Vegetarian Diets – Health Information Library (2023)

  1. USDA Food Guide

What is a vegetarian?

In a very general sense, a vegetarian is someone who doesn't eat meat. But that definition is too simple. There are several kinds of vegetarian diets:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat milk products—such as milk, cheese, and yogurt—and eggs, but no meat, poultry, seafood, or fish. "Lacto" means "milk." "Ovo" means eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarians eat milk products, but not eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or fish.
  • Vegans (say "VEE-guns" or "VAY-guns") are total vegetarians. They eat only plant foods. They don't eat food that comes from animals in any way, including milk products, eggs, honey, and gelatin (which comes from bones and other animal tissue).

Many people are semi-vegetarian—most of the diet is vegetarian, but sometimes they may eat meat, poultry, seafood, fish, and/or eggs.

(Video) Healthy, (Nutrient) Wealthy and Wise: Diet for Healthy Aging - Research on Aging

There are many reasons why some people choose vegetarian diets:

  • A vegetarian diet can be healthier than other diets.
  • Some people think it's wrong to use animals for food.
  • Some religions forbid eating meat.
  • A vegetarian diet can cost less than a diet that includes meat.
  • Eating less meat can be better for the environment, because most meat is commercially farmed.
  • Some people don't like the taste of meat.

Are vegetarian diets healthy?

If properly planned, vegetarian diets can provide all the nutrients you need. In addition to that, being a vegetarian can actually be better for you. In general, vegetarians:footnote 1

  • Weigh less than people who eat meat.
  • Are less likely to die of heart disease.
  • Have lower cholesterol levels.
  • Are less likely to get:
    • High blood pressure.
    • Prostate cancer.
    • Colon cancer.
    • Type 2 diabetes.

Good health could be related to a diet of mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Keep a balance

As a vegetarian, you can still eat a balanced diet.

  • Substitutes for 1 oz (28 g) of meat:
    • ¼ cup cooked beans, peas, or lentils
    • 1 egg or 2 egg whites, or ¼ cup egg substitute
    • ½ oz (1 Tbsp) nuts or seeds
    • ¼ cup tofu or tempeh
    • 1 Tbsp peanut butter
  • If you do not use milk, use soy milk fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Count 1 cup (8 fl oz) as one serving. You can also use fortified soy cheese or soy yogurt.

How can vegetarians eat a balanced diet?

You may be worried that you won't get all the nutrients you need with a vegetarian diet. But as long as you eat a variety of foods, there are only a few things you need to pay special attention to.

  • Calcium for vegetarians who don't eat milk products. If you don't get your calcium from milk products, you need to eat a lot of other calcium-rich foods. Calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, soy milk, and orange juice are good choices. Calcium-fortified means that the manufacturer has added calcium to the food. Other foods that have calcium include certain legumes, certain leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and tofu. If you don't use calcium-fortified foods, ask your doctor if you should take a daily calcium supplement.
  • Vitamin D for vegetarians who don't eat milk products. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is important to keep bones strong. Vegetarians who don't eat milk products can use fortified soy milk and breakfast cereals.
  • Iron. Getting enough iron is not a problem for vegetarians who take care to eat a wide variety of food. Our bodies don't absorb iron from plant foods as well as they absorb iron from meats. So it's important for vegetarians to regularly eat iron-rich foods. Vegetarian iron sources include cooked dried beans, peas, and lentils; leafy green vegetables; and iron-fortified grain products. And eating foods rich in vitamin C will help your body absorb iron.
  • Vitamin B12 for vegans. Vitamin B12 comes from animal sources only. If you are a vegan, you'll need to rely on food that is fortified with this vitamin (for example, soy milk and breakfast cereals) or take supplements. This is especially important for vegan women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Like everyone else, vegetarians also need to make sure they get the following nutrients:

  • Protein. When considering a vegetarian diet, many people worry that they will not get enough protein. But eating a wide variety of protein-rich foods such as soy products, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds will give you the protein you need.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. If you don't eat fish or eggs, you need to find other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, certain leafy green vegetables, soybean oil, and canola oil.
  • Zinc. Your body absorbs zinc better when it comes from meat than when it comes from plants. But vegetarians don't usually have a problem getting enough zinc if they eat lots of other foods that are good sources of zinc, including whole-grain breads, cooked dried beans and lentils, soy foods, and vegetables.

Is it safe for children to be vegetarians?

