Becoming A Vegetarian


More and more adolescents are choosing not to eat meat, poultry or fish and are choosing to become vegetarians instead. Many teens avoid eating meat for a variety of reasons. Some are bothered by the way animals are harmed or killed or the impact raising livestock has on the environment. Others feel that it promotes a healthier lifestyle. Some of the health benefits for vegetarians who eat responsibly include decreased risk of heart disease as you grow older, lower blood pressure, decreased risk for some types of cancer, lower chance of adult onset diabetes and a lower likelihood of being overweight. There are also several religions that teach followers to practice a vegetarian diet. For Instance:


·                  Hindus are the world’s largest vegetarian population. They believe in ahisma (“Do no harm”) as well as the dietary customs of self control and purity of mind and spirit.

·                  Buddhists also support the concept of ahisma. However some Buddhists do eat meat and fish

·                  Jainists believe in nonviolence. The followers of Jainism do not eat meat. They also do not eat rooted plants, such as onions, potatoes, and garlic.

·                  Seventh-Day Adventists encourage a plant based diet and avoid pork and shellfish.


Once you decide that you would like to go the vegetarian route there are several different life styles to choose from:


·                  Semi-Vegetarians – Eats dairy products, poultry fish and eggs and excludes all other meat.

·                  Pesco-Vegetarian – Vegetarians who eat fish.

·                  Lacto-ovo Vegetarian – Eats dairy products and eggs but no other meat. This is the most popular form of vegetarianism.

·                  Lacto-Vegetarian – Eats only dairy products

·                  Ovo-Vegetarian – Eats only eggs, and excludes dairy products and all other meat.

·                  Vegan – Eats no animal products of any kind. This is the strictest of vegetarianism.


Probably the biggest concerns for teenage vegetarians are about the nutritional adequacy of their food choices. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is variety. Teenage vegetarians have nutritional needs that are the same as any other teenager. The years between 13 and 19 are times of especially rapid growth and change. Nutritional needs are high during these years. When you first become a vegetarian it is important to plan your diet carefully to ensure you're getting everything you need. Eventually this process will become second nature and you will no longer have to think much about it, but you need to be conscientious of what you're eating at the beginning. Because vegetarians eliminate certain foods from their diets, they often need to work to add foods into their diet that will provide the nutrients found in meat products. By eating a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you can get nutrients you need from non–meat sources. Vegans need to pay special attention to getting enough iron, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. It is important that you find new sources so that you meet your dietary needs. Here are some of the vitamin and nutrients that all vegetarians should pay close attention to:


·                  Protein has many important functions in the body and is essential for growth and maintenance. Protein needs can easily be met by eating a variety of plant-based foods. Combining different protein sources in the same meal is not necessary, but may help you to be mindful of including adequate amounts. Sources of protein for vegetarians include beans, nuts, nut butters, peas, and soy products (tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers). Milk products and eggs are also good protein sources for lacto-ovo vegetarians. Only fruits, fats, vegetables (other than soy and legumes), and alcohol do not provide much protein, and so a diet based only on these foods would have a good chance of being too low in protein.


·                  Iron functions primarily as a carrier of oxygen in the blood. Iron sources for vegetarians include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, turnip greens, molasses, whole wheat breads, peas, and some dried fruits (dried apricots, prunes, raisins). To increase the amount of iron absorbed from a meal, eat a food containing vitamin C as part of the meal. Citrus fruits and juices (for example, orange juice), tomatoes, and broccoli are all good sources of vitamin C.


·                  Calcium is used for building bones and teeth and in maintaining bone strength. Sources of calcium for vegetarians include fortified breakfast cereals, soy products (tofu, soy-based beverages), calcium-fortified orange juice, and some dark green leafy vegetables (collard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, mustard greens). Milk products are excellent calcium sources for lacto vegetarians.  They are more calcium rich and more easily absorbed by the body than plant based foods, and also contain vitamin D, which plays a key role in calcium absorption, and bone health.


·                  Zinc is necessary for many biochemical reactions and also helps the immune system function properly. Sources of zinc for vegetarians include many types of beans (white beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas), zinc-fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ, and pumpkin seeds. Milk products are a zinc source for lacto vegetarians.


·                  Vitamin B12 is found in animal products and some fortified foods. Sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians include milk products, eggs, and foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12. These include breakfast cereals, soy-based beverages, veggie burgers, and nutritional yeast.


United States Department of Agriculture – Tip and Resources


Teenage vegetarians are often faced pressures from parents concerned about their vegetarian lifestyle impact on their health. Showing a strong commitment and preparing your own foods can make your parents more willing to purchase vegetarian food for you. If you have trouble convincing your parents that a vegetarian lifestyle can be a good choice, here is a statement made by the American Dietetic Association:


“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle”


Keep in mind that demands of school and outside activities often make it seem like there is just not enough time to eat. Here are some foods that require little or no preparation; apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, peaches, plums, dried fruits, bagels and peanut butter, carrot or celery sticks, popcorn, pretzels, soy cheese pizza, bean tacos or burritos, salad, soy yogurt, soy milk, rice cakes, sandwiches, frozen juice bars.


Something else to think about; there are all types of vegetarians, underweight, overweight and healthy weight. The important issue is the balance between the amounts of foods (energy) consumed, energy expenditure and energy needs for growth and development that determine weight or weight loss.


Here are some good resources for vegetarians:


American Dietetic Association


The Vegetarian Resource Group


Vegan/Vegetarian Recipes and More for the Vegan Diet and Lifestyle


Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes, Articles, Health Resource


Vegetarianism and Vegetarian Nutrition


Vegetarian and Vegan Information