As a nonvegetarian, you may be shocked to learn that your teen no longer wants to eat meat. Although most people choose to become vegetarians for religious and ethical reasons, some prefer this diet for health reasons. Whatever your teen's reasoning, it is important that you learn all of the facts about vegetarianism before discussing this type of diet with him or her, especially if you have any prior reservations. With careful planning, a vegetarian diet can fit into your teenager's healthy lifestyle.
There are three types of vegetarian diets: lacto-vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, and vegan. Vegan diets are the strictest of all vegetarian diets, because they do not include any meat, fish, or poultry, as well as any dairy products and eggs. Foods that contain traces of egg or dairy products are strictly prohibited in a vegan diet. Lacto-vegetarian diets allow dairy products, but no eggs, while lacto-ovo vegetarian diets allow both eggs and dairy products.
Without careful planning, all types of vegetarian diets can pose the risk of nutritional deficiencies in your teen, which can lead to illness, fatigue, injury, poor academic performance, and change in behavior. Protein and calcium are two of the most common deficiencies; the former is prevalent in eggs and meats, while the latter is found in dairy products. Legumes, soybeans, and nuts are all sources of protein, while calcium is also contained in juices and dark green leafy vegetables. You may also consider a calcium supplement to help support your teen's growing bones.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some vegetarian diets also lack a variety of other nutrients that may require you to provide your teen with supplements. These include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B-12
Despite the risk of nutritional deficiencies, there are actually some benefits associated with vegetarian diets. Vegetarians tend to be leaner than nonvegetarians, because they consume less saturated fat contained in animal products. People who eat less animal fats may also have a reduced risk of high cholesterol, hypertension and heart disease over the course of their lifetimes. Just like any other diet, you will need to strive for variety to meet your teen's nutritional needs.
The Mayo Clinic says that a vegetarian diet is perfectly acceptable for teenagers, so long as you help create balanced meals to meet all of your teen's nutritional needs. It may be helpful to talk to your teen first to listen to his or her reasons for the diet changes. You can help make sound nutritional changes by figuring out which type of diet he or she is leaning towards. For example, if your teen just has a problem with meat, then you may be able to incorporate dairy products into the diet.
As a general rule, the Mayo Clinic recommends following the Vegetarian Food Pyramid when figuring out daily meals for vegetarians. This includes:
- Grains: six servings
- Legumes, nuts, and other proteins: five servings
- Vegetables: four servings
- Fruits: two servings
- Fats: two servings
Remember to address any specific nutritional concerns with your child's doctor.