Is a vegetarian diet good for teens?

Young girl choosing leafy green vegetables
Photo: © Atic12 / 123RF Stock Photo

The teen years cover youngsters from 11 to 19 years of age, who are growing differently, involved in different kinds of activities and are of different height and weight. Teenage years involve many lifestyle changes such as attending school/college, family circumstances, peer pressure, starting work or tertiary education and more. All these changes can affect the food one eats.

Many teenagers are thinking of becoming vegetarians. This can be a personal choice or due to pressure from parents concerned about their health or peer pressure or influence.

Who is a vegetarian?

A vegetarian eliminates red meat and poultry entirely from their diet. 50% of those who consider themselves vegetarian do not consume fish and meat but consume eggs and dairy products. Vegetarian diets do provide all the needed calories, proteins and other nutrients like vitamins and minerals for growth. But if they lack certain nutrients, it leads to a nutritional deficiency.

A sound vegetarian eating pattern includes a good amount of fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and for some, the inclusion of eggs and dairy products. At the same time, vitamin and mineral supplementation is recommended. Since many teens nowadays are switching to a vegetarian meal pattern, it is very important to understand the different types of vegetarians and not to assume that all vegetarian diets support health.

The many faces of a vegetarian diet are:

1. Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian: A diet containing eggs and dairy products, but no meat, poultry, and fish.

2. Lacto-Vegetarian: A diet containing dairy products, but no meat, poultry, fish and eggs.

3. Pollo-Vegetarian: A diet containing eggs and dairy products, as well as poultry. Meat, fish, and seafood are not eaten.

4. Pesca-Vegetarian: A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet that adds fish and seafood.

5. Semi-Vegetarian: The least restrictive vegetarian diet; it is a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with occasional use of meat, poultry, fish and seafood.

6. Strict Vegetarian or Vegan: The most restrictive vegetarian diet which contains no animal products like meat, fish, seafood, poultry, milk and other dairy products or eggs. Vegans, who make up about 10% of the total vegetarian population, also avoid foods with animal products as ingredients.

Are vegetarian diets good for growing teenagers?

If you are already a vegetarian or thinking of becoming one the most important thing to learn is “Education on Vegetarian diets”. A vegetarian diet should be well planned under the guidance of parents and a dietitian to make sure it does good to overall health without affecting your energy level. There are also certain “Nutrients” you need to take care of and make sure food sources rich in these are well included in your daily meals.

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Dhrishti Bijlani
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Dhrishti Bijlani

Armed with a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics, Dhrishti Bijlani's goal is to make it easier for everyone to eat right and get more habituated to a healthy lifestyle.