Teen FAQs

I want to become a vegetarian but I hate most vegetables. Can I be a vegetarian without vegetables?

The more you read about vegetarian diets, the more you'll see statements like "eat a variety of foods". That's because different food provide different nutrients. For instance, dried beans supply protein and iron while fruits are a good source of vitamin C. Vegetables make important contributions when it comes to nutrition. For instance, orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes have incredible amounts of vitamin A. Green vegetables like kale and collards supply iron and calcium. All vegetables provide fiber and phytonutrients (simply put, nutrients that are important and that come from plants). That's not to say that you can't get many of these vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from other places if you don't eat vegetables. You can get some from fruits, some from whole grains, and, if necessary take a vitamin pill. The only problem is that vegetables are such low-calorie powerhouses that you may find that you have to eat a lot more fruit or a lot more beans to make up for what you're missing by not eating vegetables. In addition, there may be some phytonutrients that are unique to vegetables that we don't even know about yet. If you don't eat vegetables, you miss out on these potentially important phytonutrients.

Do you really not eat any vegetables or is it that you really don't like cooked vegetables or certain vegetables? There's no law that says that you have to eat every vegetable. I think of myself as pretty healthy but, after trying a vegetable called kohlrabi several times, I decided this was one vegetable I could get along without. For variety's sake it would be good to try to find a deep orange-colored vegetable or two, a green leafy vegetable or two, and a few other vegetables that you could eat regularly.

Maybe you decided when you were 3 or 4 or 5 that you didn't like vegetables and haven't tried many of them since. Believe it or not, your tastes change as you get older and what tasted yucky when you were little, may taste pretty good now.

Some people who swear they don't like vegetables admit to liking vegetables in Chinese restaurants. Ever wonder why this could be? Perhaps it's because vegetables in Chinese restaurants are frequently stir-fried cooked quickly using minimal water so they don't get soggy and bitter but stay crisp and flavorful. Try eating some vegetables raw or just cooking them lightly and see if that makes them more appealing. Take a tip from restaurants and serve vegetables with a dash of soy sauce or a little olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Try dipping raw vegetables into hummus or low-fat salad dressing. Try growing your own vegetables or getting fresh vegetables from a farm or farmer's market. You may find that you don't hate vegetables after all.

by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD