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The Vegetarian Kid

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This past Saturday I spoke on a panel for the Artivist Film Festival held here In Los Angeles, addressing the benefits of eating a plant based diet. Sounds a little weird but let me explain.

I spoke after the viewing of a film called "Mad Cowboy", a documentary delivering a strong message against eating meat and urging people to convert to a plant based diet. And it made me think about you all as vegetarianism is becoming much more common in our children and our teens. I went (mostly) vegetarian as a teen and it drove my mother to tears. It can be hard on a parent trying to relate to their child's new decision and nerve racking trying to accommodate them.

Well, vegetarianism doesn't have to be hard. In fact it is easier now than ever with all the meat and dairy substitute products out there. And on the average vegetarians have better diets overall compared to meat eaters. There are a few nutrients that are of concern if the diet is not well-planned out, but this can be said for any type of diet, vegetarian or not.

If your child decides to go vegan, which means no animal products at all (including no eggs or dairy), vitamin B-12 is really the only nutrient they can't get from plant foods. Fortunately, there are a lot of products you can buy that are fortified with the vitamin including breakfast cereals, various energy and breakfast bars, soy milk, rice milk, most of the meat substitute products and so on. Just make sure you read the Nutrition Facts Label to verify B-12 is in there. You can also buy a vitamin B-12 supplement.

Here are a few other nutrients that you should pay attention to and some plant food sources:

Calcium: if your child isn't consuming any dairy products at all, again there's fortified soy & rice milks, and also some fortified juices and other drinks. You can get naturally occurring calcium in dark leafy greens, broccoli, beans, tofu and almonds.

Vitamin D: this vitamin isn't in too many foods at all, and our main source of it comes from fortified milk. So the fortified soy milks and rice milks usually contain vitamin D along with the calcium. And of course we can make our own Vitamin D if we get enough sun.

Iron: some good plant sources are beans, nuts whole grains, fortified cereals, dark leafy greens and dried fruit.

Zinc: similar food sources as iron such as the nuts, beans (lima beans), and whole grains. Also try miso, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, or add some wheat germ to a smoothie.

Let me know about other products you may have found that are good sources of any of these nutrients. And I'd love to hear about your experiences with a veggie kid.

Have a fruit and veggie filled day:)
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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