Vegetarian Fitness and Teens
Once a teen decides to take on a vegetarian lifestyle, it is easy for everyone around him (unless of course if the teen was raised by vegetarian parents) to dismiss it as a mere quirky phase in his otherwise normal life. Many though, will find it surprising to know that vegetarians who took on the lifestyle change during their teens find it easier to stick with it compared to those who take on vegetarianism in adulthood.
Due to wrong or insufficient information, parents of teenagers who choose to be vegetarians may worry that the lifestyle change may be bad for their growing teen. Add the fact that most teenagers also lead a very active lifestyle or actively engage in sports activities, some parents may altogether object to their teen’s desire to go veggie.
Parents however, have very little to worry about if their teen takes on a vegetarian lifestyle regardless if the teen is also active in sports. If anything, teenagers are most likely to get more essential nutrients from a vegetarian diet than they can from their regular snacks of burgers and pizzas. A vegetarian lifestyle is definitely a healthier option for teenagers provided that they do it the right way and eat enough of the nutrients their body needs from non-meat sources.
In this regard, parents can support the lifestyle choice of their teens and help them plan their meals then add the dishes to the regular household cooking. To ensure that all the nutrient requirements of their active vegetarian teens are met, both the teen and the parents should get as much credible information about the vegetarian diet from reputable vegetarian websites and other trustworthy sources.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) says that a vegetarian diet for teens is healthy when properly planned. The best way to start off on the vegetarian lifestyle for teens would be to go lacto-ovo vegetarian or by cutting out meat from the diet but still consume dairy products and eggs. The lacto-ovo diet will help the teen decide when or whether to take it a step further by going strictly vegan (cutting out any food derived from animals).
The following must also be carefully considered for active teens who want to go vegetarian.
Despite the myths, vegetarians actually consume more protein than what the body requires on a daily basis. This may come as welcome news to parents with teens who are going vegetarian. The Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition board says that the recommended daily allowance of protein for teens aged 9 to 13 is 34 grams and 56 grams those aged 14 to 18. Teenage girls may require a little less, but those who are highly active and engage in sport activities will definitely require more protein in their diet.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian teens can always get their protein from cheese, whey and eggs apart from other plant based sources of protein like soy products, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains etc. Parents need not worry about their teens getting quality protein (especially if the teen is going vegan) as research show that all essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) can easily be consumed through plant sources.
The calorie requirements are the same for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian teen agers. The USDA says that boys 13 to 19 will require 2,000 calories on a daily basis if they are sedentary, up to 2,800 calories if they are moderately active and 2,600 to 3,000 calories daily if they are active. Teenage girls will require a little less. Highly active teens, especially those who are into competitive sports may require more calories.
Sources for calories have never been a problem for vegetarians as most carbohydrates come from plant sources like grains, nuts, potatoes, fruits and sugars. The important thing is to make sure that teen vegetarians consume the right amount of calories their body requires.
No matter how healthy the vegetarian diet is, it does leave a few nutritional gaps. This is why it is essential to take vitamin and mineral supplements to make up for what may be lacking in the diet.
Adequate intake of iron is a big concern since iron from plant sources is not as bio-available the type derived from meat. This issue is even more important for teenage girls as their body loses iron during their monthly period. In order to get the most iron from a vegetarian diet, teens must allow for more beans and legumes, dried fruit and spinach. Vitamin C also helps the body absorb the iron so it would be a good idea to add more citrus or broccoli to their diet. Consulting with a doctor about supplementing with iron would be the best way to ensure that the teenage vegetarian gets enough of it.
Calcium and vitamin D.
In order for their growing bones to develop properly, it is vital for teenagers to consume the right amount calcium their body needs. Vitamin D is important for the body to absorb calcium properly. Teens that are planning to go lacto-ovo will have no problem getting their calcium from dairy products and there are quite a number of vitamin D fortified, calcium-rich milk. Those who are going vegan however can get their calcium from nuts, legumes, seeds, leafy greens, fortified cereals and tofu. Taking several servings of these foods daily is enough to provide all the calcium teenagers need. Taking calcium supplements fortified with vitamin D is still the best way to ensure that teenagers get their daily requirement.
Zinc and vitamin B12.
Zinc will not be a problem for lacto-ovo vegetarians, but if the teen also excludes dairy products from their diet, he should make up for the lack of zinc by taking multi-vitamins or by taking zinc as a separate supplement. The same is also true for vitamin B12.