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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Is It OK to be Vegetarian as a Teen?

When I was in 2nd grade I had a childhood friend who lived on a farm that I visited often to feed their couple of pigs. Then my pig (named Blacky for the one black ear he had) went to slaughter and I was devastated to learn that Blacky was going to be pork chops, ham, and bacon. My mother was kind enough to understand and did not force me to eat pork after that.

Then in 5th grade I was on a trip and our track team visited Fuddruckers restaurant for dinner one night. As we entered the restaurant there was a large window where you could view the butcher in his white apron cutting up sides of beef that were on display. And this was supposed to be appetizing??? Again, mom said I did not have to eat a hamburger. That night. But growing up in Wisconsin with parents who both grew up on farms it was a foreign concept to become a vegetarian. I knew I wanted to be one but Mom didn't think it was healthy for a child to not eat meat. Pork she allowed me to avoid, but beef and chicken had to stay while I was under her roof.

The minute I went to college I became a vegetarian and it has stuck for 17 years (wow...that means half of my life now). I kept eggs and dairy (I am from Wisconsin after all!) but the pork, chicken, beef, etc. were all a thing of the past. I remember the first Thanksgiving back home and my grandfather could not figure out why I was not eating turkey. "Turkey is not meat," he declared. I guess it has to be red in order to be considered meat to him. About 6 years ago I did add fish back because it is so healthy, but I am pushing it to say that I eat it twice a month.

This glimpse into my life story surfaced because of an article published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The article is about the health risks and benefits of teens and young adults becoming vegetarian. They found that indeed teen vegetarians eat more fruits and vegetables, ate less fat, and have a decreased risk of being overweight or obese than their meat eating peers.

The downside, the researchers found, is that teen vegetarians may be at increased risk of binge eating. Teens who reported being former vegetarians reported engaging in more unhealthful weight control measures (like taking diet pills or using laxatives). Some teens who have eating disorders become vegetarian because it is an easy food group to cut out and say they don't eat so they are not forced to eat meat.

I think every teen is their own person with their own habits and their own reasons to become vegetarian. If you are a teen or the parent of a teen, take a look at the reasons why you are interested in becoming a vegetarian. If it is to lose weight, there may be better ways for you to lose and continue to eat meat if you desire. If it is for animal rights or other health reasons, those are great reasons to experiment with a vegetarian lifestyle.

Check out The Flexitarian Diet by Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD to start the transition into becoming a vegetarian. If you are concerned that you or your child is getting enough of all nutrients, make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian to review his or her diet.

Oh, and I am raising my son (and future children) to eat meat and they can make a personal choice when they are older as to whether they want to keep it in or not.

Vegetarian food guide chart courtesy of safekidscanada.ca

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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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