The Effect On Height And Growth Being A Vegetarian

I was listening to a podcast last night where the main speaker was interviewing this doctor about the benefits of the paleo diet when they got into the subject of what types of foods to avoid. That made me wonder what effect the Paleo diet would have on a person who has been on that type of diet when they are still young and growing. Of course the pale diet is still a very underground movement where a minority of the populate practice it as choice in lifestyle, much less know about it. So I realized that if I wrote an article about the effects of the Paleo Diet on height growth, it would not be very interesting for most people of the general population.

The biggest group to focus on was vegetarians. So the subject of this post is “What is the effect on height and growth being a vegetarian?” As always I went to google to see if there was any information on the link between between a vegetarian and one’s growth patterns. The results were few but the few answers that did show up seemed to paint a very clear picture on the effects.

One thing to remember was that from a previous article where the effects of one’s genetics was compared to one’s environmental and lifestyle influence on one’s height, it was shown that genetics played around 60-75% of the influence on one’s height. I don’t doubt that if Yao Ming was born in and grew up in an unhealthy environment where food and nutrition was in short supply and stress and other negative factors were present, he would still be very tall when fully grown.

Another past study showed the the biggest factor to one’s growth when one is still growing is the amount of HGH being released into the body by the pituitary gland. The time when the HGH is released in the highest rate was during sleep so apparently sleep was the next biggest factor that determines height. This seems to suggest that one’s diet is only the third most important factor to one’s growth and ultimate height.

Another thing to realize is that there are different type of vegetarians to consider. Some vegetarians can eat fish or eggs or milk, and other types can’t. There has been many claims that drinking milk will help the growth process and make one tall but when I did the research to find out whether getting a lot of calcium and Vitamin D will help one increase in height, some studies had concluded that the result was a negative.

The main thing to realize is that the human body is mainly made out of proteins, Proteins are compounds derived from polypeptide chains formed from cell reactions. The very function of all our genes is to make proteins. From the Wikipedia article on proteins found HERE

Proteins are essential parts of organisms and participate in virtually every process within cells. Many proteins are enzymes that catalyze biochemical reactions and are vital to metabolism. Proteins also have structural or mechanical functions, such as action and myosin in muscle and the proteins in the cytoskeleton, which form a system of scaffolding that maintains cell shape. Other proteins are important in cell signaling, immune responses, cell adhesion, and the cell cycle. Proteins are also necessary in animals’ diets, since animals cannot synthesize all the amino acids they need and must obtain essential amino acids from food. Through the process of digestion, animals break down ingested protein into free amino acids that are then used in metabolism.

Most microorganisms and plants can biosynthesize all 20 standard amino acids, while animals (including humans) must obtain some of the amino acids from the diet. The amino acids that an organism cannot synthesize on its own are referred to as essential amino acids. Key enzymes that synthesize certain amino acids are not present in animals — such as aspartokinase, which catalyzes the first step in the synthesis of lysine, methionine, and threonine from aspartate. If amino acids are present in the environment, microorganisms can conserve energy by taking up the amino acids from their surroundings and downregulating their biosynthetic pathways.

In animals, amino acids are obtained through the consumption of foods containing protein. Ingested proteins are then broken down into amino acids through digestion, which typically involves denaturation of the protein through exposure to acid and hydrolysis by enzymes called proteases. Some ingested amino acids are used for protein biosynthesis, while others are converted to glucose through gluconeogenesis, or fed into the citric acid cycle. This use of protein as a fuel is particularly important under starvation conditions as it allows the body’s own proteins to be used to support life, particularly those found in muscle.Amino acids are also an important dietary source of nitrogen.

On the wikipedia article on proteins as a nutrient found HERE

Proteins are essential nutrients for the human body. They are one of the building blocks of body tissue, and can also serve as a fuel source. As fuel, proteins contain 4 kcal per gram, just like carbohydrates and unlike lipids, which contain 9 kcal per gram.

Proteins are polymer chains made of amino acids linked together by peptide bonds. In nutrition, proteins are broken down in the stomach during digestion by enzymes known as proteases into smaller polypeptides to provide amino acids for the body, including the essential amino acids that cannot be biosynthesized by the body itself.

Amino acids can be divided into three categories: essential amino acids, non-essential amino acids and conditional amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, and must be supplied by food. Non-essential amino acids are made by the body from essential amino acids or in the normal breakdown of proteins. Conditional amino acids are usually not essential, except in times of illness, stress or for someone challenged with a lifelong medical condition.

