What do you do when your teen announces they’ve become a vegetarian? Or a vegan?
Lots of parents wonder whether it’s safe for their child or even if they should let them eat like this at all. Will your grown teen get enough nutrients to stay healthy? And what about the rest of your family? Do you need to make two dinners every night?
Fortunately, for most teens, a vegetarian diet can be accomplished in a healthy way with a little education and some intentional effort to eat balanced meals. But, making sure they don’t miss out on key nutrients can quickly get complicated to stay on top of – especially for growing teens.
A plant-based diet lacks many common sources of proteins. Whenever we eliminate something from our diet, it is important to take a look at the nutrients we may have lost, and consider how to replace them if our new eating plan is falling short. For vegetarians and vegans, animal proteins making sure your teen is getting an adequate amount of protein is a legitimate concern for all growing individuals since protein plays a huge role in growth!
A lacto-vegetarian or lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet includes dairy or dairy and eggs both. These animal proteins are complete, so protein intake can be easily achieved with this approach. For a teen who decides to be vegan, more education and support is required due to the complexity of mixing plant proteins to ensure adequate amino acid intake to synthesize protein in the body.
Amino acids are the pieces that get put together to make a protein. And proteins are used to build tissues like muscle and skin. Think of a lego set. The amino acids are the individual legos needed to complete the full lego project. Vegan lego sets come with a few pieces missing, because plant proteins don’t contain a full balance of amino acids needed for the human body.