When my 8 year old daughter announced this at the dinner table, I was a bit shocked. We are so meat and potatoes here that I never really thought about becoming a vegetarian myself. She is a smart girl and has noticed that she doesn’t feel great after eating meat, and sometimes it “scratches” her throat. How can I agrue with that. So now, as a parent, I need to make sure we all understand what we need to do to keep her healthy and get her the proper nutrients, without meat!
What is a vegetarian?Vegetarians are people who choose not to eat meat. This includes all animal meat, poultry, and fish. Many vegetarians also avoid other animal products such as gelatin, rennet (used in making cheese), and animal fats (often used in cooking).Vegetarians that include eggs and dairy products in their diets are known as ovo-lactovegetarians. People who do not eat any animal product (including honey) are called vegans.Semi- or partial-vegetarians sometimes eat meat (usually poultry or fish).What are the advantages of a vegetarian diet?A well-planned vegetarian diet has health advantages. Vegetarians are less likely to have heart disease, gallstones, or be overweight. Being overweight is associated with other health problems like adult-onset diabetes, so a vegetarian diet may have additional benefits. Vegetarians are also less likely to have a stroke and certain types of cancer. Teenage vegetarians do not have growth problems and will reach a normal adult weight and height.
Planning a healthy vegetarian diet takes additional time, however, compared to the diet of a meat-eater.
Will your child get all the proper nutrients on a vegetarian diet?
If the diet is well-planned, a vegetarian diet is safe for children, teens, and adults. If a vegetarian diet is too restricted, it may be unhealthy for a child. Some nutrients may be missing from the diet. For example, if a child eats soda pop, potato chips and meatless pizza, nutrients such as iron and calcium are likely to be lacking in the diet.
Vegetarians may need to make a special effort to get enough calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12.
Calcium intake may be very low in vegan diets, when no animal products are eaten. Good sources of calcium include legumes (peas, beans, lentils), tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice, collard greens, and fortified soymilk. If your child or teen is a vegan, discuss with your health care provider how your child can get enough calcium.
Typical vegetarian diets usually provide enough iron. The problem with iron is that it is difficult for the body to absorb. Iron in meat, poultry, and fish is absorbed much better than iron from plants. Eating foods containing Vitamin C along with foods that contain iron helps the body to absorb the iron better. Breast-fed babies who are not yet getting solid food should have supplements of iron after the age of 4 to 6 months.
Vegetarians sometimes don’t eat enough zinc because it is not present in many plant foods. Plant foods that do contain zinc include legumes (peas, beans, lentils), tofu, corn, and whole grains.
Also known as pyridoxine, Vitamin B-6 is found in legumes (peas, beans, lentils), sweet potatoes, corn, soybeans, and avocados.
Vegans need supplemental vitamin B-12 since it is available naturally only in animal products. Vitamin B-12 is added to some fortified cereals, fortified soymilk, and some meat substitutes. B-12 is found naturally in diary products and eggs.
Vegans often have diets that have low amounts of vitamin D. Vitamin D is made in the skin when there is exposure to direct sunshine, so some vegetarians may need more outdoor activity or vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is added to some fortified cereals and fortified soymilk.
Find out more at: AboutKidsHealth