So your teenager has decided to go vegan and you are concerned? There is no need to be alarmed but you will want reassurance to the following questions:
Do you have to pay special attention to your calcium intake and will a vegan diet meet all your requirements? Will a vegan diet affect your growth and development? What about vitamin D, Iron and B12?
It is correct that calcium and also vitamin D is vital in the growth phase, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get enough from your diet. Green leafy vegetables, nuts, sesame, soya products and legumes contain a lot of calcium. There are also many good fortified alternatives to dairy products, they contain calcium, vitamin D and even the B vitamins you need.
We can make Vitamin D ourselves from exposure to sunlight but this process is limited in the winter due to a lack of sunlight and because our skin is usually covered by clothes and therefore cannot absorb the sunlight. This is not exclusively a problem for vegans as it’s still winter if you are a meat eater or not! It is generally advised to make sure that you get vitamin D from fortified foods (margarine, cereal, dairy alternatives) or from a vitamin D supplement.
Every vegan will at some point have to explain that they don’t have to eat meat to get enough iron. Girls especially will be criticised for not eating meat as they are far more in need of iron than everyone else. True, girls do need more iron, especially once they have gone through puberty, but they don’t have to eat red meat to obtain enough iron from their diet. Wholesome foods such as whole grain products, oil seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds), nuts, legumes, dried fruits, green leafy vegetables or soya meat substitutes contain plenty of iron. The absorption of plant based iron however needs a little help from vitamin c to be absorbed as well as the animal derived iron. It is beneficial to combine the intake of iron-containing foods with vitamin C in the form of juice or vitamin c rich foods such as peppers for example. Generally girls should make sure they have enough iron in their diet and if necessary they need a supplement as some people just don’t absorb iron as well as others and it has nothing to do with the diet they are following.
B2 and B12
Carrying on from essential nutrients we all need, we have to pay special attention to Vitamin B12 in our vegan diet.
Two critical nutrients for a vegan diet can be vitamin B2 and vitamin B12. Very good sources of vitamin B2 are mushrooms, nuts, oil seeds, but also whole grain products and legumes. Some almonds, soya meat, mushrooms and broccoli will provide you with enough B2 and it can be easily incorporated into lunch.
Vitamin B12, on the other hand, is not present in plant foods. It is therefore recommended to make sure when choosing milk alternatives to check that they are fortified with B12. Breakfast cereals are another good source and of course Marmite, but there are many other vitamin B12-enriched products. Many vegans will take a precautionary vitamin B12 supplements. I personally take Floradix, which is a natural iron and B complex supplement, but there are many products out there.
You don’t like fruit and veg but want to be vegan?
This is where the real problem lies. A healthy diet has to contain vegetables and fruit and just because non vegans are classified as people that eat everything it doesn’t mean that they DO EAT EVERYTHING! Whatever diet or lifestyle you follow, you have to get all the nutrients you need. That is not classified by the diet you follow, it is simply classified by the foods you eat. So whatever diet you follow, you have to think about the food you eat. At the end of the day it is true “you are what you eat!” If you want to be vegan, it is a good time to learn about food and nutrients and it can be the start to a healthier you. I really don’t believe that you don’t like any vegetables or fruit…what I do believe is that you haven’t tried them all!
If you want to find out more about veganism please visit the Vegan Society Website here.
Go for it! x