Zinc! The Trials and Tribulations of Raising a Vegan Family


Was I causing a zinc deficiency? It’s amazing what worries goes through your head when the decisions you make affect someone so close to and dependent on you. The worries only escalate for me when raising my daughter with a non-mainstream diet.

My husband and I keep a vegan household. A few years back, we eliminated animal-based products completely from our kitchen. When available, we purchase clothing products (from shoes to wallets to sweaters) that are plant-based instead of leather or wool.

I became a vegetarian during childhood, and kept up this lifestyle as an adult due to my belief in minimizing violence. Tim, my husband, came at vegetarian and veganism shortly before we met initially for health reasons after certain illnesses hit his extended family. We agreed that the plant-based lifestyle fit our family’s vision for our relationship with our planet.

When we started the adoption process, we knew we wanted to raise our children vegan as well.

The first year of life was going to be easy, I thought: we would simply just use a soy-based formula. However, it was surprisingly hard to find one that was both organic and not made with a corn syrup based (yes, I’m amongst those who highly distrust corn syrup!). A few months after she was born, all was going well. Until the brown rice syrup arsenic scare arose, which had us researching what this meant for us and our daughter. We decided, based on the science, that we were on the right track.

As we started solids, like all good parents, I read books and websites to learn about the nutritional needs and their plant-based sources. Being a family physician with a strong interest in healthy nutrition already, I absorbed tons of information, and was inundated with thoughts of proteins and omegas and B12s, amongst others. By the time my daughter was a year old and was weaned off formula and all the nutritional additives it had, I developed my “super porridge” with a grain, a bean, walnuts or almonds, nutritional yeast, flax seed, and wheat germ all ground up together.

I was on top of things; my daughter was going to get the best nutrition to grow strong and healthy, without having to rely on violence towards other creatures! She wasn’t going to be exposed to as many growth hormones, unhealthy fats and cholesterol, and cancer-causing contents of an animal-inclusive diet!

And then, earlier this month, I browsed through another book I hadn’t picked up in a while which warned about zinc deficiencies in a plant-based diet. Zinc! How had I forgotten about that important mineral that comes up at least twice a week in routine conversation, zinc? Was my daughter deficient? Was I a bad parent?

Luckily, having googled zinc-rich foods, I felt reassured. My daughter was getting plenty of wheat germ (yes, it’s not just for essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins), peanut butter, and the other plant-based sources of zinc.

Sigh of relief.

We knew that it wouldn’t be easy to raise a vegan family. There isn’t great research out there on childhood nutritional needs, with scientific understanding of the different ratios of omega types, for just one example, still in it’s infancy. We are fighting billions of marketing dollars targeting my daughter to consume food-like edible substances (thank you Michael Pollan, of “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food” fame, for that term) with lab-created “bliss points” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). Our daughter will inevitably eat animal-based products when with friends, at school, etc.

I’m lucky that I have a skill- and knowledge-set as a family physician. But even I have such a tough time getting good, sound nutritional information. Like most parents, we’ll continue trying our best to raise our family with the values that we hold, and we’ll continue reading and learning as much as possible to make sure our daughter and future children have the healthy diet and nutrition they need to get the best jump on life.


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