The Malaysian Food Pyramid recommends a varied and well-balanced diet that consists of food sources from all food groups. However, you may be a vegetarian due to health, religious, cultural or other reasons.
Vegetarian or plant-based diet is safe for kids, however, care must be taken to ensure that your child gets all the essential nutrients and calories that he needs. Otherwise his diet is likely to be deficient in certain nutrients. Generally, a vegetarian diet is rich in fruits and veggies that are often high in fibre and less fat, which may cause your child to feel full before he consumes enough calories. Therefore, ensure the child meets the required calories per day. Make it a point to consult a nutritionist or dietitian if you intend to get your child on a vegetarian or plant-based diet. The changes to a vegetarian diet must be made slowly; ensure that familiar foods are still available. A vegetarian diet can help form a healthy eating habit for life.
Some nutritional deficiencies may occur however, yet this can be easily managed with a good understanding of available plant-based foods in Malaysia:
Did you know?
There are four vegetarian categories:
- lacto-ovo-vegetarians (eats eggs, dairy products, and plant foods)
- lacto-vegetarians (eats dairy products and plant foods, but not eggs)
- ovo-vegetarians (eats eggs and plant foods, but not dairy products)
- vegans (eats only plant-based foods – no eggs or dairy products)
Look for fortified foods (e.g. fortified cereals, fruit juice) when grocery shopping. This will help your child to receive enough micronutrients such as vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and iron.
Protein needs can be easily met if children eat varied food. Include a source of vitamin C (tomatoes, bell peppers, citrus fruits) with meals to increase iron absorption. Sufficient skin exposure to sunlight will certainly help to naturally synthesise vitamin D.
Limit your child’s intake of sweets and fatty foods!
Key to a healthy vegetarian/ plant-based diet
Eat a wide variety!
- Leafy greens
- Whole grain products
- Nuts and seeds
Danger: Supplements can be harmful
Always remember: Food first and then only supplement if necessary. Any supplements that are taken regularly and in large amounts can be harmful! If you ensure that your child’s diet adheres to the Malaysian Food Pyramid, then he should be getting all the nutrients he needs. Supplements are unnecessary and should never be used as a substitute for fresh food. Plant-based food is sufficient to ensure your child meet the required nutrients, unless practicing vegan diet (exclude dairy and egg), which may need extra attention especially for vitamin B12 requirement. This can be managed with consuming fortified food such soymilk, tempeh and ready-to-eat cereals.
If you are worried that your child’s diet does not provide him with sufficient nutrients, seek the advice of professionals. Nutrient supplements should only be taken on the advice of a nutritionist or dietitian or physician.
An educational collaboration with Nutrition Society of Malaysia.