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Healthy Vegetarian Diet for Teenagers: Where to Find the Nutrition They Need

by Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E.

Q. My teenage daughter wants to become a vegetarian. How can I make sure she gets enough protein?

A. If planned carefully, a vegetarian diet can provide every nutrient needed for growth and health. By eating a variety of plant foods throughout the day, your daughter will get all the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) she needs.

If she's not including dairy, have her drink two or three cups of fortified soymilk daily. She'll meet the rest of her protein needs with a balanced diet including three or so servings of beans, tofu and soy analogues like soy burgers.

Nuts and nut butters provide additional protein. Eggs, if she'll include them, are also an excellent source of protein.

Relax and enjoy. We’ll send the best health information to you in our free monthly newsletter.

Q. Should I be concerned about other nutrition, besides protein?

A. A lousy vegetarian diet is based on chips, snack crackers, white bread, candy and granola bars. A balanced vegetarian diet includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, soy, soymilk and vegetable oils.

You and your daughter will have to pay special attention to her intake of iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin B-12 is found only in animal foods, so if she does not include dairy or eggs, she will need a supplement. Your daughter may need supplements or fortified foods to meet the rest her nutrient requirements as well.

is a registered dietitian with National Clinical Research-Norfolk, in Virginia, and a consultant to the food industry with Jill Weisenberger Health Communications LLC.

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Last updated and/or approved: May 2011.
Original article appeared in various issues of the former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
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