Ask the nutritionist.
Q: My teenage daughter wants to follow a vegan diet. Will she be missing nutrients with a strictly plant-based diet? Will it affect her growth?
A: Vegetarian and vegan diets have been growing in popularity among teens over the past decade. This is due to a combination of reasons including more awareness of vegan diets in the media and pressure among peer groups. Most teens state that their reasons for changing to a more plant-based diet is for health-related and ethical reasons as well as weight loss.
I recommend that parents become more curious about why their teen may be choosing to switch to a more plant-based diet as reasons like weight loss or change in appearance may be a cause for concern. If a teen decides to follow this, it is best that they understand what foods they need to incorporate into their diet to meet their nutrient needs.
Plant-based diets are lower in B12, calcium, Vitamin D, iron and protein. The best approach is to plan meals and snacks to include plant-based sources of these foods and incorporate a supplement. Calcium and Vitamin D can be found fortified in plant-based milk products like soy milk, almond milk or other nut milks. Iron can be found naturally in certain plant-based foods like beans, legumes, green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals and broccoli. Plant-based or non-heme iron is best absorbed with foods high in Vitamin C like oranges, lemons, strawberries and broccoli. B12 is a vitamin that is only found in meat and occasionally found fortified in some cereals. They best way to get adequate B12, especially on a vegan diet, is to take a B12 supplement. Protein is another nutrient to be aware of but there are plenty of plant-based foods that contain protein including beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, most vegetables, whole grains and cereals.
If you have specific concerns or questions regarding your child’s diet, consider discussing it with their pediatrician and reaching out to a pediatric dietitian.
Lauren Sharifi is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and food blogger at biteofhealthnutrition.com. Lauren works in private practice in Brighton at ASF-Peak Health (asfpeakhealth.com) and is passionate about helping individuals and families become competent eaters that find joy out of eating. Have a question for Lauren? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.