A pair of scientists have calculated that the amount of food available to a human child during the first nine months of life is less than what it takes to provide at least three months’ of daily protein and fats, the equivalent of two or three portions of a balanced diet.
This means that children starting on a plant-based diet – such as a vegan diet or a raw vegan diet – would need to eat an average of around 1.3kg to meet the requirements of their bodies.
The results are particularly worrying for infants, who would have to be provided with an average of less than 0.5kg of protein, 1.4g of calcium, and 1.4g of fat after just nine months. Even if infants received no animal products in this time or during the first few years of life, they would still be well short of the recommended daily allowance of 1.3kg.
In a study involving eight male and female infants from Sweden, the scientists found that it took around 2.5kg of meat or fish on average to meet the nutrition requirements for two months a day.
The children’s diets were provided at a range of different levels of meat and fish with more varied diets being preferred by those who followed vegan or raw diets. However, the researchers found that those who relied on meat-based diets had a higher dietary needs for calcium. In particular, the children’s intake of calcium was estimated to be less than 1.4g a day, significantly lower than the recommended daily allowance of 1.3mga. In contrast, the calcium requirements of infants on a vegetarian diet was estimated to be 0.5mg a day, slightly higher than the recommended daily allowance of 0.5mga.
According to the researchers, the findings show that the infant-food industry has a responsibility to be more transparent about food standards, which should ensure that infants receive the nutrition they need.
“This study is the first to quantify the minimum needed amount of food to ensure adequate nutrition in infants beginning with a plant-based diet. In future studies that provide data on the needs of infants from different diets and age ranges, the relative need of each diet will be assessed.
In view of this, we believe the development of recommendations to children aged 6 months and up in terms of food requirements is urgent. The recommendations are also crucial to help parents and caregivers understand feeding and nutrition requirements in infants and children and therefore have the potential to reach significant uptake in the health systems, as
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