As the parent of a vegetarian you need to know about non-meat sources of essential nutrients. Iron is important for proper oxygenation of our cells and poor iron status can result in tiredness, lethargy, poor immunity and concentration difficulty. Iron is high in green leafy vegetables, such as asparagus, kale and spinach, and can be found in good quantity in dried fruits. Take vitamin C rich foods with the iron sources – eg, add red peppers or a generous squeeze of lemon juice with daily greens. For girls, poor iron status can lead to heavy menstruation, so you may need a good quality supplement to make up any iron deficit in the interim.
B12 is an important nutrient for blood and nerves. Look for B12 fortified foods, or take a supplement. Vitamin B12 and iron can be found together in many good supplements.
Vitamin D is less abundant in the vegetarian diet. Eggs, mushrooms and vitamin D fortified foods are your best sources.
Good sources of protein are nuts and seeds, quinoa, beans and lentils, tofu, fish and eggs, and beneficially, they generally come with far less fat than meat.
Make vegetables - fresh, organic, local, and seasonal if you can - their main source of carbohydrates to ensure healthy weight management and optimal nutrition. Limit grains as they contain phytates which bind our minerals and stop their maximum absorption. Keep wheat based meals to a maximum of one per day - ie. take wheat pasta, bread or crackers in one meal only. Experiment with using quinoa, buckwheat, brown and wild rice instead.
Lack of zinc may be implicated in acne and eating or hormonal issues. Again, greens are great – chard especially so, or try winter squash. Pumpkin seeds and organic dark chocolate are some zinc-rich snack ideas! Omega 3 found in walnuts, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds can be a useful addition for promoting positive mood, satiety, and reducing inflammation (such as acne).
Focus on cutting out junk food: crisps, milk chocolate and bakery foods may be vegetarian but can fill your teen up on the wrong stuff. Flavoured fizzy drinks can play havoc with insulin levels and waistlines – artificial sweeteners are equally bad. Slowly sipping 1.5 to 2 litres of water a day will benefit skin, bowels and other functions.
Key to stabilising mood and energy levels is eating regular meals. When teens don’t want to eat, how about a smoothie blended from favourite fruits, some greens and a handful of flaxseeds? One glass can be the nutritional equivalent of eating three or more fruit/vegetable meals.
Kids – even teens – are more likely to eat healthy food that they have had a hand in preparing, so honour their dietary choice and have them research and prepare a nutritious vegetarian meal for the family once a week.
Naturopath Gemma Hurditch is the director of Nutrition at CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine). naturopathy-uk.com
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