Protein for the Vegetarian Baby – Do Babies Need to Eat Meat for Protein?

Do Babies Really Need Protein from Meats?

babyfork2When your baby reaches the 7, 8 or 9 month old mark, you may think of the need to introduce Meats into the diet. Many pediatricians are now recommending that meat be one of baby’s first foods even. But, does an infant really need to have meat introduced into his/her diet at this young age?

Is it important for babies to get proteins solely from meats?

Can introducing meats in baby’s diet cause digestive issues or future health problems?

What if you wish to raise your child as a Vegetarian of one form or another; will the lack of Meat hinder growth and development?

These are all questions that have been asked by many parents as their babies hit yet another milestone age. This week’s article will explore the answers available.

Why should parents introduce meats to baby?

One of the most important reasons that parents begin to introduce meats is for the protein (and Iron as well) factor. Meat is one of the best sources of “complete” protein available. Along with meat, some excellent sources of protein are eggs, nuts, and dairy products.

The Vegetarian baby – where else can a vegetarian baby get protein from?

Protein is found in plants such as legumes (like beans, peas, lentils), some vegetables, grains and even in fruits – though many of these sources of proteins are considered “incomplete” proteins.

Is it dangerous to not introduce meat to baby? Will not introducing meat proteins harm my baby’s growth?

Many parents worry that not introducing Meat into an infants diet will harm the baby’s growth. This should not be a concern and many vegetarian babies gorw up to be healthy children. Parents should research and find alternative ways to get protein and Iron into baby’s diet

Consider this: a baby’s main source of nutrition comes from either formula, breast milk or both during the first 12 months of life. These food sources contain adequate amounts of proteins to sustain and allow your baby to grow and develop properly. Even at the 12 month age mark, your baby still does not require meat in the diet. What your baby does need is protein.

What types of proteins are there?

As mentioned earlier, there are 2 types of Proteins; Complete and Incomplete. There are also 20 essential Amino Acids that our bodies need and protein helps us gain these amino acids. Our bodies produce 11 of the essential amino acids however we rely on food sources to get the other 9 essential amino acids.

  • Complete Proteins are those that contain all 9 of the essential Amino Acids. The best source of complete protein is Meat, Eggs, Dairy and Nuts and Seeds.
  • Incomplete Proteins are lacking in 1 or more of the 9 essential Amino Acids. Plant foods such as legumes, grains, fruits etc.. are considered to contain the Incomplete proteins.

What age should I introduce Meat into Baby’s diet?

The current recommendations for introducing meat into your baby’s diet varies greatly from country to country. Many countries are now recommending that meat be one of baby’s first foods to ensure Iron intake. It is typical for meat to be introduced into the diet between the 7-9 month age range. You should discuss the introduction of meat into your baby’s diet with your baby’s pediatrician.

Whether or not you choose to introduce meat into your baby’s diet prior to 12 months of age, if at all, is entirely a personal decision. Rest assured however that meat itself is NOT a necessity in an infants diet – Protein is the necessity. Your child can receive all the proteins needed by combing the foods that contain both the complete and the incomplete proteins without ever having to eat meat.

An example; peanut butter and bread (over 12 months), black beans and rice, cottage cheese and avocado, milk and a grain cereal.

stop3 You must carefully consider the exclusion of Meat from your child’s diet and consult with your pediatrician and/or a Registered Dietician prior to embarking on a “Meat-Free” or other form of Vegetarian diet for your baby!

Resources and Learning More:

National Institutes of Health(NIH) – Protein in diet

Kids Health.Org – Learning About Proteins

Feeding your vegetarian child

Vegetarian Diets for Children

stop3  Remember, always consult with your pediatrician regarding introducing solid foods to your baby and specifically discuss any foods that may pose allergy risks for your baby.

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