Being Vegetarian
with Brenda Davis, R.D.

B12 for Vegan Babies

Q: We have an 8-month old baby who is being raised vegan and, of course, we want to make sure he is getting the proper nutrients for healthy growth and optimum development. He is eating solid foods such as a variety of cooked and/or mashed organic fruits and vegetables (including avacado), fortified baby cereals, tofu, soy yogurt, flaxseed oil, soft legumes, rice cakes, and breastmilk whenever he likes – which is about four or five times a day. The question is regarding vitamin B12. He doesn't currently receive any supplements (except acidophilus), and I'm wondering if we should grind up B12 tablets and mix them in with his food. If so, please tell me how many mcg and how often to supplement at 8 months and if that will change when he is one year old.

Marnie Feeleus, Winnipeg.

A: I sure do appreciate your question. It is so important to ensure that babies get all of the nutrients they need. Unlike adults, infants have limited vitamin B12 stores (especially if mother's intake was low during pregnancy), and can become deficient very rapidly. For this reason, many experts advise supplementing all vegan infants with at least 0.3 mcg of vitamin B12 from the second week of life until sufficient vitamin B12 is provided by fortified foods. Recommended intakes for infants are 0.3 mcg/day from 0-6 months, 0.6 mcg from 6-12 months and 1 mcg from age one to three. Your baby can get plenty of vitamin B12 from fortified non-dairy milks such as fortified soymilk (generally 1-3 mcg/ cup), nutritional yeast (1 teaspoon = about 1 mcg of vitamin B12), fortified breakfast cereals, and fortified meat analogues. If you don’t use these foods, you need to provide B12 in supplement form. Ask your pharmacist if a liquid B12 formulation is available. The drops can be added to baby’s foods. If not, tablets can be ground up and added instead. For more information on raising healthy vegan children, please see my book Becoming Vegan.

Does Calcium have a Beef with Iron?

Q: If iron inhibits the absorption of calcium in the body (and I don't know for sure if it does), why does fortified soy beverage contain both calcium and iron? Another food item that contains both is blackstrap molasses. Is the calcium availability also limited because of the presence of iron?

Adeline Sokulski, Winnipeg.

A: Actually, it’s dietary calcium that inhibits iron absorption, which is why iron is added to the beverage. Calcium inhibits the absorption of both haem- (animal-based) and non-haem- (plant-based) iron to the same extent. Experts think it does this by interfering with the transport of iron through the mucosal cells that line the small intestine. This is supported by studies that indicate calcium is especially apt to inhibit iron absoprtion when the two minerals are consumed simultaneously. But other studies have found that high calcium intake only depresses blood iron levels slightly, whether or not people eat calcium and iron at the same time.

These kinds of interactions between nutrients, by the way, are one of the key reasons why single nutrient supplements must be used with caution. You could induce a deficiency of other nutrients in the process.

Medicinal Onions?

Q: I was wondering what nutritional value and medicinal benefits onions have?

Anna Birtles, Winnipeg.

A: Onions are a member of the allium family, which also includes garlic, leeks, chives, scallions, and shallots. There are over 600 species of allium vegetables. While onions are not exactly vitamin and mineral powerhouses, they are loaded with protective phytochemicals. For example, onions contain sulfur compounds similar to those in garlic which may help to reduce blood cholesterol and blood pressure. Studies have also shown that they contain anti-clotting agents, which may help prevent the internal blood clots that cause most heart attacks and strokes and contribute to senile dementia. Onions also have antimicrobial and anticancer properties. In fact, there is some evidence that high intakes may reduce the risk of stomach and colorectal cancer.

One of the world’s most respected vegan dietitans, Brenda Davis is co-author of the acclaimed Becoming Vegetarian and Becoming Vegan. Her latest book is Dairy-Free & Delicious. If you have a question about vegetarian or vegan nutrition for Brenda for a future column, please send it to us and we’ll forward it to her.