How to Become a Vegetarian

There are many reasons why people choose to be vegetarians. Some choose to become vegetarians because of health issues, family preferences, beliefs (religious, etc.), concern for the environment or over animal rights.

Vegetarian and semi-vegetarian diets

There are different forms of vegetarianism.

A true-blue vegetarian does not eat meat, not even chicken or fish.

A lacto-ovo vegetarian eats dairy products and eggs, but does not eat meat, fish and poultry.

A lacto vegetarian, eats dairy products, but not eggs while an ovo vegetarian eats eggs but not dairy products.

Some people who consider themselves semi-vegetarians, eat fish and little poultry in their diet consisting primarily of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, seeds and nuts.

Pesci-vegetarians on the other hand, eat fish but not poultry.

Even more rigid is veganism which not only excludes eggs and dairy products, but other animal products like honey and gelatin as well.

Some macrobiotic diets fall under the vegan category. Not only do they restrict anumal products, but refined, processed foods, and foods with preservatives as well. They also restrict foods that contain caffeine or other stimulants.

Following a rigid macrobiotic or vegan diet could result in nutritional deficiencies. Growing teens should make sure that their diet have sufficient nutrients to sustain growth, especially protein and calcium.

It you’re interested in becoming a vegan or would like to follow a macrobiotic diet, you should consult a nutritionist or dietitian so he or she can come up with meal plans that will allow you to receive the vitamins and minerals you need.

Is vegetarianism okay for teens?

Before, vegetarianism was unusual in the US. Now, vegetarians are a fast growing minority.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) officially endorse vegetarianism saying “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

This means that being a vegetarian is okay, even for teens, provided that your diet is “appropriately planned” and are ” healthful, are nutritionally adequate”.

There are now more food choices for vegetarians in supermarkets, restaurants and schools. If you’re planning to become a vegetarian, you should be informed about the practice. Cutting out different foods is not the key, as this will only cause you to lose important nutrients.

Vegetarians should include the following important nutrients in their diet:

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

But since certain forms of vegetarian diets do not include meat, fish, poultry, dairy and/or eggs in their diet, vegetarians should know what are good alternative sources for these nutrients.

Iron – sea vegetables like nori, wakame and dulse are very good sources of iron. Iron-fortified cereals, legumes, soybeans and tofu, dried fruits, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, and blackstrap molasses are also good iron sources. Eating these foods along with foods rich in vitamin C can help you better absorb the iron.

Girls should make sure they get enough iron, because they lose some during their menstrual period. Girls who do not get enough iron from their vegetable sources should take iron supplements.

Calcium – lacto vegetarians and lacto-oto vegetarians should get their daily calcium requirements from milk and yogurt. Fortified soy milk, calcium fortified orange juice, tofu, green leafy vegetables and dried fruits are very good sources of calcium. Teens should make sure they get enough, since they’re bones are still growing and building them up for life.

Again, girls should make sure they get enough calcium daily since they are more prone to developing osteoporosis when they get older. They may need to take supplements to meet their daily calcium needs.

Vitamin D – Vitamin D is necessary for our bones to absorb calcium. Cow’s milk and sunlight are the most abundant sources of vitamin D. Vegans may get their fill of Vitamin D from fortified soy milk and breakfast cereals, especially during winter. People should allow themselves a little sun exposure to help the body manufacture vitamin D. Just avoid overexposure.

Protein – eggs and dairy products are good protein source, but for vegetarians who don’t eat dairy products or eggs, you may opt for tofu, sot milk, nuts, peanut butter, seeds, grains and cereals.

Vitamin B12 – can only be found in animal products. Fortified soy milk and breakfast cereals may be an okay source. But, to meat you daily vitamin B12 requirements, it may be necessary to take supplements.

Zinc – good sources of zinc include fortified cereals, dried beans, nuts, and soy products like tofu and tempeh. Make sure you get your daily zinc needs from these foods.

Calories and fat – vegetarian diets are usually high in fiber but low in fat and calories, which is good for a person who’s trying to lose weight. But growing teens need calories and fat. Since fibers are filling, vegetarians may feel full and stop eating way before they’ve eaten enough calories and fats to keep them healthy.

Guidance

Again, if you’re considering becoming a vegetarian, it is best to see a dietitian. Aside from planning nutritious meals, he or she can talk to you about preventing conditions about iron-deficiency anemia. You may also need to take multivitamins just to make sure you’re needs are covered.

Dining out

Though a lot of restaurants offer vegetarian-friendly meals, sometimes it’s still difficult for vegetarians to find something good to eat. If you eat fish, there may be something good for you on the menu. If not, order a salad and a couple of appetizers. You can also go for pasta with lots of vegetables, grains and fruits.

Veggie burgers and hot dogs are also now being offered in grocery stores, and reports say they taste just like the real thing. You could opt for these meat substitutes for cooking foods with meat ingredients like pasta sauce.

Lastly, even though you choose the vegetarian lifestyle, it is still advisable to go for a wide variety of foods to meet your nutritional requirements.