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Is it safe for my baby to be vegetarian?

Meatless diets for baby may not be safest

Stars such as Alicia Silverstone, Bethenny Frankel and Gwyneth Paltrow all serve their babies meatless diets. But before jumping on the Hollywood bandwagon, health care providers urge parents to think carefully about what young children should eat. Here are some helpful tips to consider before you go meatless with your baby's diet.

Baby on vegetarian diet

The number of vegetarians in this country seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. The recent focus on healthy diets, combined with more Hollywood types going meatless and trendy veggie restaurants sprinkling New York City and beyond, make vegetarianism seem as ubiquitous as the traditional steak house.

A 2005 poll by an independent market research firm showed that 3 percent of Americans ages eight to 18 are vegetarians, up 1 percent from a previous survey, according to USA Today. But nowadays babies are going vegetarian, too. Before your baby goes meatless, consider the following tips to ensure your budding veggie has the proper nutrients.

Babies and toddlers desperately need iron

Babies begin losing their iron reserves around six months of age, and most pediatricians will recommend that is when a meat portion or cereal be introduced into their diets. Iron is an important dietary mineral that is required for various bodily functions, including the transport of oxygen in the blood, daily energy and brain development.

Toddlers and young children are at a heightened risk for iron-deficient anemia if they aren't receiving a balanced diet. A host of meatless foods are great for baby's iron levels. Some include iron-fortified cereals, broccoli, peas, apricots, pears and spinach. Talk to your pediatrician about the levels your baby might need if he or she isn't eating meat.

Does a vegetarian diet make my child healthier?

There is some evidence that children with meatless diets have lower risk of disease, diabetes, excessive weight gain and cancer later in life. But vegetarians have to be more stringent about getting their required nutrients and proteins from plants.

"Vegetarian diet is excellent for good health when you follow the general rules of a nutritionally-balanced diet and be sure you get the nutrients from vegetables that you miss by giving up animal foods," according to the website Ask Dr. Sears.

Children need fats

Young children need fats to develop myelination of the nerve cell axons, the long, waxy wires that connect neurons in the brain. Many doctors will recommend babies, when they reach 12 months, have whole cows' milk or whole yogurts, to aid in this development. There is some concern that vegetarian children might not get enough fat in their diets as those who eat meats. But as with all nutritional concerns regarding vegetarian children, as long as parents monitor these factors, a meatless diet can be just as healthy, if not more so.

More on healthy diets for babies and toddlers

Starting solids: Healthiest way to feed your toddler
Is baby formula safe?
Healthy foods for toddlers

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