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Teen Health

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FAQ: Vegetarian Diet for Teens

Are you thinking of becoming a vegetarian? Or maybe you have a vegetarian friend? Here's some key health information about being a vegetarian.

Why become a vegetarian?

People choose to be vegetarians for all sorts of reasons. Some common reasons someone may consider a meatless diet:

  • animal rights
  • environmental concerns
  • religious beliefs
  • health and well-being
  • personal likes and dislikes

Whatever your reason, it's important to keep your health and nutrition in mind when deciding what to eat.

Does becoming a vegetarian mean I can’t eat fish or eggs?

Not necessarily. There are many different ways to be a vegetarian. Here are some different types of vegetarians:

Vegans. They don't eat any type of animal product, including:

  • eggs
  • dairy products

Lacto vegetarians. They eat dairy, but they don't eat:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • eggs

Lacto-ovo vegetarians. They eat dairy and eggs, but they don't eat:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish

Pesco-vegetarians or pescetarians. They include fish in their diet, but they don't eat:

  • meat
  • poultry

With so many options, you can pick the diet that works best for you.

Is a vegetarian diet healthier than a meat-eating diet?

Studies show that vegetarians may be at lower risk for some diseases and conditions, including:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • some forms of cancer
  • obesity

Will I need to take a vitamin?

Sometimes, vegetarians do not get essential nutrients found in meat, such as:

  • protein
  • iron
  • calcium
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B12
  • zinc

Usually, you can get these nutrients from other food besides meat. But sometimes a daily multivitamin can be helpful. Talk to your doctor about the best way to make sure your body gets all the nutrients it needs.

What types of food should I eat?

The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is variety. This means you should try to eat a mix of foods that includes:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • whole grains

These vegetarian foods will help you balance your diet:

Foods high in iron:

  • spinach
  • beet greens
  • dried fruit
  • broccoli
  • pumpkin seeds

Foods high in protein:

  • eggs (for non-vegans)
  • soy products, including tofu
  • peanuts and other nuts
  • grains and cereals
  • beans
  • seeds
  • lentils

Foods high in calcium:

  • milk and yogurt (if you eat dairy)
  • calcium-fortified soy milk
  • calcium-fortified orange juice
  • green leafy vegetables

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