Is a vegetarian diet healthy for 9-year-old?

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My 9-year-old granddaughter became a vegetarian more than a year ago, and she has stuck to her guns. Her mother lives a harried life and doesn’t have much time to cook from scratch. My granddaughter consumes pasta and vegetarian frozen items. She eats cheese and eggs. However, I am concerned that there is not enough nutritional balance in her diet. Does she need vitamin and mineral supplements? — E.D.

ANSWER: A vegetarian diet is a healthy diet, and most of the world is on such a diet. However, those people have had generations of experience with such a diet and know that such a diet has to be varied. I believe it’s too much to ask of a 9-year-old to balance a vegetarian diet. She could be shortchanging herself on protein, vitamin B-12, vitamin D and calcium.

Dairy products are the primary source of calcium. It’s good that she eats cheese. How about milk? She needs more than cheese in her diet to get enough calcium. Her bones are growing, and she is at the age where she can store calcium in them. She also needs vitamin D to facilitate calcium absorption. Given that sunlight converts a skin compound into vitamin D, if she lives in a Northern climate, she’s not getting enough sun year-round for this conversion to take place. Fortified dairy products also are a source of vitamin D. So is orange juice.

Eggs are a good source of protein. Beans, lentils, peas and nuts are other good sources.

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Meat is the only food with sufficient vitamin B-12. Some cereals and soymilk are fortified with it. This needs checking to make sure she’s getting enough of this vitamin.

I understand that your daughter leads a harried life. If her daughter remains on this diet, then she has a responsibility of taking instructions from a dietitian in how best to devise a vegetarian diet for such a young, growing child.

A good source on the Internet is the Vegetarian Food Pyramid devised by Loma Linda University. You, your daughter and your granddaughter will find it at www.vegetariannutrition.org.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My wife sleeps for seven or eight hours without having to get up. I, on the other hand, require bladder relief every two hours. I try to be as quiet as possible. On occasion, I disrupt her. She returns to a deep sleep very quickly. She feels that interrupted sleep doesn’t give her proper rest. I feel that the total time we are in REM sleep is the important issue, not that it must be continuous. Will you comment? — K.H.

ANSWER: The two divisions of sleep are REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and NREM (non-rapid eye movement sleep). NREM sleep is subdivided into three stages (some say four). After the onset of sleep, NREM sleep sets in. In the second hour of sleep, REM sleep takes over. During this stage the eyes are moving, and sleep is lighter. Dreams occur in all sleep stages, but REM dreams are the dreams people remember. Sleep experts have found that sleep interruptions during REM sleep have no effects on health or on the refreshing power of sleep. Interruptions of NREM sleep do produce daytime sleepiness. Is your wife sleepy during the day?

And equally important, have you consulted a doctor about your nighttime trips to the bathroom? Medicines often can solve that problem by relaxing and downsizing the prostate gland. If medicines don’t work, surgical procedures are available, some of which can be done in the doctor’s office.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am interested in your opinion on the supplement resveratrol. — D.P.

ANSWER: Resveratrol is a natural compound found in grapes and grape skins. Cranberries, blueberries and peanuts have it, too. Some believe it is the substance in wine that give wine its healthy properties. Red wine has more than white wine. It’s proposed as the material that prevents heart disease and prolongs life.

No one, however, has certain proof that resveratrol is what gives these foods their healthful properties. It might be some other natural and as-yet-unidentified chemical.

I’m not on the trail of resveratrol until I see more compelling evidence. I’m not against it, either.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.

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