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Dr. Benjamin Spock's Baby Diet

June 2007

[News & Observer]

Most of us would agree that sugar and spice aren't sufficient to sustain little girls. What about nuts and berries?

Can plant matter provide what a child needs?

A spitting match, instigated by a column in The New York Times last month, pitted a book author against proponents of vegetarian diets. Nina Planck's column, headlined "Death by Veganism," can be summarized by her conclusion: "Children fed only plants will not get the precious things they need to live and grow."

Oh, no? The science says otherwise. But that's yesterday's news.

An old standby on child-rearing - Dr. Benjamin Spock's "Baby and Child Care," the seventh edition of which was published in 1998, tells it like it still is.

Despite the science that affirms plant-based diets as optimal for humans and other primates, a vegetarian eating style is outside mainstream American culture and at odds with the economic and political forces that sustain it. In what he knew would be the last edition of his classic, Spock was determined to make explicit the advice he believed passionately.

When I met Spock in the late 1990s, I had been called in to help negotiate a dispute between Spock and his co-author. Spock wanted to include a chapter testifying to his personal experience with a vegetarian diet. His co-author was uncomfortable with this approach. Being an expert on plant-based diets, I was asked to offer input into the debate.
Spock died in 1998 at the age of 94 just before his book came out. In the end, the chapter describing how a vegetarian diet improved Spock's health was scrapped, but his advice for children remained intact and is still valid:

* Feed children vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans regularly and with a positive attitude. Parents should model the same eating style.

* Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables -- two to three servings each day -- because they are loaded with absorbable calcium, iron and vitamins. Broccoli, kale, collards, bok choy and chard are examples.

* Vegetables should make up 25 percent to 30 percent of the diet. Buy fresh, organic, locally grown vegetables from the farmers' market or another local source, or grow your own.

* Eat beans and bean products (such as tempeh and soymilk) regularly, and include fruits, seeds and nuts for flavor and variety.

* Whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruits are the basics of good nutrition. If a child's diet includes them, the most important nutritional bases are covered.

* Dairy products (other than breast milk) after the age of 2 years are not recommended. He listed many health reasons. Vegetables and legumes provide calcium and have other nutritional advantages, so milk from cows is unnecessary.

* Eliminate meat and poultry and reduce fish consumption. Children raised on plant proteins have better health as adults.

Spock's approach is borne out by research findings published since his death, pointing to health advantages of diets based on plant foods.

Nearly 10 years on the shelf and his nutrition advice is as fresh as ever.

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