Can Kids Thrive on a Vegetarian Diet?

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Photo: woodleywonderworks

It's one thing for adults to make the decision to eat vegetarian but what if you're making that decision for someone else? And what if that someone else is your child? Well according to a recent article in the Washington Post, kids can thrive on a vegetarian diet but there are some definite pitfalls that parents need to be looking out for to keep their little ones at optimal health.A nationwide survey of 1,258 8 to 18-year olds found that 3 percent never eat meat, poultry, or seafood, up from 1.4 percent in 1995. That comes to an estimated 1.4 million kid vegetarians, according to Reed Mangels, nutrition advisor for the Vegetarian Resource Group. Two thirds of kids that go veg also go completely vegan, says Mangel.

Plant-based diets are inherently healthier than meat-based diets, according to a host of studies, like this study that linked a low-carbohydrate diet based on animal sources with higher all-cause mortality in both men and women, whereas a vegetable-based low-carbohydrate diet was associated with lower all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality rates. Another long term study followed 1904 vegetarians over 21 years and found that vegetarian men reduced their risk of early death by a whopping 50 percent and women vegetarians by 30 percent.

But this isn't to say that just by eating under the label vegetarian or vegan kids always eat healthier.

"In plant-based diets, which tend to be very high in fiber, children often get a sense of fullness before they really ingest enough calories as they need, or eat enough food to provide adequate energy," says Dr. Hemant Sharma, a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center.

Sharma recommends three meals and three energy-dense snacks a day for his vegetarian patients including nuts, seeds, and avocado, as well as such high-protein foods as tofu and low-fat dairy and eggs. Particular areas of concern include iron, especially in teenage girls, and in vegan diets Vitamin D, B12, and calcium.

More on Vegetarianism
Why Graham Hill Is a Weekday Vegetarian, and Why You Should Be Too! (Video)
Vegetarian Diet Could Cut Climate Change Mitigation Costs by 70%, If Enough Of Us Make the Switch
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