Although parents might worry that a vegetarian diet isnâ€™t healthful, rest assured that kids can get plenty of protein and other nutrients without eating meat. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines state â€œvegetarian diets can be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and meet Recommended Dietary Allowances for nutrients.â€?
According to the American Dietetic Association, â€œappropriately planned vegan, lacto-vegetarian and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children and adolescents and promote normal growth.â€?
Experts warn against dropping meat without finding other protein sources.
Margie Bryan, a registered dietitian with The Care Group, an Indiana network of cardiologists and primary care physicians, says teens going veg should strive for variety:
â€œKids think theyâ€™re eating healthy, but theyâ€™re not reading the labels. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is variety. You have to be concerned if youâ€™re only eating salad and potato chips.â€?
She also notes that anyone going veg should be aware of the calorie content of foods that often accompany carbs, such as high-fat cheese, dips and toppings for baked potatoes.
â€œWe canâ€™t hang the problem just on carbs,â€? she says. â€œPortion distortion becomes more the focus than overloading on carbs. The risk of increasing calories would probably come from the accompaniments of carbohydrate foods.â€?
Thereâ€™s more to going veg than simply what is on your plate. Eighteen-year-old Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis freshman Jessica Collins, a vegetarian who has taught a class for teens considering the switch, offers some practical advice on how to go veg:
— Bring your own dish to family gatherings so you wonâ€™t have to go hungry if there are no veg options. Bring enough to share â€” you never know whom you might inspire with delicious food.
— Never make anyone feel uncomfortable while theyâ€™re eating â€” donâ€™t say, for example, â€œYou know youâ€™re eating the flesh of an animal who was brutally tortured before it was murdered just so you could eat its body, right?â€?
— Be prepared to be criticized, but we all know how it feels, and doing it ourselves is not an effective way to shed a positive light on vegetarians.
— Craft a polite, constructive response to criticisms and questions about your lifestyle. For example, â€œIâ€™m doing this for my health and for the animals, and I feel great.â€?
— Donâ€™t think that youâ€™re going to last as a healthy vegetarian if you live on mashed potatoes, Fritos, Sour Patch Kids and Twizzlers. Just because youâ€™re eating food sans animal products doesnâ€™t necessarily mean itâ€™s healthy. Maintain a diet full of fresh vegetables, whole grains, fruit, beans and nuts (and low-fat yogurt, cheese and milk if youâ€™re not vegan).
Jolene Ketzenberger, Gannett News Service