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Learning About a Vegetarian Diet

What is it?

In general, a vegetarian diet is a diet that doesn't include meat. But there are several kinds of vegetarian diets.

Lacto-ovo vegetarian.

This type of diet includes milk products (such as milk, cheese, and yogurt) and eggs. But it doesn't include meat, poultry, seafood, or fish. "Lacto" means milk. "Ovo" means eggs.

Lacto-vegetarian.

It includes milk products but no eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or fish.

Vegan.

It's a diet of only plant foods. This means no milk products, eggs, honey, or gelatin. (Gelatin comes from bones and other animal tissue.)

Many people follow a semi-vegetarian diet. Most of their diet is vegetarian. But sometimes they may eat meat, poultry, seafood, fish, and/or eggs.

Why might you eat a vegetarian diet?

People may choose a vegetarian or vegan diet for various reasons. For example:

  • It can lower your risk of certain health conditions.
  • Some people think it's wrong to use animals for food.
  • Some religions forbid eating meat.
  • It may cost less than a diet that includes meat.
  • Eating less meat can be better for the environment.
  • Some people don't like the taste of meat.

How do you eat a healthy vegetarian diet?

A vegetarian diet can meet all your nutritional needs. A healthy vegetarian diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. It limits added sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.

As long as you eat a variety of foods, there are only a few things you need to pay special attention to.

Calcium and vitamin D, for vegetarians who don't eat milk products.

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is important to keep bones strong. Foods that have calcium include certain legumes, certain leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and tofu. Some breakfast cereals, soy beverage, and orange juice are fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Iron.

Getting enough iron isn't a problem if you eat a wide variety of food. Vegetarian iron sources include cooked dried beans, peas, and lentils; leafy green vegetables; and iron-fortified grain products. Eating foods rich in vitamin C will help your body absorb iron.

Vitamin B12, for vegans.

Vitamin B12 comes from animal sources only. This includes dairy products and eggs. You can also eat foods that are fortified with this vitamin (such as soy beverage and breakfast cereals).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

Plant sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are seeds (flax, chia, camelina, canola, and hemp), walnuts, and their oils.

You can also take natural health products to get all the vitamins and minerals listed above.

How can you eat a healthy vegetarian diet when you're pregnant?

Make sure that you get enough protein, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, and iron while you are pregnant and breastfeeding. These are vital to your baby's health.

You might want to see a registered dietitian to be sure that you're eating a balanced diet. This can be even more important if you plan to eat a strict vegetarian diet. You may need to take a natural health product.

How can you get more protein on a vegetarian diet?

Protein is made of building blocks called amino acids. The human body can make some of these amino acids. But you must get the nine essential amino acids from food.

Protein isn't just found in meat. It is found in many other foods. If you are looking for vegetarian sources of protein, try:

  • ¾ cup (175 mL) cooked beans, peas, or lentils (12 g protein).
  • ¾ cup (150 g / 175 mL) tofu (12 g protein).
  • 1 cup (250 mL) milk (9 g protein).
  • 1½ oz (50 g) cheese (12 g protein).
  • ¾ (150 g) cup regular yogurt (7 g protein).
  • ¾ (150 g) cup Greek yogurt (14 g protein).
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) nuts or seeds (3 g to 8 g protein).
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) peanut butter or other nut or seed butter (4 g protein).

You can get more protein in your food by adding high-protein ingredients. For example, you can:

  • Add powdered milk to other foods, such as pudding or soups.
  • Add powdered protein to fruit smoothies and cooked cereal.
  • Add beans to soup and chili.
  • Add nuts, seeds, or wheat germ to yogurt.

You can also:

  • Spread peanut butter on a banana.
  • Mix cottage cheese into noodle dishes or casseroles.
  • Sprinkle hard-boiled eggs on a salad.
  • Grate cheese over vegetables and soups.

You can also buy protein bars, drinks, and powders. Check the nutrition label for the amount of protein in each serving.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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