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Vegan Diet is Safe for Infants
[Houston Chronicle - opinion]

It was a horrific crime. Last month in Atlanta, two parents were convicted of intentionally starving their 6-week-old child to death. As part of their defense, the parents of Crown Shakur claimed that they are vegan, meaning that they do not consume meat, dairy or other animal products. Their conviction has brought international attention to vegan child rearing.

As a nutritionist who testified as an expert witness for the prosecution in the trial, I want to clear up some disturbing misunderstandings about the case. Vegan diets are not only safe for babies; they're healthier than ones based on animal products.

Unfortunately, not everyone talking about Crown's death is getting the facts right. Some are even misusing the tragic and confusing case to question the ethics and adequacy of vegan nutrition during pregnancy, lactation, infancy and childhood.

Yet one thing about Crown's death is very clear. He was not killed by a vegan diet. As the autopsy report stated, Crown died of complications of starvation. I was in the courtroom when the judge and jury were shown photographs of Crown right after he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The infant was literally skin and bones. His parents had fed him the wrong food for an infant -- soymilk and apple juice. But the real problem was that he was not given enough food of any sort.

The other reason Crown died was that his parents did not seek medical care or even advice from a relative when it was clearly warranted. Astonishingly, the father stated under oath that he didn't know anything was wrong with Crown until right before he and the infant's mother drove him to the hospital. That was the child's first visit to any kind of health care practitioner.
Interestingly, the breast milk of vegan mothers has been shown to contain significantly lower levels of environmental contaminants, such as pesticides, dioxins and bovine growth hormone, than the breast milk of meat-eating mothers.
According to the American Dietetics Association, there is no need to introduce any meats, eggs or dairy products into an infant, toddler or child's diet. Well-planned vegan and vegetarian diets not only provide all the nutrients necessary to support growth, they also promote good health in childhood and start disease prevention early.
We can embrace the efforts of parents who are finding creative ways to provide healthy, nutrient-rich foods to their children. We can support government policies that limit foods from animal sources and promote the consumption of whole or less processed foods, especially fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. And we can demand that our medical system provide high-quality care to everyone, including people choosing a vegan lifestyle.

Lanou is a senior nutrition scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and an assistant professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She is also the author of "Healthy Eating for Life for Children."

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