TheBUZZ Are vegetarian diets complete, healthy diets?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Vegetarian diets are not wholesome, healthy diets, especially for kids because they lack protein foods that are important for good health and growth.
WHAT WE KNOW
While vegetarian and vegan diets have risks for certain nutrient deficiencies, it is very possible for vegetarians, including kids, to eat a healthy, complete diet. There are generally four (4) types of vegetarian diets: 1) lacto-ovo vegetarian, which include egg and dairy products but not meats, 2) lacto vegetarian, which include dairy products, but not eggs or meats, 3) ovo vegetarian, which includes eggs but not dairy or meats and 4) vegan, which only includes food from plant sources. Vegans are at the highest risk of nutrient deficiency because they tend to have lower dietary intakes of protein, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B12 (which is only found in foods from animal sources). However, when a vegan or vegetarian diet is planned properly, not only will these nutrient requirements be met, but the diet can result in being healthier than a traditional diet. For kids, it is important that the diet be well-planned so that nutrient needs can be met. Well-planned vegetarian diets are low in cholesterol, fat and sodium while being rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber due to the high intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
HOW DO WE KNOW THIS?
Vegetarian diets have existed for centuries. Research on vegetarianism has shown that populations that follow vegetarian diets and lifestyles maintain optimal health and have longer life expectancies. This may be related to the fact that these populations tend to have leaner body mass and a very low overweight/obesity rate. Other research regarding vegetarians has observed that the rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure were lower among long-term vegetarians versus non-vegetarians.
If you or your kids do decide to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is important to plan ahead. Keep track of food intake for your child and yourself, and make sure you add a variety of foods to the diet to cover nutrients that may be missing. Include good sources of non-animal proteins such as dried beans, nuts, soy and whole grains. Vitamin and mineral fortification helps in achieving complete nutrient intake. For example: drinking calcium-fortified orange juice is an excellent way to consume calcium when your diet does not include dairy. Those who follow a vegan diet are advised to supplement with vitamin B12 due to its absence in the vegan diet.
Planning is important in all diets and it is important to only make changes to your diet with which you feel comfortable. Whatever diet is chosen: vegetarian, vegan or traditional it is always a good idea to make sure you have a variety of foods and be certain that that diet is allowing you to meet your body’s nutrient needs.
Visit our Vegetarian Kids section for more information on how to help your kids adopt a vegetarian diet and implement it in your home!