Local 4 News: Nutritionist Stacy Goldberg Nutrition Tips For Vegan Teens

DETROIT – Many teens are trying out a vegan diet, but are they going about it the right way?  Even kids in elementary school have said they want to go vegan. If your child wants to explore a plant-based diet, you should ask them why.  “So, going vegan because Beyonce is doing it, or somebody else is doing it, is not necessarily the best option. Especially for a teen,” nutritionist Stacy Goldberg said.  Goldberg, a CEO of Savorfull, said there’s a right and wrong way to go vegan. 

Click here to watch Stacy Goldberg’s interview with Local 4’s Sandra Ali To Get Nutrition Tips For Vegan Teens

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Your Teen Is A Vegan…Now What? 

Meatless Mantra

     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 of animals from food to lifestyle choices such as 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 tapped into mainstream culture as many well-known figures such as pro athletes such as tennis-star 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 before with the connectivity of social media. Regardless of the reason and rationale to follow a vegan diet, 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 of Vegan Diets

     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% 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 which 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.

 

Plant-Based Protocol For Teen Athletes

    
     As mentioned above, following a vegan diet requires significant planning as well as food and nutrition knowledge in order to prevent nutritional deficiencies and have a well rounded diet. Choosing a variety in food choices across all food groups will create a balance of nutrients and not omit vital sources of vitamins, minerals, micronutrients and macronutrients.  Adolescents and teens have increased needs during this crucial growth period. They need to consume proper amounts of all nutrients for optimal growth and development. In general, any restrictive diet can create pitfalls and lead to stunted growth.
Teen athletes that are also vegan or beginning to explore veganism as a dietary lifestyle have even greater concerns.  According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, energy needs for young athletes should be calculated according to type of activity, training characteristics and individual body composition. In other words, there is no one size fits all equation for all teen athletes.  For example, a larger football player will have drastically different needs than petite swimmers despite the activities both having high energy demands. A general recommendation for athletes is 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram a day for athletes. This range should be tailored to the individual to assess specific needs. A vegan athlete should aim for the higher end of the range because plant proteins have less bioavailability than animal based proteins. In regards to level of digestibility and bioavailability, soy protein ranks highest followed by beans and legumes. Many plant-based protein supplements exist on the market today to easily supplement a vegan’s total protein consumption. Pea, rice, and hemp protein powders are vegan friendly protein options on the market.  Garden of Life makes an excellent plant-based protein powder that is organic, non-GMO, as well NSF for Sport and Informed Choice certified ensuring it is free-from banned substances.
     Vegan diets may be difficult for teens and athletes both because they are predominately comprised of high fiber, low energy-dense raw foods that cause early satiety. This diet is beneficial for populations seeking weight loss but athletes require increased needs to assist in lean body mass retention, muscle building and weight maintenance. Solutions for these features include small, frequent meals high in calories and protein within vegan guidelines. Snacking throughout the day on items such as peanut butter, adding high protein dips with vegetables or sprinkling olive oil on bean based pasta dishes can assist in meeting performance needs by adding significant calories without deviating from veganism.
     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 of 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.