A well-planned vegetarian diet can be healthy for children. Young vegan children tend to be slightly smaller but still within normal growth ranges. And they tend to catch up to other children in size as they get older.

If you are raising a child on a vegetarian diet, consider the following:

(Video) I Went Vegan for 30 Days. Health Results Shocked Me

  • Babies who get only breast milk should have supplements of iron after the age of 4 to 6 months. (This is not necessary if you add iron-fortified infant cereal to the child's diet at this age.)
  • A vitamin D supplement may be appropriate for children under 1 year of age. Talk with your doctor about how much and what sources of vitamin D are right for your child.
  • Breastfed babies of vegan mothers need vitamin B12 supplements if the mother's diet is not fortified.
  • Children younger than 2 years need the extra fat in whole milk for brain and nerve development. Don't give them low-fat or fat-free milk. If you are using soy milk instead of cow's milk, make sure that it's full-fat soy milk, and talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to make sure your child is getting enough fat.
  • Vegan diets can contain a lot of fiber. Fiber is great because it fills you up without adding a lot of calories. But children have small stomachs, and the fiber they eat can fill them up before they get enough calories. Frequent meals and snacks—with plenty of cereals, legumes, and nuts—will help children get the energy and nutrients they need for healthy growth.

What if your teenager decides to become a vegetarian?

With careful planning, a vegetarian diet can be very healthy for teens. In fact, it can be a great way to get them into a lifelong habit of healthy eating.

If your teen decides to become a vegetarian, teach him or her how to plan meals to get all the right nutrients every day. Teens need calcium and vitamin D. And iron is especially important for teen girls who are menstruating. Talk with your doctor about how much of these vitamins and minerals your child needs. Ask if your teen needs to take a daily supplement.

You may want him or her to talk to a registered dietitian to learn how to plan a healthy vegetarian diet.

It's important to find out why your teen wants to follow a vegetarian diet. Some teens adopt a vegetarian diet as a way to lose weight, and "being a vegetarian" can hide an eating disorder like anorexia.

Related Information

  • Choosing a Vitamin and Mineral Supplement
  • Healthy Eating

References

Citations

  1. Craig WJ, et al. (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(7): 1266–1282. Available online: http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8357.

Credits

Current as of: May 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator

  • Top of the page
  • Next Section:

    Are vegetarian diets healthy?
(Video) All the Raw Vegan Food We Ate at the 31st ThanksLiving Celebration

Current as of: May 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator

Topic Contents

  • What is a vegetarian?
  • Are vegetarian diets healthy?
  • How can vegetarians eat a balanced diet?
  • Is it safe for children to be vegetarians?
  • What if your teenager decides to become a vegetarian?
  • Related Information
  • References
  • Credits

PeaceHealth endeavors to provide comprehensive health care information, however some topics in this database describe services and procedures not offered by our providers or within our facilities because they do not comply with, nor are they condoned by, the ethics policies of our organization.

(Video) Why These 7 DOCTORS Are VEGAN | LIVEKINDLY

Health Information Library

Vegetarian Diets – Health Information Library (2) Vegetarian Diets – Health Information Library (3)

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Learn how we develop our content.

To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

FAQs

Is vegetarian diet healthy article? ›

Many studies agree that a vegetarian diet can offer a range of health benefits. Studies show that a vegan or vegetarian diet may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and various types of cancer. A non-meat diet may also reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, which includes obesity and type 2 diabetes.

What are the health risks of a vegetarian diet? ›

Plant-based diets carry some risk of inadequate protein, vitamin, and mineral intake. But these risks are readily overcome by choosing the right vegetarian foods and, when necessary, supplements. For example, soy, quinoa, and nuts are good sources of protein, and tofu, lentils, and spinach are good sources of iron.

Do doctors recommend a vegetarian diet? ›

Many doctors, dieticians, and other health professionals advocate for a plant-based diet. In part, this is because of the health risks associated with animal products. There is an increasing body of evidence that links meat consumption—particularly that of red and processed meats—with chronic illness.

What are vegetarians most deficient in? ›

A meatless diet can be healthy, but vegetarians -- especially vegans -- need to make sure they're getting enough vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns of the risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal products.

What are the long term effects of being a vegetarian? ›

Vegetarians have also been found to have lower risks for diabetes, diverticular disease and eye cataract. Overall mortality is similar for vegetarians and comparable non-vegetarians, but vegetarian groups compare favourably with the general population.

