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Is it healthy for my 12-year old to be a vegetarian?

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The question

My 12 year old wants to become a vegetarian. How can I support her but ensure she is getting proper nutrition?

The answer

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A vegetarian lifestyle is becoming more and more popular among families with children and adolescents. It may be driven by an increased respect for the environment, or simply by scientific data, mostly showing health benefits, such a reduced risk of cancer, a longer lifespan and a reduced risk of becoming obese.

For a 12-year-old girl you must be sure to cover all the bases, since she is about to enter a time of rapid changes in her body - puberty, menstruation, and coping with more stress as she enters junior high school

Extra attention must be given to her intake of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.

The recommendation for protein is 0.43 grams per pound of weight (one kg is 2.2 pounds). One cup of cooked dried beans have 12 grams of protein; a cup of soy milk or soy yogurt has 7 grams of protein; 4 ounces of tofu has 9 grams; a tablespoon of peanut butter has 4 grams.

Good sources of calcium are tofu, dried figs, green leafy vegetables such as kale and collard green, sesame butter, fortified soy milk or fortified orange juice

Foods that are high in iron are broccoli, spinach, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils and pinto beans.

Vitamin B12 supplements must be considered to avoid a deficiency. (5 to 10 micrograms daily)

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The Vegetarian Resource Group has great resources. In the U.S., there is a pending lawsuit against the government for not including vegetarian options in their national food guide. The suit was launched by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The point is that in North America more people are demanding options beyond the home for those who want be vegetarians.

Working closely with a registered dietitian can be most reassuring if you're afraid that deficiencies may result from your daughter's vegetarian lifestyle.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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