Vegetarianism in Teens
Do you consider yourself to be a vegetarian? If you, like many teens, do not eat meat, poultry or fish, you are! This article provides important information on why teens choose to "go meatless" –- and how to be sure that you're getting the nutrition you need to keep you healthy today and into the future.Types of Vegetarians | Why do teens become vegetarians? | Are there health benefits from a vegetarian diet? | Are there nutrients that vegetarians don't get enough of?
Types of Vegetarians
There are three different types of vegetarians:
- Vegans do not eat any animal products, including dairy products.
- Lactovegetarians do not eat meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, but their diets include milk products.
- Lacto-ovovegetarians do not eat fish, poultry or meat, but do eat eggs and milk products. This is the category that most vegetarians in America fall into, and is probably the diet that most easily allows complete nutrition.
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Why do teens become vegetarians?
Teens choose a meatless lifestyle for a number of reasons, including the following:
- Animal rights concerns
- Religious or cultural beliefs
- Diet and health concerns
- Family decision
- Food likes and dislikes
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Are there health benefits from a vegetarian diet?
A vegetarian diet can be either helpful or harmful to your health, depending on whether you get proper nutrition (more on that below). 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.
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Are there nutrients that vegetarians don't get enough of?
A vegetarian diet could be low in certain nutrients that are found in meat, poultry and fish. These include calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. You also have to be sure to eat enough protein.
Here are some important nutrients that you need, why you need them, and vegetarian foods that contain these important nutrients.
Protein helps muscles remain strong. Vegetarian foods that contain protein include beans, nuts, nut butters, lentils, tofu and other soy products.
Iron plays a very important role in the formation of red blood cells. Nonmeat foods that are high in iron are dried beans, spinach, beet greens, prunes, and iron-fortified cereals and bread. Foods that are high in vitamin C (citrus juices, citrus fruit and red peppers, for example) help the body absorb iron.
Calcium is very important for healthy bones and teeth. Milk products are a great source of calcium. Vegans can get calcium from plant foods such as leafy greens (dark ones such as kale and collard greens), broccoli, tofu, beans and fortified soy milk.
Lack of vitamin B12 can also cause anemia. Other problems include poor memory and weak muscles. Consumption of enough vitamin B12 is usually not a problem for vegetarians who eat eggs and milk products, since B12 is found in foods of animal origin. It is found also in multivitamin supplements and fortified cereals.
Vitamin D is important in helping the body use calcium. There are only a few foods that are high in vitamin D naturally. Most brands of milk contain vitamin D, as do many multivitamins. Exposure to sunlight also stimulates the body to produce vitamin D.
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Reviewed by the Web Content Committee of PAMF
Vegetarian Web sites
Parent and Teenager Guide to Vegetarianism. A good brochure on teens and vegetarian nutrition.
How Many Teens Are Vegetarian? How Many Kids Don't Eat Meat? Article on how many teens are vegetarians.
Vegetarian Nutrition for Teens. Tips on vegetarian nutrition for teens.
On the Teen Scene: Good News About Good Nutrition. General teen nutrition article.
Books on Vegetarianism
National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics of the American Dietetic Association. © ADAF 1994. Vegetarianism in a Nutshell.
National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics of the American Dietetic Association. © ADAF 1994. Vegetarian Teens.
The Health Connection: Vegetarian Food Pyramid. © The Health Connection 1994.
Coolidge-Stolz, Elizabeth et al. Science Explorer: Human Biology and Health. Prentice Hall Inc.: New Jersey. 2000.
Willet, Walter C. Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy. Simon and Schuster/ Fireside: New York. 2001.