What is vegetarianism? Generally, there are four different categories:
Ovo-vegetarian: eats eggs but no meat
Lacto-ovo vegetarian: eats dairy and egg products, but no meat
Lacto-vegetarian: eats dairy products but no eggs or meat
Vegan: eats only from plant sources (most challenging to follow and most to be concerned about regarding adequate nutrition)
Pesco-vegetarian: eats fish, dairy products, and eggs (Dr. William Sears feels this is the healthiest route)
Semi-vegetarian(sometimes referred to as flexitarian): those who do cheat a bit and eat poultry, dairy, fish…for which I personally feel this should be referred to as “plant-based” diet…where you plan your meals around the plants!
Why do people choose this lifestyle? People chose this type of diet for various reasons. Some of which are philosophical, religious, ecologic concerns or merely in hopes of a healthier lifestyle.
Is this type of eating style good for you? And even more of a concern as parents; is this dietary plan healthy for my little ones? Yes, of course! And there is an abundance of evidence that shows (as with studies of Seventh-Day Adventists) vegetarian lifestyles lead to lower rates of type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancers, and cardiovascular and gallbladder diseases. And according to Nemours (A Children’s Health System), if you grab a dietitian and/or your doctor, together you can plan out a nourishing menu based on your personal style of vegetarianism – three cheers for dietitians!
Are there other specific benefits of a vegetarian way of eating?
• Naturally low in saturated fats –the cardiovascular system will thank you!
• Higher fiber intake
• Plant foods are naturally higher in B-vitamins, folic acid, and phytochemicals (which are nutrients that help our bodies work synergistically better!!)
• For the adult vegetarian looking to reduce weight, this way of eating will generally reduce total caloric intake, leading to weight loss!
• Plant sources of food are generally safer, especially when you choose organic and local!
• If you are an environmentalist, it is also believed that living a vegetarian lifestyle is healthier for the planet!!
What should you be mindful of? As with any nutritional plan, the less restrictive you are, the more apt you are to include sources of all nutrients needed for proper health maintenance and growth. But with vegetarianism, pay special attention to ensure you are getting enough calcium, iron, zinc and vitamins B12 and D. On a positive note regarding protein intake, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dr. William Sears, the once sought out complementary combinations are seemingly unnecessary and the total intake of protein while following a vegetarian diet, is still higher than the RDA. (So relax on the hype of a lack of protein!) Also, remember how you feel when you eat a lot of fiber-rich foods: full! And just as important as the individual nutrients are, when dealing with a growing child, they also need enough energy; AKA: calories! (Frequent meals and snacks, fortified grains and higher-fat plant foods will help with this concern).
What food choices can you include to be sure your child is getting the nutrients of concern?
Calcium: cow ’s milk, fortified soy/rice milk, leafy green veggies (kale & collards), broccoli, beans, calcium-fortified juice (although no more than 4-6oz of juice per day), beans, calcium-set tofu, almonds and almond butter, sesame seeds and sesame butter(tahini), soy nuts, blackstrap molasses, figs. On a positive note, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, studies have found that vegetarians absorb and retain more calcium from foods than non-vegetarians!
Iron: dried beans, dark green veggies such as spinach and beet greens, dried fruits, plune juice, blackstrap molasses and fortified breads and cereals, instant oatmeal, nuts and nut butters, potatoes (with skin), enriched pastas. In addition, by consuming vitamin C-rich foods at each meal, there is an increase in iron absorption.
Vitamin B12: fortified foods such as nutritional yeast, soymilk, meat analogs or ready-to-eat cereals, dairy products, eggs. Strict vegetarians may need to supplement by adding vitamin B12 in amounts no more than 100% RDA.
Vitamin D: eggs, fortified foods such as soymilk, cow’s milk, orange juice and ready-to-eat cereals, enough sunlight to ensure the natural production of vitamin D in the skin! Again, a more restricted vegetarian course and/or inadequate amounts of sunlight, should trigger the need for a vitamin D supplement in amounts no more than 100% RDA.
Zinc: grains, wheatgerm (a great additive to baked goods and pancakes!), seeds, soy foods, dairy products and if needed, supplements not exceeding RDA.
Energy (calories): As advised by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, provide small frequent meals and snacks. Offer fortified grains and cereals, dried fruits, breads and pasta, and higher-fat plant foods such as sunflower seeds and avocados (yum)! And don’t forget vegetarian smoothies!
In general, where do I stand, as a mother, fitness professional and aspiring dietitian? Currently, if my 4 year old son understood his eating pattern, he would be a lacto-ovo vegetarian! I always offer him a bit of everything the family is eating, but I base his meal around his current preference. Keep in mind though; what I offer him is not a completely different meal, especially since my personal preference of dietary choices revolves around a plant-based diet. (Many professionals will advise parents to avoid making a new meal for their “picky” eaters once the meal has been served, as I DO adhere to!) Although I would love to adhere to a stricter vegetarian lifestyle, it would be turned down by husband and would be quite the challenge with my 6 year daughter. So, we will stay plant-based, and I will continue to offer animal foods to my (seemingly) lacto-ovo son! –and remember, it can take several, several times of offering your child a certain food before they acquire a “true” like or dislike for a food!!
Cheers to the vegetarian lifestyle!
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My references in addition to the links: Krause’s Food, Nutrition, & Diet Therapy, as well as Sylvia Escott-Stump’s Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care. These are fabulous books for intense information regarding nutrition!