Guest blogger JJ Virgin: Not too long ago, I wrote about why parents shouldn't pick on picky eaters. However, there's one type of picky eater that I'm particularly concerned about: vegetarians. Many kids make the decision to give up meat independently of their parents, due to concerns about their weight, an interest in animal rights or the influence of vegetarian celebrities. In fact, vegetarianism is gaining in popularity among young people: A 2005 Harris Interactive study found that 3 percent of Americans between 8 and 18 were vegetarians. That may not sound like a lot, but in a previous poll, that figure was 1 percent.
While I encourage my clients to eat plenty of non-starchy fruits and vegetables (after all, there are loads of disease-fighting, health-enhancing nutrients in these foods), I don't condone a completely vegetarian lifestyle -- especially for growing kids and teens. The trouble is that even if you're eating from the rainbow and getting plenty of protein from sources like beans and eggs (which many younger vegetarians don't, since they tend to eat lots of carbs and fake meat products), there are still important nutrients missing.
As my friend and colleague Jonny Bowden points out, vitamin B12 is conspicuously lacking from a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. You simply can't get it from any fruits, vegetables or other mainstays of a vegetarian lifestyle. Those who don't get enough vitamin B12 are at a greater risk for anemia, and they may suffer from heart palpitations and chest pain.
Furthermore, many of the studies that found that meat-eating is bad for your health were based on meat eaters who consumed factory-farmed meat and few fruits or vegetables. Of course your health will suffer if you try to survive on deli meats and other processed foods!
Celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin is a the author of "Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy" and the costar of TLC's "Freaky Eaters" reality series. Visit her at www.jjvirgin.com to grab her free audio: "7 Steps to Break Your 'Freaky' Food Habits Fast & Forever."