Survey: Teen vegetarians on the rise

A recent survey shows the number of teen vegetarians is rising. In fact, it's tripled in the last ten years. But experts say if kids think going "veggie" is a simple as just giving up meat, they are making a mistake.

According to the latest Harris poll, three percent of teens are vegetarians, up from one percent in 1997.

Meaghan Smith was 11 when she decided not to eat meat. She said, "I just decided to stop, decided it wasn't my thing anymore and kind of gross and probably not as healthy as I thought it was."

Her dad was surprised and a little worried about a diet of just vegetables.

Meaghan's father Robert Smith said, "Bunny food never really seemed like food to me, and I was worried about her sustaining herself."

Experts say depending on the diet, that concern can be valid.

Dietitian- Page Love said, "They've completely eliminated dairy, they've completely eliminated meat proteins including fish and chicken and so they aren't getting complete protein sources."

Meaghan said, "When I first started, and a lot of my friends that were, you just drop the meat out of your diet and you don't replace it, you don't get the proper nutrition."

Experts say vegetarians and vegans need to find replacements for the protein, B vitamins, iron and calcium that meat provides.

Love said, "Like soy cheese, soy milk, tofu products. There are now wheat based meat products like Seitan and these are just excellent protein sources that are available."

For some kids it's a fad, others are more serious. Either way, experts say, giving up meat can be healthy for a child if done with guidance and care.

Meaghan said, "Everyone thought it was a phase, and it's been my eight-year phase."

Rice and beans, nuts, soy products -- including soymilk, tofu and Seitan -- are excellent sources of non-meat proteins.

You can visit the following web sites for more information:

Vegetarian Kids and Teens -- The Vegetarian Resource GroupParents (and kids too), you might want to join our vegetarian parents e-mail list for a wide range of experiences, support, and advice.
http://www.vrg.org/family/kidsindex.htm

Feeding Vegan Kids -- The Vegetarian Resource GroupRaising vegan children takes time and thought, but no more than it takes to raise a non-vegan child. This article published by the Vegetarian Resource Group explains how.
http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/kids.htm

Vegetarian Diets for Children -- A vegetarian diet, if well planned, can provide all of the nutrients that your children needs to be healthy.
http://www.keepkidshealthy.com/nutrition/vegetarian_diets.html

Vegetarianism -- Answers whether kids can safely follow a vegetarian diet and still get all the nutrients necessary for growing up healthy and strong.
http://www.kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition_fit/nutrition/vegetarianism.html

Is a Vegetarian Diet Right for Your Family? -- Among these veggie kids are the 7- and 10-year-old daughters of nutrition advisor Reed Mangels, Ph.D., R.D.
http://www.parenthood.com/articles.html?article_id=4508

The Vegan Kids Room -- vegan parenting information, advice, support ... Information and practical advice on bringing up vegan kids - written by a vegan parent - no textbook stuff here! Links, recommeneded reading and lots of helpful information.
http://www.veganfamily.co.uk/vegankidsroom.html

Growing Vegan Children -- Vegan nutritionists Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina provide nutritional advice for raising healthy vegan children from infancy through adolescence.
http://www.vegsource.com/parent/growing_vegans.htm

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I've been vegetarian for 19 years and my health has been perfect. I've eaten terribly for some of it and never suffered for it. The protein scare is overplayed and inaccurate. Protein is in almost everything, including vegetables. You can easily be a vegetarian without thinking about what you eat.

People eat fast food and frozen entrees to no end. Somehow it's a major concern that someone eats vegetarian, but nevermind about childhood obesity rates or diabetes brought on by a poor diet which included meat.

It's simple, a vegetarian diet is healthier than the average American diet - even if not the right foods are not eaten.

I have been a vegetarian since I was 3. It was my decision, and half my friends are too. I eat heaps of beans, lentil etc. and I am healthier for it!!!

i agree with Brian- also i doubt her diet was "just vegetables" and referring to it as 'bunny food' is ignorant.
I liked the coverage on a great issue that is gaining more and more acceptability (vegetarianism). But I thought the nutrition angle wasn't thoroughly addressed. It's like it was brought up in an attempt to balance the article or create fake controversy. For future articles on vegetarianism (or any other story about an issue), if you bring up a side or criticism about something, could you cover it thoroughly? Thanks