What are three disadvantages about being a vegetarian? ›

Disadvantages of a Vegetarian Diet
  • Fewer Complete Proteins.
  • Increased Nutrient Deficiency Risks.
  • Lower Levels of Creatine.
  • May Be High in Cholesterol.
  • Requires More Effort.
  • Supplementation May Be Necessary.
  • Advantages of a Vegetarian Diet.
10 Sept 2019

Why don't doctors recommend a plant-based diet? ›

Due to insufficient time spent on the subject of nutrition, many doctors believe that you cannot get enough protein on a plant-based diet, and that you are at risk of becoming iron and calcium deficient.

Can you live a healthy life as a vegetarian? ›

Vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy, but they can lack certain nutrients. You may have to use a little creativity to ensure you get enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12. You can find many of these nutrients in eggs and dairy if you're vegetarian, and from plant sources if you're vegan.

Can you live healthy as a vegetarian? ›

Most vegetarians usually have enough protein and calcium (found in dairy products) in their diet. But if you don't plan your diet properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients. For example, vegetarians need to make sure they get enough iron and vitamin B12 in their diets.

What is a Level 5 vegetarian? ›

Level 5 vegans are those who are seen as incredibly committed to the vegan lifestyle, and are often hailed as “extreme vegans”. Level 5 vegans go to an extensive effort to follow a vegan lifestyle that is free of any type of animal product or animal exploitation.

What are the 3 main vegetarian alternatives to meat? ›

The 10 best vegan meat alternatives
  • Tofu. Tofu is the classic meat alternative and has been one of the basic sources of nutrition in Asia for centuries. ...
  • Soy protein. Soy chunks and mince are very inexpensive ingredients that are easy to prepare. ...
  • Tempeh. ...
  • Seitan/wheat protein. ...
  • Lupin protein. ...
  • Green spelt. ...
  • Oat flakes. ...
  • Black beans.
11 Nov 2019

What is the most popular vegetarian diet? ›

Lacto-ovo vegetarianism, the most common type of vegetarian diet, involves eliminating all meat, poultry and fish.

What happens when you stop eating meat? ›

You may feel tired and weak if you cut meat out of your diet. That's because you're missing an important source of protein and iron, both of which give you energy. The body absorbs more iron from meat than other foods, but it's not your only choice.

Are eggs vegetarian? ›

Are Eggs Considered Vegetarian? By definition, vegetarianism is classified as excluding any form of animal flesh (the tissue, muscles or meat of an animal). The humble egg doesn't fall into this category and is therefore included in a vegetarian eating pattern.

What are 4 nutrients that vegetarians would benefit from? ›

As children grow, they need loads of nutrients – a vegetarian diet should include:
  • Protein alternatives (such as nuts, eggs, legumes and tofu).
  • Energy for growth and development.
  • Iron to prevent anaemia.
  • Vitamin B12.
  • Vitamin D and calcium to prevent bone disease.
  • Suitable fats from non-meat sources.

Why do people choose not to be vegetarian? ›

They often argue that killing animals for food is cruel and unethical since non-animal food sources are plentiful. Many opponents of a vegetarian diet say that meat consumption is healthful and humane, and that producing vegetables causes many of the same environmental problems as producing meat.

Is vegetarianism healthy long term? ›

The long-term health of vegetarians appears to be generally good, and for some diseases and medical conditions it may be better than that of comparable omnivores.

Is being a vegetarian the healthiest? ›

Plant-based diets are healthier than diets where meat is consumed, whether measured by the occurrence of heart disease, cancer, or death. These benefits are likely because of both the avoidance of meat and the predominance of dietary vegetables and fruits.

How do vegetarians get B12? ›

The main foods which provide vitamin B12 are derived from animals, such as dairy products and eggs. For people not eating any animal products, yeast extract and other fortified/supplemented foods such as breakfast cereals, soya milks, soya/veggie burgers, and vegetable margarines are all good sources.

What vitamins should I take if I'm a vegetarian? ›

Vitamin B12 and vitamin D are especially important for vegetarians to be familiar with because they are not found in plant-based foods, except those that are fortified.

What diseases are vegetarians less likely to get? ›

Indeed, evidence from previous surveys suggests a balanced vegetarian diet can also reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, in addition to cancers.” The Oxford research team are conducting more research into the correlation between vegetarian and pescatarian diets and reduced cancer risk.

