Vegetarian & vegan - healthy for young people?

Meat or no meat? That is the question for more and more people. According to the survey, between 1.3 and 7 million vegetarians in Germany currently live without meat. These include a large proportion of vegans who do not consume any animal products such as milk, cheese, eggs, fish or honey. For example, they also dispense with the use of duvets or wearing leather shoes and leather clothing. Most vegetarians and vegans have changed their diet for ethical reasons. They denounce factory farming and want to protect the environment, animals and the climate with their way of life ", explains Stephanie Stragies from the German Vegetarian Federation, or VEBU for short. More and more youths and young people with their alert and critical attitude to life come to this decision. It is estimated that 15 percent of teenagers are girls and five percent of boys who live without meat.

Excessive meat consumption is not healthy
But is that healthy? This is a question which the VEBU, together with the Charité-Hochschulambulanz für Naturheilkunde and the Carstens-Stiftung, intends to address at a medical congress in November 2014. Andreas Michalsen, Professor of Clinical Naturopathy at the Charité Berlin, answers this question as follows:"First of all, excessive meat consumption is certainly not a good thing, on the contrary, it is even a health hazard. Because the quantities we consume far exceed health compatibility." Studies show that too much meat is accompanied by increased cholesterol and blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and increased abdominal fat. These are the causes of the most common diseases of civilization. For example, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases by up to 50 percent in the case of high meat consumption.

Vegetarians have a lower risk of disease
But what about the health of those who give up meat altogether? Here, too, there are large population studies: vegetarians have a lower risk of disease in numerous medical indications, especially in the field of cardiovascular diseases,"says Michalsen. The reason is probably the food selection: A greater consumption of vegetables, fruit, wholemeal products, pulses and nuts reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 15 to 35 percent, according to a meta-analysis from England. In another comparative study, vegetarians, independently of other habits, had a 36 percent lower risk of developing a metabolic syndrome consisting of diabetes, hypertension, elevated blood lipids and abdominal fat.

A balanced and wholesome diet is important
For young people, these therapeutic reasons are less important if they give up meat. Their motivation rather consists of compassion for tortured animals and their own world view. Parents in particular are concerned that their children could be deprived of important building materials during the growth and development phase. But this is unfounded,"says Professor Michalsen," as a matter of principle, the renunciation of meat is harmless for children of all ages. But he advises:"Whoever eats vegan must take vitamin B 12 additionally as a dietary supplement or in foods enriched with B 12". Meat should not simply be deleted without substitution, but replaced by protein-rich foods. Many products made of tofu are also available for vegans. Vegetarians can also eat more milk, cheese and yoghurt. It is important that the diet continues to be balanced and full-fledged, i. e. no pudding vegetarianism,"explains Professor Michalsen. Fresh, healthy nutrients are the be-all and end-all of every diet. It is ideal to inform oneself about the nutritional content of herbal products before a change in diet. You can do this, for example, on the VEBU homepage.

For parents, pay attention to your child!
Parents who have the impression that their children may suffer from loss of performance, concentration or immunodeficiency should have their blood count checked, especially with regard to vitamin B 12 and iron. And in general: Seek the conversation with your child, be careful! Does it really want to lose weight or even suffer from an eating disorder? If this is the case, your child needs your empathy and possibly psychological help. If ethical considerations are at the forefront, you can also consider switching to organic meat. The German Society for Nutrition also recommends eating less meat and eating good meat instead - the best way to prepare it yourself and with peace and quiet. That's for sure: even if meat is excessively unhealthy, the health of people can also benefit from occasional consumption of meat with good ingredients.

Copyright: Landeszentrale fuer Gesundheitsfoerderung in Rheinland-Pfalz e.V. (LZG) Germany

Text: Dr. Beatrice Wagner, Editorial Office: Marielle Becker