This mum is raising a healthy vegan boy, and a nutritionist urges other parents to take similar steps if dropping food types

Four-year-old Ames Hitchcock-Hume has been vegan since birth.

Four-year-old Ames Hitchcock-Hume has been vegan since birth.

Four-year-old Ames Hitchcock-Hume has been vegan since birth, raised on a diet that can take some planning to get right.

Young Ames is among a growing number of children on vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free diets.

Nutritionists say these diets need careful thought as an unbalanced diet early in life can lead to anaemia, bloating, discomfort and vitamin deficiency, but Ames' mother Jessie Hume said a well-planned vegan diet was no different from any other diet.

Vegan mum Jessie Hume gives her son Ames foods like fortified soy milk and Marmite to make sure he gets the right nutrients.

Vegan mum Jessie Hume gives her son Ames foods like fortified soy milk and Marmite to make sure he gets the right nutrients.

"My goal as a parent is to get as much variety as possible."

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Hume has been vegan for about 10 years for environmental and health reasons.

Her son's first foods included lentils, chickpeas, hummus and fruits and vegetables.

The Auckland mother said she only followed scientific evidence-based guidelines when feeding her son.

Family nutritionist Julie Bhosale said society was trending towards vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

"There's been a 30 per cent increase in vegetarians across the board over the past five years so of course that's going to filter down to babies."

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Bhosale recommended a lot of leafy greens and legumes for parents choosing to keep animal products out of their baby's diet.

Starting solids had become stressful for many parents as there was so much conflicting information out there, which was a reflection of the global nutrition scene, she said.

She had also seen an increasing number of parents keeping their babies' diets gluten-free.

"There are worse things in the world to do ... but you're actually setting yourself up for a really really difficult ride in terms of nutrition. To go gluten-free is very expensive ... and if you do get under pressure, all of a sudden you've got a toddler that's not used to things like wholegrain bread."

Some parents were also trying to keep their babies and toddlers on fat-free diets which could be harmful for growth, she said.

"That's just a lack of information on how important it is for babies to get fat in their diet. Most of your sources of fat come from animal-based products but also good are peanut butter and avocado."

Baby-led weaning was also picking up in popularity. This involved putting safe foods in front of the baby from the very beginning of weaning and letting them feed themselves whatever and however much they like. 

The Ministry of Health does not recommend baby-led weaning due to a lack of research but a spokesman said it was continuing to monitor the situation.

Bhosale said if done correctly, baby-led weaning could be a wonderful way of getting babies used to tastes and textures - but if done incorrectly, it could lead to anaemia and poor sleep.

Foods had to be age-appropriate and contain the right mix of vitamins and minerals, she said.

"You can't just put a piece of broccoli in front of a seven-month-old baby and think he's going to eat it. Starting solids is so hard for people at the moment and unfortunately our Ministry of Health guidelines are really outdated."

The ministry is working on a series of guidelines for nutrition and activity for babies and toddlers.

A spokesman said it was also keeping an eye at international research due to be released in 2018 on ways to feed babies solids. 

Bhosale said starting solids too early or starting with the wrong foods could be harmful. She also did not recommend baby rice or cereal as those were not easily digested by little bodies. 

The ideal solids diet would start at about six months with vegetables like pumpkin or kumara and move quickly on to meat to ensure babies were getting enough iron and B-12, she said.

 - Stuff

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