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As a teen, who should I talk to before switching to a vegetarian diet?

Corey Schuler, MS, DC
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
A vegetarian diet can be disasterous if poorly executed. Just eating a vegetarian diet, does not an expert make! While vegetarian eating is suitable for some, it can result in irreversible damage. Iron, Vitamin B-12, and folic acid are often found in insufficent quantities in vegetarian eating. Additionally, many vegetarians overconsume refined carbohydrates and do not intake enough healthy protein. With that said, this can be a very healthful choice. The first question, you will be asked is "why do you want to adopt a vegetarian eating style?" All vegetarians, but especially teens, should see a licensed nutritionist who is familiar with vegetarian eating.
Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics
You should definitely talk to a Registered Dietitian (RD) who specializes in Vegetarian Nutrition to assist you in adequately meeting your nutritional needs while transitioning into a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet can be nutritionally adequate as long as it is balanced and well-planned. To find a local RD visit eatright.org and look up the tab for "find a dietitian."
Donna Feldman
Nutrition & Dietetics

The first person a teen should talk to about switching to a vegetarian diet is the parents, or other person in charge of the household meals and groceries. Becoming a vegetarian in a home where meals are based on meat can be tricky, and requires some planning. The parent needs to be aware of alternate protein foods to purchase, as well as ways to substitute those in meals.

Sometimes parents are resistant to this type of change. They think it will be disruptive or too difficult, or will result in poor nutrition and health. None of those problems are inevitable with a little planning. It might help the teen to find some resources, such as books or websites that explain the issues.

Many teens get into vegetarianism because their friends are doing it. However, consulting teenaged friends about a healthy vegetarian diet and nutrition is not a good idea. Teens may just be repeating misinformation they got off the internet, or from other friends

Concerned parents who need more guidance should schedule a visit with a registered dietitian who specializes in vegetarianism and adolescent health. The teen should absolutely participate in this consultation. Becoming vegetarian is an opportunity for the teen to start taking personal responsibility for healthy food choices. It should not be another chore for Mom or Dad to take care of.

A typical consult should cover the teen's food and taste preferences, daily schedule, activity level, general health and ability to prepare or pack food for meals and snacks. The family's schedule, food preferences and cooking ability should also be considered. The RD can make recommendations for meals for a typical day, and anticipate whether the food choices are adequate to cover all nutrient requirements. If not, she or he can make recommendations for appropriate supplements. Expert guidance in this situation is important, because it can help parents feel better about their teen's decision.

Jim White
Nutrition & Dietetics

As a teen you should first consult with your parents about your desire to switch to a vegetarian diet. You and your parent should consult with your physician to ensure that a vegetarian diet will not have any adverse effects on your health. You and your parent should also consult with a registered dietitian to gain insight on how to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet that is inclusive of all nutrients necessary for your continuing growth and development.

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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.