Vegetarian Teens: How To Keep Them Healthy!

Depending upon who you talk to, some people believe following a vegetarian diet is healthier than one containing meat products. People of all ages, including teens, have adopted a vegetarian lifestyle. If this sounds like your child, you may wonder how to keep your vegetarian teenager healthy when you feel they’re missing vital nutrients.

What most non-vegetarians don’t realize is that it is possible to meet all your body’s nutritional needs by eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and legumes. Because there is no meat in the diet, vegetarian diets usually have less fats and cholesterol, although there will be some. It will, however, take some planning to ensure your teenager includes a variety of foods to get all of the vitamins and nutrients they need. By learning more about the vegetarian lifestyle, you will be able to guide your teen into making wise food choices.

Standard diets are based upon a food pyramid and it is possible to find a vegetarian food pyramid as well. If you’re concerned your teen may be missing vital nutrients, you may want to speak with a registered dietician to learn how your teen can compensate by eating other foods rich in those nutrients.

If your teen decides to become a vegetarian after having eaten meat all their life, they may find it’s not as easy as they thought. To be able to enjoy many of the same flavors, your teen can try meatless products made from soy. Protein is needed to keep bones, muscles, and organs healthy. Your teen can eat legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and soy products.

Everyone knows calcium is needed to build teeth and bones. Calcium can be found in dark green, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, turnip, or collard greens.

In order to make red blood cells and help prevent anemia, it is important to have vitamin B-12 which is usually found in meat, milk, cheese and eggs. Some fortified soy products and enriched cereals provide this vitamin, but your teen may need to take a supplement to ensure they get enough of this vital vitamin.

Another component needed to make red blood cells is iron. Most people know liver is a good source; however, if your teen doesn’t like or isn’t eating meat they may not have enough iron in their system. Dark, leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale are good choices as are dried beans and peas, lentils, and dried fruit. Be sure your teen eats or drinks foods rich in vitamin C so they can properly absorb the iron. Citrus fruits or juice, tomatoes, broccoli, and strawberries may be chosen.

Minerals, as well as vitamins, are needed to maintain good health. Zinc is important for cell division and for the body to form proteins. Your teen may want to eat whole grain breads, nuts, wheat germ, or soy products to ensure they get enough zinc.

When you learn that your teen wants to change their diet, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea they may not get enough vitamins and minerals to maintain good health. The fact is vegetarian diets can be lacking some nutrients, but by eating a wide variety of foods and taking a multi-vitamin supplement, they should be fine. If you do become concerned, make an appointment with your teen’s doctor or a registered dietician to give you additional information on how to keep your vegetarian teen healthy.