- A well-balanced vegetarian diet can be healthy for teenagers with the right balance of nutrients and parental support.
- Research indicates that vegetarian teenagers have healthier eating habits, with lower fat intake, less high cholesterol foods, less fast food, more Vitamin A and iron, and more fruits and vegetables consumed daily than their non-vegetarian peers.
- The main reasons teenagers switch to a vegetarian diet are weight loss, compassion for animals, a dislike for meat, and a desire to improve their diet. However, weight loss is not a proven result of following a vegetarian diet.
- The American Dietetic Association acknowledges that a vegetarian diet can be beneficial for teenagers if it ensures all nutrient requirements are met.
- Awareness is needed as some teens may use the vegetarian diet as a cover for an eating disorder. An earlier study associated a higher risk of maladaptive eating behavior among vegetarian teens.
Teenage years are often marked by exploration, personal growth, and the desire to challenge societal norms. If your teen has recently proclaimed a disdain for meat and declared themselves a vegetarian, fear not.
A well-balanced vegetarian diet can indeed be healthy for your teen, as long as you ensure they are receiving all necessary nutrients. This is the takeaway from recent research that indicates parental support and involvement can play a significant role in teen vegetarian diets.
What the Research Says
Cheryl Perry, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, spearheaded a comprehensive study involving 4,746 teenagers from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. The findings of the study are encouraging for parents of teenage vegetarians: 6% of the participants identified as vegetarian, with a predominant number being girls.
Upon comparing the teenagers’ diets with the dietary guidelines put forward by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, several interesting trends emerged.
How Vegetarian Teens Fared
The study, reported in a recent issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, provided insights into teenage vegetarian eating habits:
- Vegetarian teens were over twice as likely to consume less than 30% of their calories from fat compared to their non-vegetarian peers, with about 65% consuming less than 10% of their calories from saturated fat, against 39% in the meat-eaters group.
- More vegetarians consumed a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, represented by 39% against 28% respectively.
- They had a lower intake of foods high in cholesterol, consumed more Vitamin A and iron, and ate less fast food. However, they had a higher intake of caffeine and more diet soda.
The primary motivation for teens to give up meat seems to be weight loss, followed by various factors such as compassion for animals, distaste for meat, and a general desire to improve their dietary habits. As it turns out, weight loss isn’t a valid reason to start a vegetarian diet, no significant difference was noted in the average body mass index between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
Navigating a Vegetarian Diet
The American Dietetic Association confirms that a vegetarian diet can be beneficial for children of all ages, including teenagers. Sheah Rarback, a representative of the American Dietic Association, stresses that the key lies in ensuring a diverse diet, meeting all nutrient requirements for growth.
While a vegetarian diet can be healthy, it’s important to note that some teens may use it as a cover for an eating disorder. If a teenager is excessively controlling their eating habits or indulges in unhealthy weight-control practices, it may be time to consult a professional.
Earlier studies have found a higher risk of maladaptive eating behavior among vegetarians, with approximately 8.5% of vegetarian teens reported to have an eating disorder by a doctor, compared to only 3.1% of their meat-eating peers.
For more information on how to support your vegetarian teen, consider checking out American Dietetic Association’s position paper on vegetarianism includes a comprehensive food guide and meal-planning suggestions. The Vegetarian Resource Group provides additional guidance on nutritional tips tailored specifically for teens.