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Becoming Vegetarian: Just The Facts

Leaving meat and fish behind
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A vegetarian diet can be full of variety and can provide enough nutrition to keep a growing teenager fit and healthy. There are certain minerals and vitamins that vegetarians could become deficient in if not included regularly in their diet. These include iron and vitamin B12, as these tend to come from a meat source.

It is important to eat a balanced diet, whether you are vegetarian or not.

A vegetarian diet is…

  • Being vegetarian means different things to different people
  • Some people just avoid red meat but still eat white meat like chicken or fish. This is called being semi-vegetarian
  • Others avoid all meat and fish but still enjoy eggs, milk and cheese and other dairy products. This is called being lacto-ovo vegetarian
  • Vegans avoid all meat, fish, eggs and dairy products

Getting protein, iron and B12

  • Protein It is important to try to have these foods twice a day. Protein is needed to help us grow and develop, help our body repair itself, and keep us healthy. Vegetarians can eat eggs, milk, cheese and Quorn. Vegetarians and vegans can eat pulses and beans – lentils, kidney, soya products, peas and chickpeas, nuts and seeds
  • Iron is needed by the body to carry oxygen around the blood. Without it you can quickly feel tired and run down. Try to regularly eat beans, peas, lentils (chickpeas, baked beans), nuts and seeds, dried fruits like apricots and raisins, eggs, green leafy vegetables and cereals with added iron like Weetabix, Special K, or Fruit and Fibre. Vitamin C can help to increase the amount of iron absorbed into your body, so try having a glass of fruit juice with your breakfast cereal or meal once a day
  • Vitamins help in the production of healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. Vitamin B12 occurs naturally only in foods from animal sources, but some foods are fortified with B12, such as milk and milk products, eggs, fortified soy milks and products, yeast extract and fortified cordial

Foods that may not be suitable for a vegetarian

Most people know what obvious foods to avoid on a vegetarian diet, but there are some foods you might not have thought of. Check the labels and remember that these foods may not be suitable for a vegetarian:

  • Haribo sweets
  • Marshmallows
  • Red food colouring (cochineal)
  • Jelly
  • Rennet
  • Worcester sauce
  • Chewing gum

How to get help

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, have a look at the links or search for your local services in the blue box below. Alternatively you can always contact your public health nurse.

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