Vegetarian Eating for Children and Adolescents

Laurie Dunham, MS, RD, LD; Linda M. Kollar, RN, MSN


J Pediatr Health Care. 2006;20(1):27-34. 

In This Article


Iron is necessary for optimal oxygen transport in red blood cells. Meat (red meat, in particular) offers the most easily absorbed type of iron, called heme iron; however, the iron that occurs naturally in plant products (non-heme) can be consumed along with a vitamin C source to enhance absorption (Cook & Monsen, 1977). For example, adding a tomato, orange, or strawberries to a meal without meat will improve the absorption of the non-heme iron found in plant sources. Foods like spinach, dried fruits, dried beans, bulgur, fortified soy products, fortified cereals, and enriched grains contain iron. Vegetarians require 1.8 times the amount of iron than do nonvegetarians because of the lower bioavailability of iron from plant-based diets (National Academy of Science, 2003). However, it is of interest to add that iron deficiency anemia has not been shown to occur at higher rates in vegetarians compared with nonvegetarians (Ball & Bartlett, 1999; Larsson & Johansson, 2002; Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets, 2003). Compounds called phytates, along with some additional factors naturally found in legumes, nuts, and whole grains, can inhibit iron absorption, so it is important to consume a variety of iron-rich foods daily (Gillooly et al., 1983; Hallberg, Brune, & Rossander, 1989; Messina & Mangels, 2001).


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