Health FAQs

These FAQs come from The Vegetarian Resource Group at  http://www.vrg.org/teen/ and answers are by Julia Driggers RD and Reed Mangels PhD, RD. Go to their great website for many more questions and answers on teen issues. You can even give them a donation to help them with their great work.

Is it safe for me to become a vegan because I am still growing?

A vegan diet can offer complete nutrition for anyone at any age and can be easy to follow. As a growing teen it is safe to switch from a vegetarian to a vegan diet. To stay healthy, it is important that you eat a variety of foods daily and focus on specific nutrients that help teens grow. Two major minerals that teens should concentrate on taking in daily are calcium, to help grow strong bones, and iron, to provide energy.

Will being a vegetarian help me lose weight?

No, not necessarily. Being a vegetarian does not mean you will eat less calories, it simply means that your calories come from different sources. When people switch to a vegetarian diet they replace the meat in their meals with plant protein like beans, tofu, peanut butter, and nuts. Plant proteins do have calories and fat (although mostly good fats!) and switching from meat to these types of protein will not necessarily lead to weight loss.

How can I make sure I am getting enough protein?

The simplest way to get enough protein is to eat enough healthy food so that you’re not losing weight and make sure that you include several servings a day of foods like soy products, beans, nuts, and nut butters that provide protein. Just eating vegetables will not supply your body with enough protein.

I am anemic. Is it because I am vegetarian? What should I do?

Iron-deficiency anemia is quite common in women, whether they’re vegetarian or not. That’s because each month women lose some blood when they have their period. Blood contains iron so if those monthly iron losses aren’t replaced, anemia can result. In addition, many women don’t eat large servings of foods that contain iron so they may not be meeting the recommendations for iron. Also, if you donate blood regularly and don’t eat high iron foods you can end up with anemia.

Your health care provider may recommend a low-dose iron supplement to help your body get the iron that it needs. Although the iron in supplements is generally not derived from animals, iron tablets may contain gelatin, artificial colors, or other undesirable substances. Vegan iron supplements are available.

Vegan foods that are high in iron include soybeans and soy products like tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers, and tofu dogs; dried beans; spinach and other greens; baked potatoes; and iron-fortified breads and cereals. Eating a food high in iron along with a food with lots of vitamin C (tomatoes, oranges, orange juice, for example), can help your body absorb more iron. You can even get some iron from cooking in a cast-iron skillet!

I want to become a vegetarian but I hate most vegetables. Can I be a vegetarian without vegetables?

All vegetables provide fiber and phytonutrients (simply put, nutrients that are important and that come from plants). That’s not to say that you can’t get many of these vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from other places if you don’t eat vegetables. You can get some from fruits, some from whole grains, and, if necessary take a vitamin pill. The only problem is that vegetables are such low-calorie powerhouses that you may find that you have to eat a lot more fruit or a lot more beans to make up for what you’re missing by not eating vegetables. In addition, there may be some phytonutrients that are unique to vegetables that we don’t even know about yet. If you don’t eat vegetables, you miss out on these potentially important phytonutrients. Do you really not eat any vegetables or is it that you really don’t like cooked vegetables or certain vegetables? There’s no law that says that you have to eat every vegetable.

The Christchurch Vegetarian Centre has information leaflets on various aspects of vegetarianism. Click here to go to our resources page.

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