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Vegan Diets for Teens

By Dayna Noffke

A vegan diet consists of vegetable, nut and grain products, excluding all items of animal origin, such as eggs, dairy products, red meat, poultry and fish. Some vegans also choose not to consume honey. Although parents may be concerned when a child decides to follow a vegan diet, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetcs states that a well-balanced vegan diet can provide all the essential nutrition needed at all stages of life, even teen years.

Where to Get Calcium

Calcium is an especially important mineral for teenagers, as it aids in building bone during periods of growth. Dairy products serve as the main source of calcium in the diet of most omnivores and vegetarians. For vegans, excellent sources of calcium are plentiful and should be included in the diet daily. Fortified rice, soy and almond "milks" provide calcium comparable to their dairy counterpart. You can drink these alternative milks straight from the glass, or use them for baking and making smoothies and shakes. Tofu and orange juice are also available in calcium-fortified varieties. Dark, leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli, swiss chard and collard greens, are other calcium-rich vegan food choices.

Where to Get Protein

Teenagers who live in modern, industrialized societies and have access to a wide variety of foods should have no problem getting sufficient amounts of protein without eating meat or dairy products. In fact, the Vegetarian Resource Group notes that the only foods not containing protein are alcohols, fats and fruits. Vegan food choices that contain high amounts of protein include tofu, beans, nuts and legumes.

Where to Get B-12

Vitamin B-12 is the only nutrient that is not naturally available in non-animal-derived foods. However, many vegan food products, as well as soy and rice milk, are fortified with B-12, and very little of the nutrient is required for the human body to function. Teens need 2.4 micrograms of B-12 per day, pregnant teens need 2.5 and breastfeeding teens need 2.8, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Red Star Nutritional Yeast -- a powder that can be used in cooking and as a topping for just about anything -- contains very high levels of B-12, with 3.2 micrograms or 133 percent of the recommended daily intake in 1.5 tablespoons. A daily vitamin and mineral supplement can also help ensure adequate intake of all the major nutrients.

Where to Get Iron

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A vegan diet that includes sufficient variety and quantity of fruits, vegetables and grain products should provide adequate iron. However, many individuals have difficulty assimilating the iron taken in through diet. In order to improve the body's ability to absorb the iron from foods, nutritionists recommend cooking food in cast-iron skillets, adding beans and legumes to the diet and taking iron-rich foods with foods high in Vitamin C.

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