Teen FAQs

I am 11 and I am a vegetarian. I've been one for over a year. I was wondering if it was safe for me to become a vegan because I'm still growing. Please help me.

A vegan diet can offer complete nutrition for anyone at any age and can be easy to follow. As a growing teen it is safe to switch from a vegetarian to a vegan diet. To stay healthy, it is important that you eat a variety of foods daily and focus on specific nutrients that help teens grow. Two major minerals that teens should concentrate on taking in daily are calcium, to help grow strong bones, and iron, to provide energy. Adolescents require 1300 mg of calcium a day. This is equivalent to 3 to 8 servings of calcium rich foods and at least 1 serving of a very high calcium food (>300mg per serving) a day. When switching from a vegetarian to a vegan diet, cow's milk and dairy products, which are sources of calcium, are no longer eaten. It is important to replace these animal foods with calcium fortified vegan foods like soy or rice milk, soy yogurt, orange juice, and tofu with calcium sulfate as well as foods naturally high in calcium like dark green leafy vegetables, molasses, tahini, and almonds. Below is a table of high calcium foods.

High Calcium Foods - Eat 3 to 8 Servings a Day
FoodServing SizeCalcium (mg)
Blackstrap, Molasses2 Tbsp400
Collard Greens1 cup357
Tofu with Calcium Sulfate4 oz200-330
Calcium Fortified Orange Juice8 fl oz300
Calcium Fortified Soy or Rice Milk8 fl oz200-300
Calcium Fortified Yogurt6 oz80-225
Tofu with Nigari 4 oz80-230
Tempeh1 cup215
Broccoli1 cup94
Tahini2 Tbsp128
Almonds¼ cup 89
Almond Butter2 Tbsp86

It is also important that as a growing teen you get enough iron. In general, vegetarian teens need 20 mg of iron a day for boys and 27 mg of iron a day for girls. This is equivalent to 4 to 5 servings a day of high iron foods. Foods high in iron include dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, fortified cereal and energy bars. To help maximize iron absorption take a food high in vitamin C like orange juice, tomato sauce, or broccoli along with food high in iron. Many high iron foods are also high in protein and will help your body grow. Below is a table of high iron foods.

High Iron Foods - Eat 4 to 5 Servings a day
FoodServing SizeIron (mg)
Soybeans, cooked1 cup8.8
Lentils1 cup6.6
Spinach1 cup6.4
Quinoa1 cup6.3
Tofu4 oz6.0
Bagel, enriched3 oz5.2
Tempeh1 cup4.8
Black Beans1 cup3.6
Pinto Beans1 cup3.5
Chickpeas, cooked1 cup3.2

In general, when switching from a vegetarian to vegan diet it is important that you pay attention to vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Vitamin B12 can be found in fortified foods like soy milk, cereals, and nutritional yeast. Vitamin D can be found in fortified foods like soy milk, orange juice, and ready-to eat cereals and can be received from 15 minutes of sunlight each day on the face and hands during the summer months.

As a growing teen, it is also helpful to monitor your calorie intake to make sure you are eating enough to help you grow. A vegan diet, in general, is lower in fat than a vegetarian diet and can be lower in calories. Because you are growing it is important that you eat enough food to provide energy for your body. If you begin feeling tired and weak or are losing weight, this maybe an indication that you are not eating enough food. Consider increasing the amount of calories you eat in a day and talk with a registered dietitian.

by Julia Driggers, RD