What is vegan face? ›

Simply, vegan face is a name for a slack, wasted look that is caused by an absence of protein in your diet. The skin is dry, sallow and flaky. Protein literally props up the face: it makes it look plump (in a good way) and fresh-faced and wakeful.

Do vegetarians have more health problems? ›

As a result of these dietary differences, vegetarians have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. There are several studies and reviews that investigate the claims that vegetarian diets reduce the risk of developing certain cancers.

What do vegetarians struggle with? ›

The nutrients of concern in the diet of vegetarians include vitamin B(12), vitamin D, ω-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and zinc. Although a vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients, the use of supplements and fortified foods provides a useful shield against deficiency.

Why do vegans have more strokes? ›

Plant-based diets can be low in certain nutrients

Tong suggests the increased stroke risk associated with a vegetarian diet may reflect low blood levels of total cholesterol or a low intake of certain essential nutrients. “The higher rate of hemorrhagic and total stroke in the vegetarian/vegan group seems surprising.

Do you live longer on a plant-based diet? ›

According to a comprehensive new study, adopting a plant-based diet adds years—even more than a decade—to the average person's life expectancy. The greatest longevity gains are enjoyed by those who make the switch as young adults. But even for older people, the perks of a plant-based diet are significant.

Do cardiologists recommend plant-based diet? ›

Reducing animal product intake and following a primarily plant-based diet can decrease your risk of heart disease by minimizing the adverse effects of a gut-microbiome associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, according to research published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Do vegetarians look younger? ›

Over time, your skin loses its volume and its youthfulness. A vegan diet tends to be higher in antioxidants and other nutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties. These are linked to better health and brighter, more glowing skin. So yes, in many cases, vegans do have better skin!

How long does it take for vegans to clean arteries? ›

Within 1 year: Better blood circulation

Just by switching to a whole-food plant-based diet, it's possible to stop and even reverse symptoms of heart disease. The longer you stay plant-based, the more your blood vessels can recover.

How can I get protein without eating meat? ›

How to get protein without the meat
  1. Pulses. Pulses are an inexpensive protein choice, are high in fibre and a source of iron. ...
  2. Soya beans. ...
  3. Quinoa. ...
  4. Nuts. ...
  5. Seeds. ...
  6. Cereals and grains. ...
  7. Quorn™ ...
  8. Dairy.

How do vegetarians get iron? ›

Good plant sources of iron include lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa and fortified breakfast cereal. There are lots of factors that affect the amount of iron your body can absorb from your diet.

What does a healthy vegetarian diet look like? ›

To get the most out of a vegetarian diet, choose a variety of healthy plant-based foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, and whole grains. At the same time, cut back on less healthy choices, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices and refined grains.

What is a junk food vegetarian? ›

A junk food vegan is a vegan who regularly consumes highly processed foods that are primarily made in science labs. Some popular choices are the famous Oreo biscuits as well as a variety of vegan “cheeses.”

What is class 3 vegetarian? ›

People who only eat meat are called vegetarians.

What is the strictest type of vegetarian? ›

Strict vegetarians, or vegans, eat plant foods and reject all animal products—meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and sometimes honey. Those who also eat dairy products are called lacto vegetarians. Vegetarians who eat both dairy and eggs are called lacto-ovo vegetarians.

What is the strictest vegetarian called? ›

A vegetarian does not eat any animal flesh such as meat, poultry, or fish. A vegan is a stricter vegetarian who also avoids consuming dairy, eggs, and any other ingredients derived from animals.

What fruits can replace meat? ›

Jackfruit is a very large tropical fruit often used as a meat substitute. It packs some nutritional wallop, and the fact that you can cook, chunk or shred it like chicken or pork makes it a go-to main ingredient in many vegetarian and vegan dishes. Its flavor is neutral, and it takes to all kinds of seasonings.

What fruits and vegetables can replace meat? ›

Here are a few vegetables – and fruits — that can substitute for meat:
  • Mushrooms. Many a dish using mushrooms had always fooled countless people to think they're eating meat. ...
  • Eggplant. ...
  • Jackfruit. ...
  • Beans and Legumes. ...
  • Lentils. ...
  • Cauliflower. ...
  • Beets. ...
  • Nuts.
10 Jul 2018

What vegetable is most like meat? ›

Mushrooms. Mushrooms are one of the most popular vegetables to replace meat due to their savory umami flavor and meaty texture.

