Nutrition and healthy eating habits are always a topic of discussion during my patient’s check-ups. Interestingly, I hear many tweens and teens tell me, “I am now a vegetarian”. While I am thrilled that my patients are developing an awareness about their nutrition, I am equally amazed by what they think a vegetarian diet is.
Many a parent has cornered me before their child’s check up concerned about their child’s recent announcement that they are vegetarians and it has actually caused some heated family discussions surrounding nutrition and dietary requirements. The parents say that their child just decided that they no longer wanted to “eat meat” and that they were vegetarians.
So…many of these new “vegetarians” don’t even like vegetables, and a few are confused by the difference between a vegetable and a fruit. When I ask them if they eat broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, eggplant and potatoes, I find that more than a few turn their noses up at most of those suggestions and simply eat potatoes as their vegetable of preference. They also eat avocados, and are surprised to find out that it is a fruit, but it is a good source of healthy mono unsaturated fats. A few are a bit more adventuresome and actually eat a wide variety of vegetables including lentils and black beans as a source of protein.
The same thing goes for fruits although for the most part they do admit to having a broader palate when it comes to fruits that they will eat. Apples, bananas, berries, grapes are all favorites and many of these kids will eat fruit all day long. Fruit is healthy for sure, but also contains sugars (far preferable to the sugar in the M & M’s I am eating while writing).
The biggest problem with their “vegetarian diet”? They just eat carbs! So I have coined the term “carbohydratarian” to describe them. Most of these patients are female and they eat carbs all day long. They have cereal, toast, bagels for breakfast, followed by grilled cheese, french fries or a quesadilla for lunch and then dinner is pizza or pasta, and maybe a salad (lettuce only). They like crackers, bread and almost all pasta (rarely whole wheat ). Rice is another favorite.
I too could probably eat a lot of these carbs every day….I think many people enjoy their carbs. But these kids are not meeting many of their nutritional requirements. They are getting very little protein! They are also growing…some at their most rapid rate during puberty. When I talk about adding protein to their diet they are often reticent to add eggs, fish or beans to their food choices.
If your child decides that they want to change their lifestyle and might consider becoming a vegetarian or vegan, I would encourage you to have them meet with a certified nutritionist to explore their likes and dislikes as well as to educate them as to their nutritional needs.
I must say…..very few of these patients have maintained their vegetarian lifestyle, but if they choose to, they need to know the difference between a fruit and a veggie!