Do you consider yourself to be a vegetarian? If you – like many teens — don’t eat meat, poultry or fish, you are! Learn why you might choose to go meatless and how to be sure you get the nutrition you need.
Types of Vegetarians
There are three types of vegetarians:
- Vegans don’t eat any animal products, including dairy products, eggs and honey.
- Lactovegetarians don’t eat meat, poultry, fish and eggs, but do eat milk products.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians don’t eat fish, poultry or meat, but do eat eggs and milk products. This is the category of most vegetarians in America.
Why do teens become vegetarians?
Teens choose a meatless lifestyle for a number of reasons, including:
- Animal rights concerns.
- Environmental concerns.
- Religious or cultural beliefs.
- Diet and health concerns.
- Family decision.
- Food likes and dislikes.
What Are the Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet?
Some proven health benefits for vegetarians who eat responsibly include:
- Decreased risk of heart disease.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Decreased risk for some types of cancer.
- Lower chance of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Lower likelihood of being overweight.
Which Nutrients Might Vegetarians Lack?
A vegetarian diet could be low in certain nutrients that are found in meat, poultry and fish. These include calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. You also have to be sure to eat enough protein.
Protein helps muscles grow and remain strong. Vegetarian foods that contain ample protein include beans, nuts and seeds, nut butters, lentils and soy products. Some fruits and vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, asparagus and apricots, contain smaller amounts of protein.
Iron plays a vital role in the formation of red blood cells. Non-meat foods that are high in iron include beans, spinach, beet greens, prunes and iron-fortified cereals and bread. Eating iron-rich foods combined with vitamin-C-rich foods (citrus, strawberries and bell peppers, for example) helps your body absorb iron.
Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth. Milk products are a great source of calcium. Vegans can get calcium from plant foods such as dark leafy greens (kale and collard greens, for example), broccoli, tofu, nuts, seeds, beans and fortified plant-based milks.
Lack of vitamin B12 can cause anemia, poor memory and weak muscles. Getting enough vitamin B12 isn’t usually a problem for vegetarians who eat eggs and milk products because B12 is commonly found in animal-based foods. It’s found also in multivitamins, fortified cereals, fortified plant-based milks and nutritional yeast.
Vitamin D helps the body use calcium. Only a few foods are naturally high in vitamin D. Most brands of fortified milk, soy products and cereals contain vitamin D, as do many multivitamins. Exposure to sunlight also stimulates the body to produce vitamin D.
Last Reviewed: August 2019