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Family 411: Plant-based diet may benefit kids most

Jennifer Kagy is a chef, as well as a nutrition coach.

New research shows that children and teens on plant-based diets dropped weight and had improved blood pressure and cholesterol.

When the Cleveland Clinic tested vegan diets on kids, it lowered their heart disease risk.

But, a lot of teens who cut out meat end up becoming junk food vegetarians.

Special Correspondent Sheila Gray caught up with a mom who's an expert on the topic.

"It's really easy," Jennifer Kagy said of preparing vegan food, such as vegetarian black bean chili, soba noodle salad with peanut sauce, and seedy cherry bars.

Chef Kagy teaches people how to cook naturally and healthy.

She's also a nutrition coach, so she knows all about the health benefits of a plant based diet.

"It's good for your heart, it keeps your cholesterol low, [and] it keeps you from getting sick as often," Kagy said.

The Vegetarian Resource Group and the American Dietetic Association report that vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are becoming more popular for young people.

Kagy sees a lot of kids in the middle and high school years decide to cut out meat when they become more aware of what's going on in the world, and how we get our food.

Yet, they don't always choose healthy alternatives.

"A lot of them tend to go to a lot of highly processed food that they weren't eating before," Kagy said. "What happens is a lot of times, they become junk food vegans because Doritos are vegetarian [and] Oreos are vegetarian."

In other words, they're not eating healthy. Even older kids need help from their parents.

That's where Kagy comes in, as she helps moms who want to offer better choices for their teenagers by going to their pantry and refrigerator and getting rid of processed items. Then, she fills the refrigerator with fresh choices.

Doctors say cardiovascular disease starts in childhood. The Cleveland Clinic study saw remarkable improvements in kids with high cholesterol when they ate a plant based diet for just four weeks.

"We're going to add in some tomatoes," said Kagy as she cooked.

Parents will likely not be able to sneak healthy foods into a teen's diet like they can with younger kids. However, parents can still cater to their taste preferences by putting a nutritious twist on popular delicacies.

"Everybody likes Chinese food," Kagy said. "Peanut sauce is a big hit.

Kagy is a vegetarian, and even though her husband and teenagers are not, she puts a healthier spin on things they like lettuce wraps filled with peanut sauce over veggies, black bean chili and vegetable soups, and snacks with healthier labels.

"You have to cook," she said. "You have to go to the grocery store."

It takes time and planning, but the benefits will literally last a lifetime.

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