A vegetarian diet does not include any meat, poultry, or seafood. It is a meal plan made up of foods that come mostly from plants. These include:
A vegetarian diet contains no animal proteins. A semi-vegetarian diet is a meal plan that contains little animal protein, but mostly plant-based foods. Vegetarians DO NOT eat:
Vegetarians also do not eat products containing gelatin or rennin (an enzyme found in calf's stomachs that is used to produce many cheeses).
Here are the different types of vegetarian diets:
Lacto-ovovegetarian; Semi-vegetarian; Partial vegetarian; Vegan; Lacto-vegetarian
BENEFITS OF A VEGETARIAN DIET
A well-planned vegetarian diet can meet your nutrition needs. Reducing the amount of meat in your diet may improve your health. Eating a vegetarian diet may help you:
Compared to non-vegetarians, vegetarians usually eat:
PLAN TO GET PLENTY OF NUTRIENTS
If you follow a vegetarian diet, you need to make sure you get proper nutrition. You need to eat a variety of foods to get all the calories and nutrients needed for growth and good health. Certain groups of people may need to plan carefully, such as:
Vegetarian diets that include some dairy products and eggs have all the nutrition you need. But the more restrictive your diet, the harder it can be to get certain nutrients.
If you choose to avoid most or all animal foods, pay close attention to make sure you get all of the following nutrients.
Vitamin B12: You need this vitamin to help prevent anemia. Eggs and dairy foods have the most B12, so vegans may have a hard time getting enough. You can get B12 from these foods:
Vitamin D: You need this vitamin for bone health. You can get vitamin D from sun exposure. But you should limit sun exposure due to skin cancer concerns. Depending on where you live and other factors, you most likely will not be able to get enough from sun exposure. You can get vitamin D from these foods:
Zinc: Zinc is important for the immune system and cell growth, especially in teens. Your body does not absorb zinc from plant foods as well as from meat and other animal foods. You can get zinc from these foods:
Iron: You need iron for your red blood cells. Your body does not absorb the type of iron found from plant foods as well as from the type found in meat and other animal foods. You can get iron from these foods:
Eating foods that are high in vitamin C at the same meal as iron-rich foods increase iron absorption. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. Foods high in vitamin C include, tomatoes, potatoes, citrus fruits, bell peppers, and strawberries.
Calcium: Foods high in calcium help keep bones strong. Dairy products have the highest amount of calcium. If you do not eat dairy, it can be hard to get enough. Oxalates, a substance found in plant foods inhibits calcium absorption. Foods that are high in both oxalates and calcium are not good sources of calcium. Examples include, spinach, Swiss chard, and beet greens.
You can get calcium from these foods:
Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s are important for your heart and brain health. You can get omega-3s from these foods:
Protein: It is easy to get plenty of protein even if you do not eat any animal products. If you eat fish and/or eggs and dairy getting enough protein will not be a concern for most people. You can also get protein from these foods:
You do not need to combine these foods at the same meal to get enough protein.
Teens and pregnant women should work with a registered dietitian to make sure they are getting enough protein and other key nutrients.
DIETARY TIPS FOR VEGETARIANS
When following a vegetarian diet, keep in mind the following:
Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: vegetarian diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(12):1970-1980. PMID: 27886704 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27886704.
National Institutes of Health website. Office of dietary supplements. Dietary supplement fact sheets. ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all. Accessed October 8, 2018.
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. 2015-2020 Dietary guidelines for Americans. health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf. Accessed October 8, 2018.
Parks EP, Shaikhkhalil A, Groleau V, Wendel D, Stallings VA. Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 45.
Review Date: 10/8/2018
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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