Is it OK for an 18-year-old to be a vegetarian, (eats eggs and milk but no meat or fish)? Is it possible to get enough protein and fat for proper nutrition and development from eating just vegetables?
Deficiency of vitamin B-12 and a few other vitamins and minerals can be a problem for vegans — vegetarians who eat no animal products whatsoever. But lacto-ovo vegetarians, who eat eggs and dairy, have the same nutritional issues as the rest of us — eating a healthy diet.
A few years ago, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) issued a position paper fully endorsing vegetarianism. The paper said “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Notice the words, “appropriately planned.” So the answer is yes, your teen-ager can do very well without eating meat and fish, provided he or she eats a varied diet — in moderation — based on the principles of the government’s food guide pyramid.
The pyramid’s foundation is six to 11 daily servings of grains and cereals, including bread, cereal, pasta, rice and other grains. This should include a substantial proportion of whole, unrefined grain products. The next level in the pyramid, fruits and vegetables, recommends three to five servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruits each day.
The amounts of food get smaller as we get nearer the top of the Pyramid. The third level has the dairy group – two to three servings from the milk, yogurt and cheese group. On the same level, the group that includes meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts requires two to three servings daily.
The ADA has reconfigured this group for vegetarians so that it includes dry beans, nuts, seeds, eggs and meat substitutes. The number of servings is the same, but the food recommendations are adjusted to include such items as soy milk, tofu and peanut butter, with typical serving amounts.
At the top of the pyramid are the added fats, oils and sweets in your diet, with the advice “use sparingly.” Teen-age vegetarians who eats dairy and eggs are likely to be getting adequate nutrition, unless they are eating a high-fat, high-sugar junk food diet. It is not uncommon for kids to substitute nutrient-light foods for healthier ones. So you should make sure your teen is not eating meals that consist of fast food French fries and soda pop.
Some people do not get enough fat or protein from a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. But for most, the concerns would probably stem from over-consumption of calories. A good rule of thumb for a dietary breakdown for adults and teens is about 60 percent of the daily diet from carbohydrates and no more than 30 percent from fat, including no more than 10 percent from saturated fat.
Protein recommendations are based on body weight. Check out an online Protein Calculator to determine protein requirements.