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As a teen, what should I know about becoming a vegetarian?

Donna Feldman
Nutrition & Dietetics

Lots of teens try out vegetarian eating, out of concerns about the environment, animal welfare or because friends are vegetarian. The important thing to keep in mind is that "vegetarian" doesn't necessarily equal "healthy". It's entirely possible to eat an unhealthy vegetarian diet if you don't plan a bit.

When you cut out meat, fish and other animal products, your protein intake goes down, so you need to pay attention to the protein sources that remain, and include one or two of those foods at each meal:

  • milk
  • yoghurt
  • cheese
  • eggs
  • nuts and nut butters
  • beans, like pinto beans, refried beans, etc.
  • tofu and other soy foods, including soy burgers

For example, if your family is eating burgers or chicken for dinner, you need to find some other high protein food for yourself. It could be a soy burger or the milk you drink, or grated cheese on vegetables, or yoghurt for dessert. There are lots of ways to accomplish this, but your meals will look a bit different from traditional meat-based meals.

Another important point is to eat a balanced diet. A diet of cheese pizza and soda pop isn't much better than a diet of pepperoni pizza and soda pop. Eliminating meat doesn't automatically make your diet healthy, if you avoid vegetables, whole grains and fruit, and eat lots of junky snacks and soda pop and sweets.

One of the trickiest parts for teens is merging your vegetarian diet with your family's meat-eating diet. Sometimes parents get upset or frustrated when kids go on unusual diets, and reject food that's cooked for the whole family. Make it easy for your family by preparing your vegetarian meal substitutions yourself. This can be as easy as a peanut butter sandwich, when you're in a hurry, or as complicated as stir fried tofu. If your parents see that you're taking responsibility for your choice, and understand how to make your vegetarian diet healthy, they'll be more open to the change. Who knows, they might even join you in vegetarian dining sometimes. 

Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics
It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. This said, it is important that you meet with a registered dietitian specializing in vegetarian nutrition to assess your needs and assist you in the transition to a vegetarian diet to adequately meet your individual needs.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.