Vegetarianism at Different Ages

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When choosing vegetarian eating, it is important to be aware that there are special nutritional needs at different stages of life. Pregnancy and breastfeeding require additional calories and nutrients. A well-planned vegetarian diet can provide these in the amounts needed for a healthy mother and baby.

During infancy, childhood, and the teenage years, adequate calories to sustain proper growth are necessary. This usually is not a problem for infants because they are either breastfed or on formula. During childhood and the teenage years, meals should consist of high-calorie, high-nutrient (good sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals) foods. Because many plant foods are low in calories and high in fiber, it is easy for the child or teenager to feel full before eating an adequate amount of calories. Moderate amounts of high-fat foods can help to increase calorie intake. In-between-meal snacks are useful, as they also provide needed calories. Healthy snacks include items like peanut-butter sandwiches and milk (or soy milk), a melted cheese and bagel sandwich, fruit smoothies, and, after three years of age, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Older adults may have difficulty obtaining vitamins D and B12, as well as calories. Many people do not get enough sunlight for their bodies to produce the recommended amount of vitamin D, which is essential for

Fresh tofu is packed in water for shipping, which helps it retain its flavor and form. Tofu is made from soybean curds. It provides all the excellent nutritive properties of soy, including high-quality protein. [©Michael S. Yamashita/Corbis. Reproduced by Corbis Corporation.]

absorbing calcium and preventing osteoporosis. Using breakfast cereals and soy products fortified with vitamin D is important, though it may also be necessary to take a supplement because the absorption of vitamin B12 decreases as people get older.

It is important to eat foods that are fortified with B12, such as soymilk, or to take a B12 supplement. Older adults are also at risk for not getting enough calories, because the appetite tends to decrease with age. Eating foods that are low in calories and high in fiber makes it difficult to get the needed energy intake to stay healthy. Eating high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods and in-between-meal snacks is important.

Careful planning ensures that vegetarian eating will provide the nutrition needed to stay healthy. One helpful tool is the Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid, which provides guidelines for selecting foods and the appropriate portion sizes.

Using a variety of foods is essential to good health when following the Food Guide Pyramid. One single food cannot provide the body with all the nutrition it needs. Five portions of fruits and vegetables should be consumed daily, including a citrus fruit and a dark green leafy vegetable. Whole grains should be eaten whenever possible; these have more nutrients and fiber than processed grains such as white bread and white rice. Proteins should be chosen wisely. While dairy products and eggs are good protein sources, they are also high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Nuts, seeds, beans, and soy products should be part of the diet.

A carefully planned vegetarian diet can provide the nutrients needed for health at any time during the life cycle. Most individuals who choose this eating style do so because of the many health benefits associated with vegetarian eating, including reduced risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. see also Meat Analogs; Plant-Based Diets; Soy; Vegan; Whole Foods Diet.

Cheryl Flynt energy: technically, the ability to perform work; the content of a substance that allows it to be useful as a fuel nutrition: the maintenance of health through proper eating, or the study of cholesterol: multi-ringed molecule found in animal cell membranes; a type of lipid same


American Dietetic Association. "Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 97(11):1317-1321.

Duyff, Roberta Larson (1996). The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Minneapolis, MN: Chronimed.

Seventh-day Adventist Dietetic Association (1997). The Vegetarian/Vegan Resource: An Annex to Diet Manuals. Roseville, CA: Author.

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