Parents who are considering raising their baby as a vegan, are being urged to seek professional advice before cutting all animal products from their child’s diet.
The British Nutrition Foundation has issued the advice after Holly Willoughby was criticised for claiming that babies as young as six months old can be weaned onto a vegan diet.
Willoughby, who has three children – Harry, eight, Belle, six, and Chester, three with her husband Dan Baldwin – wrote in her second book ‘Truly Scrumptious Baby’ that “it is possible” for a baby to adopt this lifestyle straight away, but added that it is a bit tricky.
“Weaning a baby on a vegan diet does require a little more planning,” she wrote.
“Energy density of food can be a concern as vegan food is often high in fibre but not very energy dense.”
Willoughby has been criticised for sharing nutrition advice when she herself is not a dietician, however she did seek advice from a dietician when writing the guide to weaning.
Sarah Coe, nutrition scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation, told HuffPost UK “it can be particularly difficult” for babies to get all the energy and nutrients they need.
Advice from NHS Choices warns parents to “take care” before switching their child to a vegan diet: “Young children need a good variety of foods to provide the energy and vitamins they need for growth.”
Not only could they be missing out on a varied diet, but the bulky, high fibre nature of vegan food can mean children get full before they’ve taken in enough calories.
“Because of this, they may need extra supplements. Ask a dietitian or doctor for advice before introducing your child to solids,” it states.
Coe also highlighted that getting enough iron and calcium can be a particular problem and stressed “careful planning” is necessary to ensure you incorporate these nutrients into a vegan diet.
“For example, instead of cows’ milk a health professional may recommend giving soya-based formula from the age of six months to provide calcium,” she said.
“Calcium can also be found in foods such as green leafy vegetables, tahini, white and brown bread, and fortified soya products like soya yogurts.”
“It may be necessary to give a supplement for some nutrients, such as vitamin B12, if recommended by a health professional.”
Vitamin B12 is necessary for the body’s vital functions including the production of red blood cells and is found primarily in animal products.
Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at NCT, added: “If you decide to leave out food groups such as meat or dairy, it’s even more important to make sure your baby is getting all the nutrients they need for growth and brain development.
“For extra information and reassurance it’s often a good idea to speak to a health visitor or doctor and get their specialist advice.”