Credits: Tammy Fry

Tammy Fry Rebuts Belgium Doctors’ Report On Raising Vegan Kids

by | July 22, 2019

Plant-powered athlete, Guinness World Record holder, 2017 Australian Open and Queensland Karate champion, and a lifelong vegan- Tammy Fry, the Head of Marketing for Fry Family Foods, needs no introduction. She is an inspiring vegan role model who embodies health and wellness. Besides being an avid crossfitter, successful businesswoman, self-defense coach, and public speaker, Tammy is a mum to two young vegan boys. Like many, she read the recent report, by The Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium, that asked for parents raising vegan kids to be prosecuted. We got a chance to connect with Tammy, where she opened up on the latest debate over raising kids on a plant-based diet. Keep scrolling to know more about Tammy’s opinion on the report by Belgium doctors.

vegan kids
Credits: Tammy Fry

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Tammy Fry Rebuts Belgium Doctors’ Report On Raising Vegan Kids

Here are the excerpts from the interview.

1. As a lifelong vegan and the Head of Marketing for the three-decade-old family-owned plant-based business, Fry Family Foods, what was your first reaction when the Belgian Academy of Medicine instructed people to avoid a vegan diet? This comes as a rude shock after the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics clearly stated, a vegan diet is nutritionally adequate for all age groups. How do you view this latest report by Belgian doctors? 

We will continue to see reports, such as these, as the largest industries in the world fight against the overwhelming evidence in support of plant-based diets for human health, the environment and the animals with which we share this earth. The power that these industries have to create public confusion through propaganda is enormous. So, I take this report with a pinch of salt.

The report also fails to address the alarmingly high rate of obesity in American children, as well as, the grievous effects of the meat and dairy industry on our current climate crisis. How do you envision plant-based diets in helping combat these crises?

As we are all painfully aware, obesity, especially as it relates to children, is on the rise around the world and is an especially problematic medical and cultural issue in the United States. 1 in 5 American children are obese. A plant-based diet greatly reduces the risk of childhood obesity, a fact that the Belgian report fails to mention. Instead, the report suggests that it is important to explain to parents about weight loss, undernutrition, and anemia. Clearly, that philosophy is not working.

The preponderance of kid-friendly plant-based foods, such as those from Fry’s and others in the market, has made it easier to replicate foods kids will eat and enjoy in vegan versions rather than the old days of shoving a plate of spinach in front of them and hoping for the best. Furthermore, the vegan versions are lower in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol.

The US’ Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has stated that children on a plant-based diet tend to grow up leaner, healthier and with a longer life expectancy and on June 4th posted a report from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that stated, “Researchers from Harvard looked at data from three large cohorts—the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study 2, and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study—for a total of 126,982 adult participants with more than 20 years of follow-up. Those who ate more healthful plant-based foods gained less weight over the years compared with those who ate less healthful products and animal-based products.”

A final point not touched on in the report is the grievous effect that the meat and dairy industry is having on our current climate crisis. A plant-based diet has the lowest environmental footprint of any of the current “diets”. 70% of our monoculture crops are fed to livestock, whilst one child dies every 45 sec from malnutrition. Livestock is also the ocean’s largest predators, eating more fish (in the form of fish meal) than humans and require an inordinate amount of water resource. It requires 16000 liters of water to produce just 1kg of beef – that’s equivalent to a 7min shower every day for 50 days! And animal agriculture contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than any other industry in the world. In the face of the huge and catastrophic effects, climate change will have on the human race, it has become critical to change to a lower environmentally impactful diet.

Also, the horrors inflicted on our animal brethren in the world’s factory farms. Here at Fry’s, we are proud to say that we estimate, we saved 3.5 million animals last year by producing plant-based versions of consumers’ meat favorites.

The Belgian report focuses on the lack of protein and necessary fatty acids in the vegan diet. Even after the encouraging examples set by fitness enthusiasts, sportsperson, and bodybuilders- such as Nimai Delgado (the vegan bodybuilder who hasn’t tasted meat ever) and German Strongman Patrik Baboumian- there seems to be a lot of misinformation on the lack of protein in the vegan diet. How do you think that can be combated?  

Firstly, it is critical to know how much protein is actually recommended. The recommended intake for a healthy adult is 46 grams of protein a day for women and 56 grams for men. The average adult in developed countries is eating far more protein than they actually need, roughly twice the recommended amount. It is actually very simple to achieve the daily amount of protein by eating a wide variety of plant-based foods including beans, legumes, nuts, broccoli, and whole grains. As long as you are meeting your caloric needs, you should quite easily be getting all the protein your body needs.

Soy protein provides the same quality protein, as meat, and contains all essential amino acids. Non-heme iron can be found in a variety of plant-based foods including leafy greens, beans and grains, nuts and seeds. Omega-3, which the report also discusses, can easily be replicated in a plant-based diet with flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds, to name just a few. Plant-based foods generally have far less sodium, saturated fats, and cholesterol than their meat and dairy-based counterparts, but are higher in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and contain fiber which is absent in animal-based foods.

