Does your teenager want to be a vegetarian?

Vegetarian teens

In adolescence there are usually changes in body composition that justify a change in eating habits, influenced by new nutritional requirements that respond to an increase in lean mass in men, and fat deposits in girls. A AEP document, points out that the recommended intakes at these ages should be related more to growth rate or biological age than to chronological age.

Later, I will list those that - in the opinion of Spanish pediatricians - are the most frequent errors in eating at these ages; Now I want to present a very interesting topic that perhaps responds to the concerns of those teenagers that you have at home. Is about vegetarian food, which, well planned, can perfectly meet nutritional needs, even at that stage of change.

La Canadian nutritionist Chantal Poirier agrees with my last statement, although the change in diet must be accompanied by a effort to get the necessary nutrients daily. Poirier is thus positioned in the growing trend of transforming eating habits, to eliminate meat - including poultry - and fish (and in the case of vegans, also any animal derivative). Why does a teenager stop eating meat or fish? fundamentally for ethical (or ideological) reasons to be against the suffering of animals that are raised for human consumption.

Vegetarian teens2

Nutritional requirements in adolescence.

It seems like up to 11 years are unique, and diversify from that age (the main nutrients are represented in the table below); They are always indicated in terms of daily consumption:

  • 1g per kg. protein for both sexes between 11 and 14 years; 0,9 and 0,8 in men and women (respectively) between 15 and 18 years of age.
  • Protein will contribute between 10 and 15 percent of the calories in the diet with biological value. The AEP refers to them being of animal origin, so in the last section, I will provide more details on the suitability of the vegetarian diet

  • Total fat will represent 30% of total calories; saturated fatty acids, 10 percent of the total caloric intake; cholesterol intake will be less than 300 mg / day.
  • "There are no specific recommendations for long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, although a varied and balanced diet usually provides sufficient amounts of them"

  • The variety of carbohydrates should represent between 55 and 60 percent of caloric intake. In the form of complex carbohydrates - which provide cereals, fruits and vegetables (the latter are also a good source of fiber)
  • Vitamins are necessary to support energy requirements; and minerals must be present, with special attention to iron - in menstruating girls and athletes. In this article by the Heart FoundationYou will find a detail of foods of animal and vegetable origin that are rich in iron.

To achieve the adequate supply of nutrients, the diet must be as balanced as possible.

Vegetarian teens5

Wrong practices.

And quite generalized (not only in adolescents): I am talking about irregularities in the eating pattern (skipping meals, etc.); resort to frequently prepared dishes; skip breakfast

At these ages there is also a greater consumption of sweet or salty snacks between meals, as well as sugary drinks and soft drinks; on the other hand, boys and girls start drinking alcohol. Neither are restrictive diets aimed at losing weight in a short time.

Vegetarian diet safety in adolescents.

You may consider it a controversial issue, and you have doubts if any of your children intends to abandon the consumption of any type of meat (beef, poultry, fish); the first advice is that you inform yourself well, but leaving aside the prejudices. There are many vegetarians (ovo-lacto) and vegans, and in many cases the habit started in childhood.

According to the Spanish Vegetarian Union, these diets, “if they are well planned, are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle (including pregnancy and lactation. ”They can meet the nutritional needs of minors, and do not hinder normal growth. They also provide some advantages such as lower intakes of cholesterol, saturated fat, and higher consumption of plant-based foods It is a type of diet that is compatible with the prevention of overweight.

Vegetarian teens4

The American Dietetic Association agrees that vegetarian (including vegan) diets are healthy and nutritionally adequate

The previous post suggests other benefits, in addition to those mentioned, such as a reduction in the consumption of sweets, fast food and salty snacks; And of course this is a plus, because at this stage of life, imitation and emotional changes cause a certain tendency to consume unhealthy foods.

It should be mentioned that in those girls and those boys who have developed eating disorders, the vegetarian diet is common, which is why doctors and nutritionists must be well prepared to rule out symptoms of eating disorders. When all the nutrient groups (carbohydrates, proteins - vegetables -, vitamins and minerals) are taken into account in the daily diet, vegetarianism is not a problem.

The extra contribution.

That it is not a problem is true, but we go by parts; First, the help of a human nutrition expert may be required, or at least from the consultation of a specialized entity. What's more:

  • Lend special attention to iron, calcium and zinc, because they are minerals easy to obtain with an omnivorous diet, but you must ensure their contribution if children want to be vegetarian. For example, there is iron in green leafy vegetables and calcium in nuts and legumes. As for zinc, when dairy is not consumed, you can also use legumes / nuts.
  • As you know, sunlight is the main source of vitamin D, but it is also obtained from fortified milk; Animal milk is not consumed by vegans, so if this is your case, you can consult an expert in case of doubts.
  • Vitamin B12: today there are enriched products (cereals, soy derivatives), but it is usually in foods of animal origin (meat, dairy, eggs); If all of them are dispensed with, it is advisable to take some type of supplement, but with a prescription, because it is involved in neuron development.
  • Vegetable proteins have very good quality: legumes, whole grains, nuts, tofu, ...
  • Nuts, seeds and the oils of the latter, contain essential fatty acids, and of the Omega 3 family

In any case, I advise - in addition to consulting a professional - that any young person who 'switches to vegetarianism', do it being aware of the reasons why this diet is preferred, and not by following a fashion, which would hinder the proper nutritional balance.

Images - (First and second) Department of Agriculture (USDA), Arbron

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  1.   Laura said

    I have an 18-year-old daughter who became a vegetarian approximately 10 months ago, for two reasons: to contribute to caring for the environment more than anything, since the methane gas emitted by animals has a lot to do with global warming, but also for being a healthy eating option.
    You have been very well informed about how you should replace meat in your diet so that your diet is not deficient. Should you still consult a nutritionist?
    Thanks for the article.
    Very interesting and educational.