B12 and Iron and Calcium, Oh My!

The following article was written by animal rights activist, vegan mother, and former PETA staffer Lauren Rainbow.

When I went vegan almost four years ago, I wasn’t overly concerned about the mythological nutritional deficiencies that many people assume go along with a vegan diet. I knew about the importance of vitamin B12, calcium, and iron and knew where I could get them. In fact, it was easier than I thought it would be. When I became pregnant with my son, I was excited and firm in my conviction to raise a vegan child from conception through adolescence. Although I was always confident in my own nutrition-rich diet, I have to admit that I was slightly concerned when it came to providing my son, Danny, with everything that he would need, especially in his first five years. Looking back on my initial reservations, I now realize that I just didn’t know anything about babies—although I was pretty sure that I couldn’t blend up a veggie burger, put it in a bottle, and feed it to an infant.

Well, I got wise to the game and did my research. I soon learned that nearly all baby food is vegan. Most babies start out on rice cereal, bananas, apples, yams, and simple grains. Animal-derived products start to creep into most children’s diets at the age of 6 months. One book I read stated that veal is a perfect first meat for a baby. Veal? Why on Earth would I want to feed my baby another baby? Even my omnivore friends balked at that one.

When Danny hit the one-year mark, the pediatrician brought up his vegan diet and began gently probing me for details about what he ate. There was no doubt that he was growing just fine; he weighed close to 24 pounds, which put him in the “sumo baby” category. I explained that he gets vitamin B12 from nutritional yeast sprinkled on toast and gets calcium from leafy greens in homemade soups. Iron is abundant in beans, which most babies love to eat with their hands. Power foods, such as fortified cereals and soy milk or yogurt, give Danny just about everything he needs in one go. While I think the pediatrician was impressed by my knowledge of nutrition, she suggested that we do a blood test to make sure that Danny was getting everything he needed. I was all for it because I wanted to be absolutely certain about something as important as his diet.

The tests showed that Danny had ample amounts of iron and B12 in his body. (I was beaming.) I wanted to know about his calcium levels but found out that there isn’t a test for the calcium that builds strong bones, only for blood calcium, which is a whole different story. She said that based on the variety in his diet and his other nutritional levels, she wasn’t concerned about it. So I guess I did it—I managed to get Danny through his first year without any dents, dings, or deficiencies. It’s not like this was a difficult task by any stretch of the imagination, but getting through that first year of infancy can be daunting in and of itself, especially since I was assuming the responsibility of providing Danny with a healthy diet rather than relying on food schedules that are suggested in books or on bottles of Gerber baby food. It was good to know that all was well—in fact, very well.

Here is a soup recipe that is a staple in our house. It’s loaded with protein, iron, calcium, and everything that’s good for babies and parents. As with most homemade soups, the quantities are approximations.

2 quarts vegetable stock or water
1/2 cup dry lentils
1/2 cup dry beans (any kind)
1/2 cup dry quinoa
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 gloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. Spike seasoning
3-4 cups of your favorite chopped vegetables (yams, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, spinach, etc.)

  • Pour the vegetable stock or water in a large soup pot and bring to a boil.
  • Add all the ingredients to the mixture.
  • Simmer for about an hour or until all the beans are cooked and soft. (More veggie broth or water may be added at any time.)
  • Blend the soup in a blender until smooth.
  • Set aside a generous amount of soup for your baby and season the “adult portion” with salt and pepper, to taste.

Makes 6 servings


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  • Steph commented on September 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    love it! My 1.5 year old is vegan and had excellent bloodwork too!

  • Rogue Joule commented on September 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Excellent article but would be better with more information regarding other meals. Great soup recipe though. ; )

  • SmellyCat commented on September 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Interesting article! But I would like to warn you about the use of soy in an infant’s diet, because of the chemicals which so closely resemble human oestrogen there might be some problems with early puberty with girls and delayed puberty with boys. Other than that a vegan diet seems great for a child!

  • Claude Hart commented on September 30, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    very inspirational, they say soy causes early puberty but wat about the hormones they feed cattle which tests have PROVED they cause early onset of puberty.
    I stick 2 the soy thank you.

  • Christopher commented on September 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Decent article. What I felt was lacking was any information about infant formula. Obviously breast milk from a vegan mother is best, but it’s not always available. In the case of my wife, she stopped producing milk when our son was a little over 3 months old. Needless to say we worked hard at finding vegan formula, but came up short because of too much soy being worse for babies than cows milk AND our findings which told of soy formula containing sheeps wool extract.

  • katiekins commented on September 30, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    the thing about soy chemicals is not true. they actually block normal estrogen receptors and so there is actually LESS estrogen uptake in the body. ever wonder why asian girls have such lovely slim figures and almost no incidence of breast cancer? it’s because they eat soy (tofu) on a regular basis.

    my brother has been lactose intolerant almost his whole life, and drank only soy milk all through puberty. he’s now 6 feet tall, muscular, with a deep voice and a hilarious tiny moustache common on 17 year old boys. anyone who says soy milk makes boy effeminate or slow to mature, i just point at my brother and laugh in their faces.

  • Sam commented on September 30, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Good article, although, to say that “I soon learned that nearly all baby food is vegan. Most babies start out on rice cereal, bananas, apples, yams, and simple grains. Animal-derived products start to creep into most children’s diets at the age of 6 months.” is a bit misleading. No baby should be weaned prior to 6 months, because a baby’s gut cannot handle anything but milk until around then (yes, some may mature sooner, but the problem is there is no way of knowing [if your baby is ready], which is why it is best to wait until *at least* 6 months to introduce *any* foods other than milk.)

    Current advice from all major ‘authorities’ on infant care (such as the WHO & AAP etc) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life.

