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Family Nutrition & Health

Vegetarians Among Us

The decision to stop eating meat can come suddenly for some, or be a gradual move for others. If you’re a teen, vegetarianism can be your way of controlling your environment and learning to make choices for yourself.

The key to fully embracing a healthy meatless diet is to ensure it is rich in nutrients and your hair, skin, teeth and energy don’t suffer. If mealtime becomes a struggle because you live in a “mixed” family (some meat eaters and some vegetarians) – just make wise and inclusive selections and try not to preach to others about your eating choices. And teen vegetarians, how about cooking something delicious for the whole family to share now and then?

Omnivorous diets – a little bit of everything – provide a different spread of nutrients than a vegetarian diet. Knowing what to choose when you’re NOT at home can be even more important for vegetarians because options can be limited. Keep these nutritional needs in mind every day, no matter where you dine.

A healthy body is made up of about 20 percent protein, in our bones, hair, skin, nails, neurotransmitters and enzymes – and it provides about 10 percent of our energy. Vegetarians should reach for legumes (peas, lentils, garbanzos) beans (pinto, black, soy), whole grains (oatmeal, wheat, brown rice), nuts/nut butters (cashew, peanut, almond)  and seeds (quinoa, millet, pumpkin) to get enough protein.

A lack of iron can mean low energy levels and poor oxygen transfer through the cells. Non-heme iron, the iron derived from non-animal sources, isn’t absorbed as easily as iron from animal sources (heme iron). Vitamin C can help with that absorption, so vegetarians should be sure to combine broccoli, spinach, tomatoes and citrus – all high in Vitamin C – with iron-rich foods like kidney beans, barley, quinoa, spinach and seeds. 

It’s good for the heart, muscle and nerve function AND bones, and vegetarians can stay on target for intake of this essential by pumping up green leafy veggies like kale, and eating plenty of squash, whole grains and seeds, tofu and fruits.

Vitamin B12:

The only plants that provide this vitamin, which is important for memory and mood stabilization, are seaweeds. So unless you include a high volume of seaweed in your vegetarian diet, you should probably take a B12 supplement. Check with your doctor first.

Vitamin D:
Check with your doctor about a supplement for this essential vitamin too, which helps ward off disease and builds strong bones. Fish, eggs and dairy provide Vitamin D, and so does sunlight – so if you have limited exposure to any or all of these, you may need a supplement.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
If you don’t eat fish, add walnuts, chia and flax seeds to your diet to get the full effects of these helpful fatty acids. You need them to reduce inflammation, prevent heart disease and reduce your chances of chronic disease.

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