Has your teen or little one brought up the idea of going vegetarian? In the current age of online videos and social media groups, a lot of kids are seeing and learning about animal product processing and are experimenting with the idea of changing what they eat. While it may seem like a silly idea at first, you might want to give it further consideration.
For years, some people have thought that vegetarian and vegan diets may not be healthy enough for children.
A new study published by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), says not to worry, vegetarian and vegan diets can be safe and healthy for people of any age.
In fact, several studies show that vegetarians generally have lower risks of obesity and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, according to the AND. That includes vegans -- who avoid not only meat and fish, but also all animal products, including dairy.
"No one should doubt that vegetarian diets are safe at all life stages, including infancy, childhood and adolescence," says Susan Levin, one of the report authors and director of nutrition education at the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C.
Levin also noted that studies show children on vegetarian diets eat more fruits and vegetables, and fewer sweets and salty snack foods. They're also less likely to be overweight or obese.
The academy also noted that vegetarian and vegan diets can be safe during pregnancy and lactation. These diets can also be fine for athletes and the elderly, the report said.
While all this information sounds promising, what you include in your vegetarian diet is the key to staying healthy. If you subsist on white rice, Levin pointed out, that might be technically vegetarian, but not nutritious.
So it's important to eat a variety of foods, including a range of whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds.
Vegetarians and vegan diets do lack one important nutrient found in animal products– vitamin B-12.
According to the AND report, vegans should take supplemental vitamin B12. Vegetarians usually need supplements or B12-fortified foods, too, the group said -- since their dairy intake may not supply enough of the nutrient.
But, Levin said, B12 is the only supplement vegans need. They can get all of their other nutrient needs from food.
Getting enough protein, calcium and iron has been another concern about vegetarian diets and particularly vegan diets. That shouldn’t be a problem, Levin says, as long as you make wise food choices.
The report noted, it's imperative to make wise food choices: Calcium from vegetables like kale, turnip greens and bok-choy is much better absorbed than calcium from high-oxalate vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard, for example.
As for the potential health benefits, studies have found that vegetarians and vegans tend to weigh less and have lower cholesterol levels than omnivores do. They also tend to have lower risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, such as cancers of the prostate and gastrointestinal tract.
"If there were a pill that did all of that," Levin said, "everyone would be taking it."
Lots of families aren’t necessarily willing to give up all animal products, but would like to cut down on their meat consumption. Vegetarian and vegan recipes can help fill the void on meatless lunch and dinners while offering a nutritious substitute.
The AND report also notes that vegetarian diets are kinder to the environment.
It takes far fewer resources -- land, water, fuel and fertilizer -- to produce a pound of kidney beans than a pound of beef, for example.
"Vegetarian diets leave a lighter carbon footprint," said Levin.
The ADA suggests that families interested in going completely vegetarian or vegan should seek assistance from a registered dietician to help them learn about the various sources of protein and other vital nutrients. Vegetarian cookbooks and classes are also available for families thinking of making a dietary switch. There are also very good informational resources online.
Story source: Amy Norton, https://consumer.healthday.com/vitamins-and-nutrition-information-27/food-and-nutrition-news-316/vegetarian-diets-benefit-people-and-the-planet-717307.html