Is a Plant-Based Diet OK for Teens?
Monday, March 29, 2021
Your teen just made an announcement: they’re not only giving up meat, they’re going to refuse any food made with animal products. In other words, they want to become a vegan.
What? Why? Was the meatloaf last night really that bad? Is this just another phase? What exactly will this mean to your family and how will you need to change your grocery list?
Regardless of the reason why your teen wants to make the change—whether it’s their developing beliefs, growing independence, self-expression or even rebellion—you may have some questions. Below, find answers to some of the more common questions parents of new vegan teens often have.
What exactly does it mean to be a vegan?
Being a vegan is similar to being a vegetarian. But the difference is, in addition to avoiding meat and fish, vegans also avoid any product that comes from an animal. For example, vegans do not eat cheese or other dairy products, since they come from animals. Most vegans also look carefully at the ingredient list of packaged foods, to make sure no animal products have been included, such as butter.
What nutrients are most important for my teen, and where can they get them in a 100% plant-based diet?
· Calcium - broccoli, spinach and tofu
· Carbohydrates - potatoes, rice and breads
· Fats - cooking oils and nuts
· Fiber - whole grain cereals, seeds and nuts
· Folate - lentils, chickpeas, spinach and asparagus
· Iron - beans, nuts and whole grains
· Protein - nuts and beans
· Vitamin A - cabbage, broccoli, spinach and sweet potatoes
· Vitamin C - citrus fruit, strawberries, cauliflower and melons
Is a 100% plant-based diet safe for my teen?
It can be if it provides all of the essential nutrients a growing teen needs and includes healthy portions of the food items listed above.
Can vegan diets be unhealthy?
Yes. Stores now offer more packaged vegan options than ever before. However, many are highly processed and some, like vegan cookies, can be high in calories. If your teen wants to lead a truly healthy vegan lifestyle they need to avoid highly processed foods and focus on whole and fresh foods.
Should I encourage my teen to become vegan gradually?
Yes. Experts recommend that anyone who is thinking about becoming a vegan should do it gradually to allow the body to adjust.
Could my teen’s desire to change their diet signal another problem?
Maybe. Any time a teen makes a dramatic change to their diet or eating habits, it could be a sign of a possible eating disorder. Talk with your teen to understand their reasons for wanting to become a vegan.
Should my teen start taking vitamin supplements?
Possibly. While most, if not all the nutrients your teen needs can be obtained in a vegan diet, it is sometimes difficult to get as many as they need. If you have questions or concerns, contact your doctor for advice.