Essential amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, phenylalanine and histidine. Non-essential amino acids include alanine,asparagine, aspartic acid and glutamic acid. Conditional amino acids include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

Amino acids are found in animal sources such as meats, milk, fish and eggs, as well as in plant sources such as whole grains, pulses, legumes, soy, fruits, nuts and seeds. Vegetarians can get enough essential amino acids by eating a variety of plant proteins.

Protein is a nutrient needed by the human body for growth and maintenance. Aside from water, protein is the most abundant molecule in the body. Protein is found in all cells of the body and is the major structural component of all cells in the body, especially muscle. This also includes body organs, hair and skin. Proteins also are utilized in membranes, such as glycoproteins. When broken down into amino acids, they are used as precursors to nucleic acid, co-enzymes, hormones, immune response, cellular repair and molecules essential for life. Finally, protein is needed to form blood cells. Protein functions in body


A wide range of foods are a source of protein. The best combination of protein sources depends on the region of the world, access, cost, amino acid types and nutrition balance, as well as acquired tastes. Some foods are high in certain amino acids, but their digestibility and the anti-nutritional factors present in these foods make them of limited value in human nutrition. Therefore, one must consider digestibility and secondary nutrition profile such as calories, cholesterol, vitamins and essential mineral density of the protein source. On a worldwide basis, plant protein foods contribute over 60 percent of the per capita supply of protein, on average. In North America, animal-derived foods contribute about 70 percent of protein sources.

Meat, eggs and fish are sources of complete protein. Milk and milk-derived foods are also good sources of protein.

Whole grains and cereals are another source of proteins. However, these tend to be limiting in the amino acid lysine or threonine, which are available in other vegetarian sources and meats. Examples of food staples and cereal sources of protein, each with a concentration greater than 7 percent, are (in no particular order) buckwheat, oats, rye, millet, maize (corn), rice, wheat, spaghetti, bulgar, sorghum, amaranth, and quinoa.

Vegetarian sources of proteins include legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits. Legumes, some of which are called pulses in certain parts of the world, have higher concentrations of amino acids and are more complete sources of protein than whole grains and cereals. Examples of vegetarian foods with protein concentrations greater than 7 percent include soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, white beans, mung beans, chickpeas, cowpeas, lima beans, pigeon peas, lupines, wing beans, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, walnuts, cotton seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.

Food staples that are poor sources of protein include roots and tubers such as yams, cassava and sweet potato. Plantains, another major staple, are also a poor source of essential amino acids. Fruits, while rich in other essential nutrients, are another poor source of amino acids per 100 gram consumed. The protein content in roots, tubers and fruits is between 0 and 2 percent. Food staples with low protein content must be complemented with foods with complete, quality protein content for a healthy life, particularly in children for proper development.

A good source of protein is often a combination of various foods, because different foods are rich in different amino acids. A good source of dietary protein meets two requirements:

  • The requirement for the nutritionally indispensable amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) under all conditions and for conditionally indispensable amino acids (cystine, tyrosine, taurine, glycine, arginine, glutamine, proline) under specific physiological and pathological conditions
  • The requirement for nonspecific nitrogen for the synthesis of the nutritionally dispensable amino acids (aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, alanine, serine) and other physiologically important nitrogen-containing compounds such as nucleic acids, creatine, and porphyrins.

Healthy people eating a balanced diet rarely need protein supplements. Except for a few amino acids, most are readily available in human diet. The limiting amino acids are lysine, threonine, tryptophan and sulfur-containing amino acids.

The table below presents the most important food groups as protein sources, from a worldwide perspective. It also lists their respective performance as source of the commonly limiting amino acids, in milligrams of limiting amino acid per gram of total protein in the food source. The green highlighted cells represent the protein source with highest density of respective amino acid, while the yellow highlighted cells represent the protein source with lowest density of respective amino acid. The table reiterates the need for a balanced mix of foods to ensure adequate amino acid source.

Food source Lysine Threonine Tryptophan Sulfur containing
amino acids
Legumes 64 38 12 25
Cereals and whole grains 31 32 12 37
Nuts and seeds 45 36 17 46
Fruits 45 29 11 27
Animal 85 44 12 38

Protein milkshakes, made from protein powder (center) and milk (left), are a common bodybuilding supplement.

Protein powders – such as casein, whey, egg, rice and soy – are processed and manufactured sources of protein. These protein powders may provide an additional source of protein for bodybuilders. The type of protein is important in terms of its influence on protein metabolic response and possibly on the muscle’s exercise performance. The different physical and/or chemical properties within the various types of protein may affect the rate of protein digestion. As a result, the amino acid availability and the accumulation of tissue protein is altered because of the various protein metabolic responses.


