The vegetarian diet bashing collective has been in overdrive again this week following the publication of a story by the Daily Mail that a five month old baby died from Rickets due to the diet of his Vegetarian mother. A Vegetarian or Vegan Diet can sometimes cause a child to develop Rickets if they do not eat a varied enough combination of foods, but there are many vegetarian and vegan children in the world who have not developed the disease, so even though they are more pre-disposed to it, if they have a balanced diet, it can be prevented.
Rickets develops when there is a lack of Vitamin D, phosphorus and calcium in the diet. It causes problems with growth and bone development, and pain in the bones. It also subsequently can cause death.
Vitamin D is found in Vegetarian foods such as oily foods such as eggs, fortified fat spreads, fortified yoghurts, fortified breakfast cereals, powdered milk and mushrooms. Sunlight also provides Vitamin D.
Phosphorous is found in almost every food. It is an essential nutrient required for proper cell functioning, regulation of calcium, strong bones and teeth. Foods high in Phosphorous include Cheese, Pumpkin and Squash Seeds, Brazil Nuts, Non Fat Yoghurt, Soya (Tofu), and Beans and Lentils.
Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth, regulates muscle contractions, including heartbeat and ensures that blood clots normally. Foods high in Calcium include milk, cheese and other dairy foods, green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach, soya beans and drinks, tofu nuts, bread and anything made with fortified flour
As a Vegetarian, it is important that you try to eat a balanced diet with all of the correct vitamins and minerals. It is even more important if you are Vegetarian and Pregnant, or are a Breastfeeding Mother. The Daily Mail article cited how the mother featured followed a very strict religious vegetarian diet, so it is likely that she wasn't getting all of the vitamins and minerals that she needed and wasn't eating a a balnced diet.
The Vegetarian Society and NHS Choices has some good tips for vegetarian pregnant and lactating mothers.
The Vegan Society list some key nutrients for a vegan diet to prevent Rickets and also has an article on Sunshine and Rickets.