Are vegeterian or vegan diets healthier for Kenyan kids?

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In a bid to give their children the best nutritional balance, Kenyan parents are looking into alternative lifestyles such as vegetarian and vegan diets.

Vegetarians do not eat meat but consume dairy, unlike vegans who avoid all animal products including eggs, milk and cheese.

The concept of choosing an alternative diet is appealing to many, with numerous choosing the diets not just for themselves but also for their families. The rise in popularity of herbivorous diets has spread into Kenya, with restaurants such as Artcaffé offering vegan and vegetarian options on their menus.

JC Niala, a health professional and a vegetarian said her choice to change her diet was motivated by her love of animals. “My love for animals and the belief in the sanctity of all life made me become vegetarian over 20 years ago. My daughter has never eaten meat and she even encouraged us as a family to give up eggs as well as because she felt they hold the potential for life.”

According to the Physicians Commitee for responsible medicine, children that are raised on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes grow up to be slimmer and healthier and even live longer than their meat-eating friends. “Eating habits are set in early childhood. Choosing a vegetarian diet can give your child the opportunity to learn to enjoy a variety of wonderful, nutritious foods. Vegetarian diets provide excellent nutrition for all stages of childhood, from birth through adolescence.”

Most traditional Kenyan food is vegetarian. “All truly traditional Kenyan food is vegetarian, from breastmilk to mokimo and githeri so there is lots of choice if one wants to implement the diet,” said JC Niala. “Dark green leafy vegetables such as kales, managu are terere are very rich in micronutrients.”

The vegetarian diet is generally healthy and does not require supplements however vegans may need to take some supplementation such as nutritional yeast or vitamin B12 supplements. “In terms of diet I would advise young mothers to eat what their grandmothers ate. Beans and maize and sukuma wiki for example is a nutritionally complete meal which provides all required macro and micro nutrients.”

For parents looking to introduce a vegan/vegetarian diet to their children, JC Niala recommends the book; ‘Cows are too big to eat’ for them to read. “It is a fun collection of quotes for people who are who want to or has embraced the herbivore diet for ethical reasons.”

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