Most proteins are decomposed to single amino acids in digestion.

Digestion typically begins in the stomach when pepsinogen is converted to pepsin by the action of hydrochloric acid, and continued by trypsin and chymotrypsin in the intestine. Before the absorption in the small intestine, most proteins are already reduced to single amino acid or peptides of several amino acids. Most of peptides longer than four amino acids are not absorbed. Absorption into the intestinal absorptive cells is not the end. There most of peptides are broken into single amino acids.

Absorption of the amino acids and their derivatives into which dietary protein is degraded is done by the gastrointestinal tract. The absorption rates of individual amino acids are highly dependent on the protein source; for example, the digestibilities of many amino acids in humans, the difference between soy and milk proteins and between individual milk proteins, beta-lactoglobulin and casein. For milk proteins, about 50% of the ingested protein is absorbed between the stomach and the jejunum and 90% is absorbed by the time the digested food reaches the ileum. Biological value (BV) is a measure of the proportion of absorbed protein from a food which becomes incorporated into the proteins of the organism’s body.

Newborns of mammals are exceptional in protein digestion and assimilation in that they can absorb intact proteins at the small intestine. This enables passive immunity from milk.

Dietary requirements

An education campaign launched by the United States Department of Agriculture about 100 years ago, on cottage cheese as a lower-cost protein substitute for meat.

Considerable debate has taken place regarding issues surrounding protein intake requirements. The amount of protein required in a person’s diet is determined in large part by overall energy intake, the body’s need for nitrogen and essential amino acids, body weight and composition, rate of growth in the individual, physical activity level, individual’s energy and carbohydrate intake, as well as the presence of illness or injury. Physical activity and exertion as well as enhanced muscular mass increase the need for protein. Requirements are also greater during childhood for growth and development, during pregnancy or when breast-feeding in order to nourish a baby, or when the body needs to recover from malnutrition or trauma or after an operation.

If enough energy is not taken in through diet, as in the process of starvation, the body will use protein from the muscle mass to meet its energy needs, leading to muscle wasting over time. If the individual does not consume adequate protein in nutrition, then muscle will also waste as more vital cellular processes (e.g. respiration enzymes, blood cells) recycle muscle protein for their own requirements.

According to US & Canadian Dietary Reference Intake guidelines, women aged 19–70 need to consume 46 grams of protein per day, while men aged 19–70 need to consume 56 grams of protein per day to avoid a deficiency. The American and Canadian guidelines recommend a daily protein dietary allowance, measured as intake per kilogram body weight, is 0.8 g/kg However, this recommendation is based on structural requirements, but disregards use of protein for energy metabolism. This requirement is for a normal sedentary person.

Several studies have concluded that active people and athletes may require elevated protein intake (compared to 0.8 g/kg) due to increase in muscle mass and sweat losses, as well as need for body repair and energy source. Suggested amounts vary between 1.6 g/kg and 1.8 g/kg, while a proposed maximum daily protein intake would be approximately 25% of energy requirements i.e. approximately 2 to 2.5 g/kg. However, many questions still remain to be resolved.

Protein deficiency

Protein deficiency and malnutrition can lead to variety of ailments including mental retardation and kwashiorkor.Symptoms of kwashiorkor include apathy, diarrhea, inactivity, failure to grow, flaky skin, fatty liver, and edema of the belly and legs. This edema is explained by the action of lipoxygenase on arachidonic acid to form leukotrienes and the normal functioning of proteins in fluid balance and lipoprotein transport.

Although protein energy malnutrition is more common in low-income countries, children from higher-income countries are also affected, including children from large urban areas in low socioeconomic neighborhoods. This may also occur in children with chronic diseases, and children who are institutionalized or hospitalized for a different diagnosis. Risk factors include a primary diagnosis of mental retardation, cystic fibrosis, malignancy, cardiovascular disease, end stage renal disease, oncologic disease, genetic disease, neurological disease, multiple diagnoses, or prolonged hospitalization. In these conditions, the challenging nutritional management may get overlooked and underestimated, resulting in an impairment of the chances for recovery and the worsening of the situation.

Quite possibly the first thing and most important thing a person learns when they first become a vegetarian is that humans need to get proteins to live. Meat often makes up the bulk of the protein we humans get in our diet since the grain based food we eat like rice, wheat, corn, and noodles are carbohydrates. I personally have heard many people say that carbohydrates are just bad for the human body and I should just remove all carbohydrates from my diet but I could counter argue their point by showing that throughout human history, many civilizations and nations feed most of their citizens through only bread and cheese and almost no meat. That would beg the question to the modern nutritionists who talk about the evils of carbohydrate of whether one can really survive on bread and carbohydrates alone.