While the Belgian report focuses on the lack of protein and necessary fatty acids, nowhere in the report does it mention the multitude of indisputable health benefits of a plant-based diet such as reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain forms of cancer and obesity, facts that have been proven by doctors and researchers and reported in many peer-reviewed studies. The report makes no mention of the high prevalence of antibiotics and hormones found in intensively farmed animals.

If any group should worry about where they get their protein on a plant-based diet it should be world-class athletes. Take a look at the sports world and you’ll see that athletes in practically every sport understand the health and training benefits of a plant-based diet and aren’t wondering where they’re getting their protein. The list of vegan athletes, which started very small, has exploded recently and now includes Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton, several members of the Tennessee Titans football team and the Forest Green Rovers UK football club, tennis champion Venus Williams, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, basketball star Kyrie Irving, the world’s strongest man Patrick Baboumian, ultramarathoner Fiona Oakes, figure skater Meagan Duhamel, MMA fighter Mac Danzing, Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris, surfer Tia Blanco, race car driver Leilani Munter and hundreds of others.

You yourself are an avid cross-fitter, 5th dan karateka, and many times South African national champion. How did you ensure you get all the necessary nutrients needed for optimum performance? 

My daily macro-nutrients are broken up as follows: 60% carbohydrates, 20% protein, 20% fat. I find that this breakdown of macros gives me all the energy I need to perform in my sport, as a mum and still get through full workdays. I eat a wide variety of plant-based foods, including grains, nuts & seeds, vegetables, fruits, legumes and plant-based meats (from Fry Family).

While a nonvegan’s failure in sports would be analyzed within a broad set of parameters and reasonings, a vegan sportsperson missing the mark would straightaway lead to unjust scrutinizing of their diet. Do you think, being a vegan, puts in added pressure on athletes since the slightest failure in the field will lead to unnecessary judgment on their diet? 

I was a “plant-based athlete” before it became more prevalent. At that time (roughly 1996-2002), I faced much criticism about my diet and coaches and dieticians tried to convince me to move to an omnivorous diet. This did add significant pressure to perform as any lack of performance would be blamed on my diet. However, after winning the Jnr World Championships in 1998, there was definitely a shift in how coaches viewed my diet – they really just left it to me to decide how to fuel my body. Now, plant-based diets are so common and so much more is known that I don’t think the pressure is as great, but it is still there for sure!

As the vegan mum of two young boys, how do you ensure they follow a healthy lifestyle? During their pre-school and kindergarten days, did you ever come across a point where you found it difficult to explain to them why you follow a vegan diet? How did you deal with that?

I have never found it difficult explaining to my children why we eat plant-based – they are completely on board with the decisions we make as a family. I have always shared with them the truth about where our food comes from (without scaring them or showing them visuals). They never go without either – they still eat Sausage Rolls, Burgers, and Pizzas from time to time, just the vegan versions! When they are out with friends, I allow them to make their own choices about what to eat. It can be tough for children to navigate a birthday party with non-vegan cakes, treats, and sweets, so in these instances, I try my best to guide them, but without making it too obvious to the other parents. Ultimately, I want to advocate for veganism, and by being overly prescriptive, other parents are judgemental. When they see my kids fully integrated with the other kids, they tend to show an interest in how we choose to eat as a family.

Any piece of advice for moms raising vegan kids?

Being a parent has some serious challenges but bringing up vegan children in a non-vegan world – yes, you need a superhero outfit to cope with that!  It’s tough, really tough.  And I can sympathize.  So here are a few ideas to help you out.  (these are purely from my personal experience as a parent – and between us, let’s raise each other up, and support each other through this navigational minefield!)

  1. Remember, your child is not you. It is up to you to teach them the values that you hold as a family unit. You are there to guide them and inspire them. If they make different choices to you as they get older, don’t take it personally or as a sign you have failed.  
  2. Keep mealtimes exciting. Get creative in the kitchen with your children – try making food art with the vegetables (think Rainbow Wraps, Noughts, and Crosses (winner eats all) and become a master of disguise (hide the veggies they don’t usually like to eat!). 
  3. Tell stories. My kids grew up calling broccoli “fairy trees”, beans “Jack and the Beanstalk”. Make vegetable part of a fun, fantasy world.  
  4. Talk about the food you have made. Let your kids know about the health benefits (educating yourself and your children will greatly benefit you all), the way you prepared it, and where it comes from (for example if it’s homegrown, from a farm nearby). Talking about where animal products come from too, may help the rest of the family understand your point of view (keep emotions out of these discussions – be frank, honest and logical).  
  5. Realize that everyone is on their own journey. You cannot enforce your own feelings on others. Listen to their point of view, be kind, and give your own thoughts in a non-confrontational way. Plant seeds. Do not judge. Be compassionate.  
  6. Be prepared for events. School “sausage sizzles”, fundraisers, get-togethers, and kids’ parties all typically include animal products. Pack some options for your kids. I always take a packet of Fry’s Sausages or Sausage Rolls so that my children get to participate in these events without feeling left out.  
  7. Connect with animals. Go to a farm sanctuary together and spend time with the rescued animals. Make sure your kids have a real connection with real animals.  

What is your opinion on the report by Belgium doctors? Are you raising vegan kids? Comment below.

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