  • Lauren commented on September 30, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    SmellyCat, you raise a very interesting point. I used to be very wary of the side effects of soy consumption because I too had heard reports that soy mimics estrogen in the human body. Then I learned that the study that published these findings was funded by the Dairy Counsel (perhaps a little biased???) and the data came from rats that were forced to consume extremely large amounts of soy protein isolate. Soy protein isolate is a highly refined soy products and is mainly found in fake meats and soy protein bars. I agree with you that we should all limit foods containing SPI in our diet and stick to the basic soy foods, such as soy milk, tofu and whole soy beans. All the recent, and unbiased, research indicates that soy is a very beneficial part of a healthy diet and does not pose health risks. It’s too bad that that one study damaged soy’s reputation so much!

  • nancy commented on September 30, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    I think soy only poses a problem when it’s eaten in a large ratio or amount. Americans tend to do this. We find out a food is healthy and base our diet around it. I think that’s how soy got a bad rap. Eaten in small quantities along with a wide variety of other foods, I think it is safe for young children or anyone else.

  • jb commented on September 30, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Great Work Ive been a vegan since last December and hope to raise any children I have in the future to be vegan as well thank you for sharing your story

  • Erica commented on October 1, 2010 at 2:33 am

    That’s wonderful that you’re raising Danny as a vegan! Cute pic, too!

  • Michele commented on October 1, 2010 at 3:09 am

    That’s so awesome ! God Bless 🙂 Your helping Your babies, and all the other babies, that your baby doesn’t eat! It’s a win win all the way around !!!! They say “A picture is worth a thousand words” Such an adorable baby pic !

  • Harley commented on October 1, 2010 at 8:03 am

    I love this arcile. I am as well a fellow PETA staffer, I have a almost 14month baby boy, and I was/am vegan during my entire pregnancy and he is being raise vegan as well. We get the same questions about what we eat, he eats and how we can make sure he is getting the right nutrients. It is nice to see a fellow vegan mom write about this stuff.

  • Trish commented on October 1, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Great article and well written. I liked you response to those folks who worry about soy for babies. Good information for parents. Looking forward to your next article.

  • Nirupama commented on October 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm


    This is very informative. I have always wondered if vegan mothers can provide all the nutrition that their children need all the way from conception to their initial stages of growth. I had read a few articles where it said that vegan mothers have to eat eggs and drink milk during pregnancy because the vegan substitutes for the same do not provide sufficient nutrition. But now I do not think so. Those articles were not written by any moms. This one is and is truly inspirational. Thanks

  • jamie commented on October 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    aw he is so cute, how did he handle his bloodwork? hope he didn’t cry too much. loved your article. my children are all teens now. soup recipe sounds great i’m going to try it

  • Harman commented on October 2, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    I am vegan (pretty much all life, partly been vegetarian) and pregnant now. Feel so encouraged after reading this. Right in face of the companies trying to sell cruel animal products by putting fear in people’s mind they will get some kind of malnutrition from vegetarian diet only.

  • Amy commented on October 3, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    It’s processed soy that you want to avoid. Crap like soy burgers and soy milk are not healthy in the least. Processed food is bad for you, no matter what the source. People tend to overlook that for plant based food though.

  • Barbara commented on October 3, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    I breastfed all 6 of my babies for at least one year. They did not have bottles or food until they were old enough (6+ months) to sit by me and share some ‘age appropriate’ table food. All my babies weighed 8 to almost 10 lbs at birth, and never failed to gain weight…they did look like little ‘sumos’ as the writer says! I joined LaLeche towards the end of my first pregnancy & with their help & encouragement, became a strong advocate of ‘on-demand’ nursing. I never felt the need to supplement, esp knowing that once you start, your ‘human’ milk declines. Sure there were growth spurts where I felt like they nursed continuously for days (not really), but it was all worth it!! My ‘babies’ are now 20-28. The close bonding & good health were priceless to me. Unlike so many mothers who look back on those baby years as ‘endless struggle’, I look back with love: those were some of the best years of my life!
    I say to any & all women who are contemplating breastfeeding: look up a local LaLeche League chapter and go to them for help not your non-nursing friends/relative. My grandmother was my inspiration.

  • J.O. commented on October 5, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    When my son stopped drinking formula I switched him to soymilk. He is 12 now and vegan for the last 3 years. Throughout his life he has eaten tofu and tempeh too. His last physical was great! He just hit puberty right along with his friends, so soy hasn’t affected him in any way. Like other comments, isolated soy products are the worst and eating soy all day long isn’t a good thing either but eating dairy, eggs and meat all day long isn’t good for you either. We use a variety of non-dairy milks, like almond, rice, hemp and soy. Testing on rats, I believe, doesn’t give an accurate result because they aren’t human. They also feed them a crazy amount of soy so….

  • Carlinne commented on October 9, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    I have been a vegan for 11 years now and had a full blood panel done last year. My doctor told me to stop talking B12 supplements as the B12 in my blood was really high. I told her I don’t take B12 supplements! This was just from eating a variety of healthy vegan options, so this proves you don’t need animal flesh to get B12!

  • JW Hall - CO commented on February 16, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Great article Lauren. With our first on the way, it might be time to go vegetarian again. I’m not sure what in the heck a Lentil is, but we printed out the recipe and will try it.

  • Monique Buckner commented on March 27, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Unless the fortified foods and nutritional yeast states that they contain B12, it is advisable to take a B12 supplement. Your child may have adequate B12 now which is gained via breastmilk, but over a few years of not consuming B12 (the variety our body needs to protect nerves), serious damage starts to occur. Over many years, the damage accumulates and this nerve damage has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Humans are the only animals who cannot make B12 in the body as we lack the bacteria in our guts, so it has to come from animals or a supplement. Early humans probably ate insects intentionally or unintentionally which gave us this vital nutrient.