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Nutrition > Vegetarian Diet

Vegetarian Diet

Millions of people around the world have a healthy diet without meat, but in the United States, most families plan meals around meat. When one person in a family is the only one who doesn't eat meat, there is an increased risk of not getting proper nutrition. A meal must be planned with nutritional balance in mind, whatever the main course is. If your child or teen decides to become a vegerian, it is imperative that important nutritional components are eaten regularly.

There are different types of vegetarians:

  • Lacto-ovovegetarians do not eat animal flesh, but do eat eggs and dairy products.
  • Lactovegetarians eat diary products, but no other animal products.
  • Vegans eat no animal products, including honey!

Vegetarian diets may be very healthy. Most vegetarians eat more fruits, vegetables, and dairy than others. This diet may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. However, a vegetarian diet does not guarantee health. Without proper planning of meals, it becomes very unhealthy. A diet of soda and potato chips is vegetarian, but lacks a healthy variety of nutrients. Vegan diets are particularly at risk of low calcium and vitamin B12.

Suggestions for those switching to a meat-free diet

  • Try meatless substitutes: Veggie burgers, meatless chicken, and other products are readily available at grocery stores, easy to prepare, and are lower in fat and higher in protein than meat.
  • Experiment with beans, fruits, and vegetables. Try new recipes and eat them in a variety of ways.
  • Check out a vegetarian cookbook and try a new recipe each week.
  • Find help online: Be cautious when using the internet! Be suspicious of sites that are not linked to reputable health organizations. Beware of sites that are designed to sell their products.

Recommended resources

  • This is the US Department of Agriculture's site that has many nutritional links. Search "vegetarian diet" for numerous pages of helpful hints, recipes, meal planning guides, and more!
  • Vegetarian Resource Group: This non-profit organization promotes veganism and includes specific advice for teens.
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: You can search this site for "vegetarian diet" and find more information on meal planning, nutrition, and more.
  • Nutrition Data: This site has daily needs calculators, nutrient searches, and more!
Chief Nutrients in Meat Vegetarian Sources
Protein Dairy products, eggs, tofu, soybeans, legumes, whole grains, nuts
Iron Legumes, whole wheat, brown rice, leafy greens, fortified cereal and bread
Zinc Wheat germ, almonds, cashews, fortified cereal, legumes
Vitamin B12(need 2 micrograms/day) Dairy products, eggs, some fortified cereals, fortified soy and rice beverages, fortified waffles
Vitamin B6 Legumes, sweet potatoes, avocados, fortified cereal


Nutrients in Dairy Vegan Sources
Calcium Fortified soy and rice beverages (some), fortified orange juice, kale, collard greens, tahini, broccoli, bok choy, fortified cereals and waffles
Vitamin D Fortified cereal and waffles, fortified soy and rice beverages (some), sunlight

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