A healthy vegetarian diet consists primarily of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Since most of the nature’s resources contain fibers & oils, Vegetarian diets have very minimal cholesterol & fat content unlike their Non-Veg brethren.
The Vegetarian flavor can generally be grouped under these 3 categories:
The vegan diet, which excludes all meat and animal products
The lacto vegetarian diet, which includes plant foods plus dairy products
The lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which includes both dairy products and eggs
It’s a common debate in medical circles that a vegetarian diet is not suitable for growing children. BUT, IT’S A MYTH. There are enough medical evidences that substantiate the fact that a veggie diet can be equally nutritious to a growing body.
Irrespective of your age or situation, a well-planned vegetarian diet can meet your nutritional needs. Even children and teenagers can do well on a veggie diet, as can older people, and pregnant or breast-feeding women. It will be a good option to talk with your dietician regarding the change in eating pattern and don’t forget to take a record of previous illness as well allergies.
Alternative to Meat
Meatless products, such as tofu dogs
texturized vegetable protein
Most of these high protein diets could be found at your corner grocery shop. Tofu or Tempeh, are made from soybeans which is nature’s best resource for protein.
Alternative to Eggs & dairy products
Fortified soymilk, rice milk or almond milk in place of cow’s milk.
For Butter, you can use olive oil, water, vegetable broth, wine or fat-free cooking spray. In baked goods, use canola oil.
For Cheese, Use soy cheese or nutritional yeast flakes, which are available in health food stores.
For Eggs, try commercial egg replacers – a dry product made mostly of potato starch. Or you can use the following to replace one egg: 1/4 cup whipped tofu or 1 tablespoon milled flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons of water. For an egg-free omelet use tofu instead of eggs.
Ensuring adequate nutrition In Vegetarian Diets
Here are nutrients that may be deficient in a vegetarian diet and how you can get these nutrients from non-meat sources:
Protein: Your body needs protein to maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. Vegetarians who eat eggs or dairy products have convenient sources of protein. Other sources of protein include soy products, meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Calcium: This mineral helps build and maintain strong teeth and bones. Low-fat dairy foods and dark green vegetables, such as spinach, turnip and collard greens, kale, and broccoli, are good sources of calcium. Tofu enriched with calcium and fortified soy milk and fruit juices are other options.
Vitamin B-12: Your body needs vitamin B-12 to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, including milk, eggs and cheese. Vegans can get vitamin B-12 from some enriched cereals, fortified soy products or by taking a supplement that contains this vitamin.
Iron: Like vitamin B-12, iron is a crucial component of red blood cells. Dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit are good sources of iron. To help your body absorb non-animal sources of iron, eat foods rich in vitamin C – such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli – at the same time you consume iron-containing foods.
Zinc: This mineral is an essential component of many enzymes and plays a role in cell division and in the formation of proteins. Good sources of zinc include whole grains, soy products, nuts and wheat germ.
The success of a healthy vegetarian diet- is to involve a wide variety of ingredients – if possible you are free to experiment. Since no single food provides all of the nutrients that your body needs, eating a wide variety helps ensure that you get the necessary nutrients and other substances that promote good health.
Your family & vegetarian diet
Although many families have happily been on a veggie diet for years and they have been pretty candid about the positives of being a vegetarian – But many parents still are in a dilemma whether their kids can safely follow a vegetarian diet and still get all necessary nutrients. Most dietary and medical experts agree that a well-planned vegetarian diet can actually be a very healthy way to eat.
But special care must be taken when serving kids and teens a vegetarian diet, especially if it doesn’t include dairy and egg products.
Reasons for being a Veggie Kids
Younger vegetarians are usually part of a family that eats vegetarian meals for health, cultural, or other reasons.
Older kids may decide to become vegetarians because of concern for animals, the environment, or their own health.
In any case, there is nothing to be alarmed if your kid chooses to become a vegetarian. On the other hand, it is our duty as a parent to help them identify & choose good sources of protein, enzymes, vitamins and other minerals in the Veggie world.
Nutrition for All Ages
Here are nutrients that vegetarian kids should get and some of their best food sources:
vitamin B12: dairy products, eggs, and vitamin-fortified products, such as cereals, breads, and soy and rice drinks, and nutritional yeast
vitamin D: milk, vitamin D-fortified orange juice, and other vitamin D-fortified products
calcium: dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, dried beans, and calcium-fortified products, including orange juice, soy and rice drinks, and cereals
protein: dairy products, eggs, tofu and other soy products, dried beans, and nuts
iron: eggs, dried beans, dried fruits, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, and iron-fortified cereals and bread
zinc: wheat germ, nuts, fortified cereal, dried beans, and pumpkin seeds
If the vegetarian diet is least restrictive, then it is easier to get all the nutrition that your kids might need.
The main sources of protein and nutrients for infants are breast milk and formula (soy formula for vegan infants), especially in the first 6 months of life.
Breastfed infant vegans should receive a source of vitamin B12, if the mother’s diet isn’t supplemented, and breastfed infants and infants drinking less than 32 ounces (1 liter) formula should get vitamin D supplements.
Guidelines for the introduction of solid foods are the same for vegetarian and non-vegetarian infants.
Breastfed infants 6 months and older should receive iron from complementary foods, such as iron-fortified infant cereal.
Once an infant is introduced to solids, protein-rich vegetarian foods can include pureed tofu, cottage cheese, yogurt or soy yogurt, and pureed and strained legumes (legumes include beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils).
Toddlers are known to be fussy about their food and so it becomes a challenge to compensate for the all the minerals & proteins that he or she would miss.
After the age of 1, strict vegan diets may not offer growing toddlers enough essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and zinc.
So it’s important to serve fortified cereals and nutrient-dense foods. Vitamin supplementation is recommended for young children whose diets may not provide adequate nutrients.
Since Toddlers need a lot of calories – and that means a lot of veggie food – A lot more than what a toddler’s stomach can absorb. So it is imperative that the parents plan out a high calorie veggie diet for their toddler
Older Vegetarian Kids and Teens
Many teens may decide to embrace vegetarianism in support of animal rights, for health reasons, or because friends are doing it.
A meat-free diet can actually be a good choice for adolescents as they will be able to eat more of fruits and vegetables.
A vegetarian diet that includes dairy products and eggs (lacto-ovo) is the best choice for growing teens.
A more strict vegetarian diet may fail to meet a teen’s need for certain nutrients, such as iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamins D and B12.
A Vegetarian diet has got much more acceptability in the current decade as compared to the earlier years and this is evident in – that many schools are offering vegetarian fare, including salad bars and other healthy vegetarian choices.