What are the 4 vegetarian diets? ›

There are approximately seven types of vegetarian diets: flexitarian, pescatarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, lacto vegetarian, ovo vegetarian, pollo vegetarian and vegan.

Are most vegetarians overweight? ›

Vegetarian diets in India are more often linked to a higher rate of morbid obesity than non-vegetarian diets, according to a cohort study published in The Journal of Metabolic Surgery and Allied Care.

Is a vegetarian diet the healthiest option? ›

It can be one of the healthiest ways to eat, because we know plant foods are loaded with nutrients to protect our health.” According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease.

Is a vegetarian diet healthy long term? ›

In summary, the long-term health of vegetarians appears to be generally good, and for some diseases and medical conditions it may be better than that of comparable omnivores.

Are vegetarians healthier than non vegetarians? ›

Vegetarian diets tend to have fewer calories, lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, and more fiber, potassium and vitamin C than other eating patterns. Vegetarians tend to weigh less than meat-eaters, and to have lower cancer rates.

Is a vegetarian diet healthier and better for the environment? ›

Climate change

By eating vegetarian food for a year you could save the same amount of emissions as a family taking a small car off the road for 6 months [3]. You might not be able to stop using your car in day-to-day life, but you can choose to eat veggie food.

Can a vegetarian eat eggs? ›

Vegetarians do not eat fish, meat or poultry, but do eat eggs and dairy. Vegans also follow the no-meat rule, but also exclude animal products or by-products such as eggs, dairy and honey.

What happens if a vegetarian eats meat? ›

nothing, according to Robin Foroutan, a registered dietitian nutritionist and representative for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Some people may feel as though they have a harder time digesting meat if they aren't used to it, Foroutan said, but there's no scientific evidence for this.

Are humans meant to be vegetarians? ›

No; our guts aren't long enough, and our teeth don't quite fit the bill. We are, it seems, omnivores; our bodies can handle both meat and plant matter pretty well. It's not quite that simple, though. Just looking at an animal's teeth and gut is no surefire way to distinguish its diet.

How do vegetarians get protein? ›

Vegetarians should obtain protein from a variety of plant sources, including legumes, soy products, grains, nuts and seeds. Eggs and dairy products also provide protein for those following a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet.

Are vegetarians thinner? ›

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences say that the less meat a person consumes, the lower their average BMI/body weight. They also say that vegetarians also tend to be more introverted, shy, and reserved than meat eaters.

Do vegetarians cause less damage to the ecosystem? ›

Being vegetarian helps reduce pollution of our streams, rivers, and oceans. Pollution from livestock production largely comes from animal waste, which can runoff into our waterways and harm aquatic ecosystems, destroy topsoil, and contaminate the air – which all have harmful effects on wild animals AND humans.

What ethical reasons are there for vegetarianism? ›

The ethical arguments against eating meat
  • The environmental impact is huge. 'Livestock farming has a vast environmental footprint. ...
  • It requires masses of grain, water and land. ...
  • It hurts the global poor. ...
  • It causes unnecessary animal suffering. ...
  • It is making us ill.
28 Apr 2017

Do vegetarians help climate change? ›

The worldwide phase out of animal agriculture, combined with a global switch to a plant-based diet, would effectively halt the increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases for 30 years and give humanity more time to end its reliance on fossil fuels, according to a new study by scientists from Stanford University and the ...

Videos

1. Is A Vegan Diet Healthy?
(yungains)
2. Dr Layne Norton: The Science of Eating for Health, Fat Loss & Lean Muscle | Huberman Lab Podcast #97
(Andrew Huberman)
3. Vegetarian Diet Explained From the Experts
(Real Nash Facts)
4. Is Oil Healthy? Vegan vs Low Carb Perspective
(PLANT BASED NEWS)
5. Can a Vegan Diet REVERSE DIABETES? | LIVEKINDLY
(LIVEKINDLY)
6. 50 Years Vegan - 25 Years Raw Vegan. Full of Health!
(The Raw Life Health Show)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Trent Wehner

Last Updated: 10/11/2022

Views: 5883

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (76 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Trent Wehner

Birthday: 1993-03-14

Address: 872 Kevin Squares, New Codyville, AK 01785-0416

Phone: +18698800304764

Job: Senior Farming Developer

Hobby: Paintball, Calligraphy, Hunting, Flying disc, Lapidary, Rafting, Inline skating

Introduction: My name is Trent Wehner, I am a talented, brainy, zealous, light, funny, gleaming, attractive person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.