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Stacy Goldberg provides essential information for teens going meatless.

By Stacy Goldberg, Columnist

By definition, a vegan diet excludes all forms of animal products and focuses solely on plant-based foods and beverages. Fundamentally, veganism is rooted in avoiding harm and cruel conditions for animals in food and lifestyle choices, including clothing and personal care items.

Vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu and tempeh are permitted; animal protein, eggs, dairy, honey and animal fats as primary or additional ingredients to foods are not allowed on a vegan diet. Generally speaking, this differs from a vegetarian diet in that vegetarians often consume eggs, cheese and other dairy products. Vegan diets have gone mainstream as many well-known pro athletes like Venus Williams and celebrities like Beyoncé are now following strict animal-free diets.

The penetration into everyday lives reaches to younger generations more than ever with the connectivity of social media.

Regardless of the reason and rationale, understanding crucial tenants of maintaining a well-rounded, calorically stable diet is essential to prevent adverse health effects — especially in young athletes.

Pros and Cons

Vegan diets present many health benefits. A “cleaner” diet with increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can assist in weight maintenance, enhanced digestion, restful sleep, and reduce the risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure and even certain cancers. Plant-based proteins can create a diet complete in all essential amino acids necessary for growth, development and daily function when well planned. Paired plant proteins create a complete protein option, such as combining 100 percent whole wheat bread with peanut butter.

Net protein balance must be achieved to compensate for the muscular breakdown and use during physical activities and the muscle growth from training in the athletic population. If teens do not consume enough protein, the body shifts to burn other body stores, which can result in weight loss and preservation of fat-free mass.

With a proper plant-based diet, ideally there is an increased intake of antioxidants, vitamin C and E, as well fiber-rich carbohydrates. If vegan diets are not structured and well planned out, there is a risk for deficiencies in protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, zinc, calcium and iodine.

In either case, multivitamin supplementation is necessary. Omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood sources should be compensated for by intake of flaxseed oil or walnuts, or a plant-based supplement. Iron-based foods and supplements should be taken with or consumed with vitamin C to enhance absorption. For example, add an orange to your meal after eating a bowl of vegan bean chili.

Vegan Diet Traps

When embarking on a vegan diet, there is often a tendency to increase carbohydrates and empty calories. Many people mistakenly swap out protein for carbs and they increase foods such as pastas, breads/bread products, potatoes, rice and other snack foods. Some of these can be healthful choices, but many options that vegans lean on are empty calories, empty carbs and can pack on pounds.

Additionally, many new vegans lean on “vegan junk food” such as frozen and packaged vegan foods as their new replacement diet options. They look to vegan sausage, burgers, patties, frozen meals and other prepackaged foods to replace their animal proteins and calories. These foods can have high amounts of sodium, preservatives, added sugars and added fats that can also make it difficult to lose or maintain weight.

Lastly, some vegans equate a vegan diet with weight loss or lower calories. This is not always the case. People assume that because vegan options are “healthier,” they can eat unlimited portions of grains, veggies (especially starchy vegetables), nuts, seeds and anything else vegan. This can also contribute to weight gain or lack of weight loss.

In summary, it is possible to have a healthy vegan diet as a teenager. With proper planning, guidance and research, this can be an excellent dietary lifestyle. However, it is important to consider all the points mentioned above before hastily embarking on a vegan diet, just because your favorite pop star or athlete has had success. Consulting with a nutrition professional can also be of great benefit to evaluate if a vegan diet is right for you and your teen.

Stacy Goldberg is a nationally recognized nutritional consultant, registered nurse and CEO of Savorfull (savorfull.com), a Detroit-based company that sources healthy, allergen-friendly foods and provides nutrition-consulting. Savorfull is part of the Quicken Loans Family of Companies.

NO INFORMATION PROVIDED THROUGH STACY GOLDBERG/SAVORFULL IS INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, CURE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE. YOU SHOULD ALWAYS SPEAK WITH YOUR PHYSICIAN OR OTHER HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL BEFORE TAKING ANY MEDICATION OR NUTRITIONAL, HERBAL OR HOMEOPATHIC SUPPLEMENT, OR ADOPTING ANY TREATMENT OR IMPLEMENTING NUTRITIONAL ADVICE FOR A HEALTH PROBLEM.

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