Teenaged opinions about food may be based on concern for the environment and our role in it, a humanitarian view of animal exploitation, or the relationship between diet and health. In many cases, such opinions are well thought out and deserve respect. At times, adolescents may be pardoned for focusing on food as a symbol of everything that’s wrong in their families.
Parents can safely ignore faddish notions about food as long as the teenager continues to eat a balanced diet. Vegetarian diets, which are appealing to many, are so widely accepted that few consider them faddish any more. Among adolescents, the most common reason for rejecting meat is the exploitation of animals.
Long-term vegetarians who maintain a proper nutritional balance have lower rates of several diseases associated with the typical Western high-fat, low-fiber diet. They are less likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels and have lower rates of some cancers, and their weight is usually closer to a healthy ideal than that of meat eaters. They may also have less constipation and other functional bowel complaints. However, eliminating animal products from an otherwise unhealthy diet will not provide the health advantages of vegetarianism.
More restricted diets increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies. Partial vegetarians usually have no difficulty getting a good balance of nutrients. They should take care, however, that complex carbohydrates make up the bulk of their diet. Some rely too much on dairy products and end up with a diet that’s too high in fats and calories. All vegetarians should learn how to combine 2 or more foods, like beans and corn, to ensure that they get essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein.
Those who keep to a strict vegan diet must find alternative sources of vitamin D, important for healthy bones, and vitamin B12, which is needed in all cells but especially for healthy blood. Humans can get some vitamin D from sunlight but cannot absorb the B12 that occurs in small amounts in a few plant foods. Vegans of all ages should consume soy milk or cereals fortified with B12. Without dairy foods, a vegan diet may also lack calcium. Your pediatrician or a qualified dietitian may recommend supplements to ensure that your child receives adequate amounts of vitamins, calcium, iron, and zinc.
Weight Loss Diets
Any adolescent planning to go on a weight-loss diet should first talk with a pediatrician, who may recommend books on nutrition or provide a referral to a nutrition counselor. When it comes to adopting a vegetarian diet, it’s as much about what your teenager does eat as what he does not.