Friday, July 4, 2008

Tips for Teens on Becoming Vegetarian

Teens around the world are increasingly making the transition to a vegetarian lifestyle. But like any diet, vegetarianism requires that teens develop good eating habits. With the right knowledge, teens can become vegetarians without relying on a diet of soda and potato chips.

Being a teen vegetarian can be healthy and rewarding. The American Dietetic Association says, "Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence".

Here are some tips for embarking on a well-planned vegetarian diet.

There are several different degrees of vegetarianism. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy and egg products along with plant-based foods. Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but pass on egg products. Conversely, ovo vegetarians eat egg products but not dairy. Finally, there are vegans, or pure vegetarians, who abstain from eating any type of animal product.

Teens who plan on going vegetarian may go "cold turkey" (don't mind the pun), but it is recommended that teens ease the transition by slowly phasing out animal products. For example, limit meat consumption to three times a week for the first couple weeks, then two times a week and so on. Teens who choose to go vegan may do the same with dairy and egg products.

Since becoming a vegetarian entails a significant lifestyle change, teens' nutritional intake will change upon making the transition to a vegetarian diet. For example, since vegetables are typically high in nutrients like vitamin C and fiber, teen vegetarians will usually get more than enough of these nutrients. Also, a vegetarian diet may reduce a teens' intake of saturated fats and cholesterol, since few plant foods contain saturated fats and no plant foods contain cholesterol.

However, teen vegetarians should be aware of their intake of nutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B-12, since these nutrients are not always present in all vegetables.

Calcium is important for healthy bones. For vegetarians who include dairy in their diets, calcium will be easy to come by. For those teens who forgo dairy, calcium can be found in fortified soy milk, tofu and green leafy vegetables such as spinach.

Iron is also an important nutrient. Girls in particular should be conscious of their iron consumption since loss of iron occurs during the menstrual cycle. Iron can be found in fortified cereals, whole grain foods and in beans.

Zinc can be found in whole grain foods, miso, sunflower seeds and nuts and legumes, which are also high in healthy monounsaturated fats.

Since vitamin B-12 occurs naturally in animal products, it is an important nutrient for vegetarians and especially vegans. Luckily, the human body only requires a very minuscule amount of this vitamin to function. B-12 can be found in fortified foods such as soy milk, orange juice and cereal.

A multivitamin, which can be found in virtually any grocery store, is a good option for teen vegetarians. Taking one multivitamin a day will ensure that teens get the recommended daily allowance of most important nutrients.

Another legitimate concern for teen vegetarians is the question of where to eat out. Because of the increasing demand for vegetarian food, many restaurants offer at least one vegetarian entree. To be sure, teens or their parents should call the restaurant they'll be visiting beforehand and ask them if they have vegetarian options. To avoid confusion vegans should specify that they do not eat meat, dairy or eggs.

When a vegetarian option cannot be found on the menu, teens should explain to the server that they do not eat meat (and/or dairy and eggs) and ask if the chef can prepare them something. In most cases, restaurants will be happy to accommodate vegetarians even if there are no vegetarian options on the menu.

Although being a teen vegetarian in a world of meat eaters has its challenges, going vegetarian should be a fun and exciting experience. For many teens, going vegetarian is a decision that opens up the doors to a more healthy and fulfilling life.

Resource: Michael Russell Your Independent Vegetarian guide

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