Vegan Baby Death

It is a very sad story.

On May 2, 2007, an Atlanta judge sentenced a vegan couple to life in prison (the mandatory sentence) after the death of their baby by starvation. The baby's diet, according to the Associated Press, consisted largely of soy milk and apple juice. He weighed 3 1/2 pounds - half the size of many newborns - when he died at six weeks old.

My heart goes out to the parents, who said they did their best. But the informa- tion they had was wrong. A vegan diet is simply not good enough for babies.

A baby fed soy milk and apple juice would have multiple deficiencies. He would l ack vitamin B12, vitamins A and D, complete protein, quality fats (saturated and unsaturated), beneficial bacteria, and vital immune and growth factors found in breast milk. The saturated fat lauric acid (found almost exclusively in breast milk and coconut oil) is vital to prevent infections. Polyunsaturated omega-3 fats make up the baby's brain, and probably have something to do with why breast- fed babies are less likely to be obese and diabetic. The baby also needs to consume cholesterol (found only in animal foods) to build nerve cells. Thus breast milk is rich in cholesterol.

Those are merely the deficiencies of a soy-and-juice diet. Soy also inhibits growth (via its effects on the thyroid), which might explain why the baby couldn't gain weight and contains antinutrients, which reduce the absorption of protein and minerals. No baby should drink fruit juice (and no toddler should be drinking it in any more than very small quantities) which is a simple carbohydrate lacking vital fats, protein, vitamins, and fiber. The risks of juice include displacement of more nutrient-dense foods, tooth decay, and weight trouble.

If your child is weaned, cow milk (sans hormones) is far superior to any juice, even fresh and homemade. Make it whole milk, ideally grass-fed and raw if you can get it from a reliable dairy farmer. Children who drink whole milk (rather than skim) have fewer gastrointestinal infections because butterfat contains anti-viral fats called glycophospholipids

We do not know whether the mother attempted to breast feed. Insufficient milk is common in vegan mothers, and vegan breast milk is known to be deficient in DHA, which comes from fish oil. The immature infant brain needs huge quantities of fish oil to develop properly. Your brain is an astonishing 60% fat, and half of the fat is DHA. A vegan mother is often herself deficient in omega-3 fats. If her diet does not include these fats, her own body and brain will be further depleted with each pregnancy and with each nursing baby, putting the mother at risk of post-natal depression.

It may be that an adult - if well nourished in utero, breast-fed by a well- nourished mother, and well-fed during infancy, childhood, and adolescence - can be relatively healthy, at least temporarily, on a vegan diet. But I would not risk it. There are substantial risks to the vegan individual himself, and it is difficult to get pregnant, sustain a healthy pregnancy, and to have sufficient and nutritious breast milk on a vegan diet.

A vegan diet is not a fertility diet for men or women. It is not a diet for babies, children, or teens. That is why the vegan diet is an aberration in human dietary history. There are traditional vegetarian cuisines - in southeast Asia, for example, and the Indian subcontinent. Without exception, they include butter and eggs, for the all-important complete (animal) protein, vitamin B12, and vitamins A and D, which are found fully formed only in animal foods.

The omnivore has only one real dilemma: which of the many good foods our bodies are designed to eat - game, fish, fowl, eggs, butter, milk, cheese, fruit and vegetables, nuts - to have for dinner tonight.

All Creatures Great and Small is very much the theme of the human diet.

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