Talking to teens about plant-based diets
In my house, not only have we Veganuary but Vegetanuary, Flexitanuary and Traditionuary! By Joana da Silva, Dietitian at safefood.
Are you doing Veganuary this month? In my house, not only have we Veganuary but Vegetanuary, Flexitanuary and Traditionuary.
Ok, so the last three aren’t really a thing but they do exist in my mind! I am a mum to 3 teenagers which is so much fun - honestly! They are all foodies, each in their very own way.
One of my daughters eats a traditional diet while my other daughter became a vegetarian over the summer. My son who has been a vegetarian from the age of 12 is now following a vegan diet. As for my husband, myself and Cosmo our Cocker Spaniel, we eat a bit of everything.
The vegan diet
If you are considering a vegan diet, whether for this month or longer, there are some really important things to consider. As a dietitian, I get asked about it a lot.
A vegan diet is very restrictive with an increased potential for low intakes of iron, protein, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12. While a vegetarian diet can include dairy foods and eggs, a vegan diet doesn’t.
The sources of iron and calcium in vegan foods are less bioavailable (less useable in our bodies) than from animal sources. For this reason it is important that you ensure your diet includes foods, like milk alternatives, are enriched with iron and calcium.
The risk of a lower intake of nutrients is why my son didn’t go vegan earlier. Myself and my husband negotiated that he wait until his 18th birthday. Now he understands his food needs better. He knows that vegetable protein has a different value and that he needs to combine different foods to get the same value he would with protein from animal sources. He’s also mature enough to take his supplement every day and knows what plant-based drinks to choose.
My son going vegan didn’t just change the way he eats but it also changed the way we shop and cook as a family. While I found cooking vegetarian meals and planning my son’s diet over the last 6 years was very manageable, since he went vegan it has been a bit trickier and our cooking skills have been challenged a lot.
I still laugh when I remember the first vegan roast we made! We learned a lot and tried new things and I guess we are now more creative with food. So it is definitely doable, enjoyable and tasty if you are committed to make it work.
In practical terms, I make sure to include good sources of vegetable protein and iron, dairy alternatives enriched with calcium and a Vitamin B12 supplement every day for our son’s diet. Our bodies needs vitamin B12 to keep our blood and nervous system healthy. This vitamin is only found naturally in foods from animal sources, which is why vegans need this as a daily supplement.
Just as important is that my son gets his information on vegan diets from trusted, reputable sources. There’s a lot of misinformation out there so myself and my husband really explored the topic with our kids. We asked them why are they wanted to make this change. Is is environmental concerns? Reducing consumption of animal products helps, but tackling global warming and climate change is more complex. So we pointed out that having more plant-based foods can help but look at other things as well like transport, energy and water consumption. Is is animal welfare? Great. Is it because you saw the latest #GoVeganToLookGreat post? NO! NO!