware that not all of what is eaten is utilized by the body. A great way to boost the body’s ability to absorb plant based sources of iron is to pair them with a source vitamin C such as papaya, strawberries, bell peppers, etc. Kale is great because it has iron and vitamin C already packed right in there.

Another big issue for vegans is vitamin B12. Now since we sometimes include eggs in our diet (mostly hers) and we drink almond milk that is fortified with vitamin B12 and make bread with fortified organic flour (I also take a B complex vitamin a couple times a week) I don’t really worry about this one. It is important to mention though because research has shown that this vitamin is only available in animal products or in fortified foods. Vegans can not get this vitamin without either eating fortified foods or taking a supplement so be aware especially for your vegan children. I make a green smoothie with spinach/kale, strawberries, watermelon, pineapple, coconut water and fortified almond milk. My little one loves it! I have to drink mine fast or save it for when she’s napping or else she chugs hers and wants mine too.

The last concern of my Dr was fat in my little ones diet. Without homo cows milk or dairy products how is she ever going to get enough fat? It's easy with coconut oil, coconut milk, nut butters, avocado and seeds she’s getting plenty of heart and brain healthy fats.

Helping to bottle feed some foster kittens.

Now I’m sure some of you are asking yourself how does she get a toddler to eat all this stuff? I’ll tell you. It’s what she’s used to, it’s what she sees us eat and the most important one, it’s what she’s offered! She is right on track for growth and I trust her to know when she’s hungry or when she doesn’t want to eat. If she doesn’t clean her plate I don’t stress and if she gobbles up everything in sight I offer her seconds. I am glad my Dr is concerned, I would wonder about her if she wasn’t. It certainly is a lot of work making sure she’s getting all the nutrients she needs but I think she’s worth it. With her love for animals I’m also glad I won’t have to tell her that we’ve been eating all her barnyard friends and helping to pollute the earth her entire life. Veganism completely aside I also think it’s much healthier to give her the right start to a life of eating whole foods and avoiding prepackaged, salt and sugar laden artificially flavoured/coloured crap.

Update - We just had her 2 year check up and her Dr. thinks she's doing just great! She is in the 80th percentile for height and she's following her curve for weight. She's hitting all her developmental markers and is growing like a weed!



  1. It's so nice to see other vegan parents who are making the informed decision to go plant-based. I find quite a few Dr's aren't fully aware of all the great sources of calcium and vitamins found in plants! We're a vegan family as well, I have a 1 year old son who is vegan. We enrich his foods with nutritional yeast, chia seeds and hemp hearts to give him the extra boost of vitamins in his tofu stir-fry etc.
    You are clearly doing a wonderful job.

    1. Thank you so much! It's nice to get positive feedback :) We do what we can to give our babies the best possible start in life.

  2. So refreshing and informative to read this post! Veg on mama!