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Food & Health

Is There A Difference Between Organic and Vegan Foods?

In recent days, the vegan diet has gained a significant amount of popularity especially amongst adults and even young parents. There are reasons to the adoption of the veganism lifestyle and this includes health considerations the effort to reduce animal suffering, and more.

Although it is said to be healthful and nutritionally adequate and suitable for any age in the 2009 Journal of the American Dietetic Association, are such nutritional diets safe for kids? Here’s what we’ve learnt after talking to Tessa Riandini, Researcher at National University of Singapore (NUS) and Associate Lecturer at Republic Polytechnic for Continuing Education and Training (CET) in Food and Nutrition.

Organic Does Not Equate to Healthy 
Unlike the vegan and vegetarian diet, the organic diet is when one consumes only/mostly organic products. This includes consuming
organic vegetables only, organic meat only or a mix of organic vegetables and meat. Organic farming is originally intended to achieve a sustainable production method which can help to protect the environment. Although, based on a study done by The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic produce such as fruits, leafy vegetables, root vegetables and tubers were lower in pesticide residues compared to conventional produce, there isn’t much scientific evidence to prove that organic produce is superior to conventional produce in terms of safety, nutrition, freshness and wholesomeness. Take organic chocolate for example. It will still contain a large amount of sugar and fat!

Vegan Diet For Kids
Vegans and strict vegetarians consume only plant-derived foods. Vegans do not consume nor use animal products such as flesh, milk, eggs and honey.There are kids who take up the vegan diet due to family culture or dietary needs. But are they prone to any potential issues? It is known that the first few years of life are crucial for development; during this period the brain and skeletal system are growing rapidly. Therefore a balanced nutrition is essential to ensure a normal growth of children.

  • Dairy
    As the vegan diet excludes dairy products and eggs, a child might not be sufficiently provided with some essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, iron and zinc. This is because vitamin B12 only comes from animal sources, foods rich in calcium are mainly dairy products (a vegan diet is thus typically lower in calcium), iron from animal sources is better absorbed in the body and zinc is not found in large amounts in plant products.
  • Protein
    Protein is an absolutely essential nutrient. It forms structural components in our body and forms enzymes, hormones, fluid balance regulators, antibodies as well as alternative energy source. Therefore, it is not advisable to eliminate protein from our diet. Protein can also come from plant sources. However, this form of protein is usually incomplete, which means it might lack in several amino acids. To ensure adequate intake of all amino acids, a combination of protein sources needs to be consumed together, such as grains and beans. As long as a variety of plant products are consumed, you will have a good chance of taking in all the essential amino acids that your body needs. Plant proteins do not have to come from soy or soy products alone, it can come from a variety of beans/legumes, seeds, nuts, and grains.

Health Precautions
Above them all, a well-planned and supervised vegan diet for children will do no harm. However, if the child starts showing symptoms of vitamin or mineral deficiencies, their diet needs to be reassessed and vitamin/mineral supplementation might be needed. It is recommended that parents seek advice from their doctors or dieticians regarding the children’s vegan diet. When it comes to adopting the vegan diet, make sure your child’s diet contains a large variety of plant products. This is to ensure an adequate intake of various nutrients.

At the end of the day, if you are going to follow any vegetarian or organic diet, be sure you know all the facts before getting started.