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Beefing up a teenager’s vegetarian diet

vegetarian teensBy Kimberly Marselas

As a high school sophomore, Haley Booth was so moved by an animal cruelty video that she gave up meat cold turkey.

But that didn’t mean the Edgewater teen was on the road to a healthier lifestyle. Instead, Booth replaced the chicken and seafood she once favored with empty calories and continued to battle her weight.

“I had no idea what to eat or how to get the right amount of protein throughout the day,” says Booth. “Looking back now, I was probably eating too many (processed) carbohydrates to fill up instead of replacing some of it with fruits and vegetables…. I was clueless to what I should be eating.”

Six years later, Booth is an admittedly more knowledgeable vegetarian. Working with her parents and a dietitian, she learned to cut out junk, incorporated soy and legumes into her diet and eventually dropped 40 pounds.

A survey by the non-profit Vegetarian Resource Group based in Baltimore found 7 percent of 8- to 18-year-olds in the U.S. are vegetarians, some forgoing all animal products and others eating fish or dairy. Many adolescents and teens, however, don’t realize these diets require special planning to ensure their nutritional needs are met.

So what should you do if your child wants to become one of the estimated 1.4 million American vegetarian youths? Local nutritionists and health educators emphasize providing healthy options, modeling good eating, and helping your child find reliable resources.

“Vegetarian eating, done right, can be a very healthy way for teens to live,” says Ann Caldwell, a registered dietitian who works with teens and adults at Anne Arundel Medical Center. “I always put the responsibility on the teenager. They really need to take a look at cooking and recipes and being open to trying new things.”

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