As we see above, proteins have too many functions that are too important. One thing that man Paleo dieters reveal is that most vegetarians are usually low on energy and get weak and tired easily. I am not sure if that is true but the need for protein is very clear. To make up for the lack of eating meat, vegetarians replace it with soy based products like tofu, beans, lentils, mushrooms, etc.

The key in my opinion is whether the vegetarian can get enough protein through the substituted source. As long as they can get the right types and amount in quantity of proteins from the meat substitutions they consume, then they should have no issues with growth at least from the diet factor since they are getting all of the essential minerals and vitamins they need.

To support this theory, we have to remember back to the multivitamin dietary supplements that are sold on the internet as a type of magic bullet to help one gain height even after the growth plates are fused. Even though they don’t work , the general theory and claimed nutrients in the supplement are accurate. Most of those types of “height increase” products are a combination of amino acids aka proteins. They are often L-argiine, L-orthonine, L-lysine, L-glutamine, and another amino acid which I can’t remember at this time.

One has to note that there are 3 main types of product that a person can ingest or inject tint their system which are believed to increase one’s height.

1. Steroids

2. Growth Hormones – (some times the growth hormones are used as steroids, but not all steroids are growth hormones)

3. Proteins – (some steroids and growth hormones are classified as proteins but not all proteins are steroids and growth hormones)

What do other people say about the growth rate and height of people who are vegetarians? answers come from resource 1 (Yahoo Answers), resource 2 (Yahoo Answers), resource 3, resource 4 (National Institute of Health).

– “No, it should not. Not eating enough does not help facilitate bown growth, but if you’re eating a well-balanced vegetarian diet, you’ll be just fine. A nutritionally deficient diet, whether vegetarian or not, will result in problems.”

– “No, your height is almost exclusively determined by your genes. Malnutrition in childhood *can* stunt your growth, but children raised on a healthy vegetarian diet achieve the same average adult height as children raised on the standard American diet.”

– “Diet has very little to do with height, unless you are malnourished. But if you’re eating adequate quantities of food and getting enough protein through beans, nuts, soy milk, etc., then not eating meat shouldn’t affect your height.”

– “You’ll grow as tall as your genes let you as long you get all the nutrients you need. I was raised as a meat eater but I’ve been a short vegan for over 10 years now.”

– ” well if your paren’ts arent tall u wont be either. just make sure you are eating some protein, such as peanut butter or supplemental drinks. you need protein.”

– “Being a vegetarian does NOT —nor will stunt your growth…Be sure to eat food that are rich in protein, calcium, and all essential vitamins and minerals.”

– “It does not. But you must consult a person very knowledgeable in vegetarianism before you fully plunge into it. This is because you must know about things like ‘ protein complementation,’ sources of vitamin B12, sources of iron and zinc etc. etc. Once you are an expert on these matters, you will find that a vegetarian diet is much healthier than a meat diet. I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, and when I ask people to guess my age, they normally guess about 20 years younger ! Go for it.”

– Resource 3 above which talks about a scientific study done on children who were on a vegetarian diet quite clearly states this quote – “These data show that a vegetarian diet is quite adequate for growth in height. The vegetarians were trimmer. They weighed on average more than a kilogram less….Another significant factor for vegetarian girls is timing, the growth spurt of adolescence is delayed in vegetarian girls. (2) This delay of the growth spurt may be beneficial”

– Resource 4 is an actual article written about a scientific study done to see the effects on height and growth rate of kids who are on a vegetarian diet which was posted on the National Institute of Health database website. The conclusions of the study is quoted here – “children from The Farm averaged 0.7 cm and 1.1 kg less than the reference median, representing only 0.1 and 0.3 SD from the reference. Thus, these children have adequate attained growth, even though it was modestly less than that of the reference population.” So there might a slight effect on dampened height if one was on just a vegetarian diet ,at least up to age 10 for the studies children.

Me: The general consensus is that genetics is more important than diet. As long as one can get the right nutrients and find a protein substitute where they can get enough protein quantity, they will grow just as tall (if not taller) than their meat eating counterpart. On average, vegetarians are thinner than meat eaters but that does not mean they have less energy than meat eaters (this claim still needs to be checked for sources that can validate this type of claim). 

What is clear is that there are some types of vegetarians who don’t eat either fish, eggs, milk, or other animal derived produced may not get enough proteins as they should and they do end up shorter than the meat eaters. 

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