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Vegetarian Diets: Good for Your Health
Eating mostly plant-based foods can reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.

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Vegetarian Diets: Good for Your Health

Thinking about going vegetarian? Federal health experts recommend that more of our foods come from plant-based sources like vegetables, fruits and whole grains. So there is nothing wrong with considering a well-balanced vegetarian diet.

First off, you should understand some common variations of a vegetarian diet.

Strict vegetarian, or vegan: Excludes all animal-based foods including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy (such as milk, cheese and yogurt).
Lactovegetarian: Excludes meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Allows dairy products.
Lacto-ovovegetarian: Excludes meat, poultry, fish. Allows eggs and dairy.
Ovovegetarian: Excludes meat, poultry, fish and dairy. Allows eggs.
Flexitarian: Mostly vegetarian with occasional consumption of meat, poultry or fish.

At the heart of any healthy eating program is this: You need to control your calories to manage your weight while getting the nutrients your body needs.

A vegetarian diet is high in nutrient-dense foods. Plant-based foods are loaded with vitamins and minerals. But they are relatively low in calories and contain little to no added sugars, fats, salt or starches. In their whole form, most fruits and vegetables contain dietary fiber that everyone needs.

A vegetarian-style diet has been associated with lower levels of obesity and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Some studies have found it helps to lower blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables may protect against certain forms of cancer. But they may not provide all the essential nutrients your body needs.

To get important vitamins and minerals, you might consider these food sources. They are friendly to different variations of a vegetarian diet.

Protein: Beans, peas and nuts; soy products like milk and tofu; and if your eating plan includes them, dairy products and eggs.
Iron: Green leafy vegetables; dried beans and fruits; whole grains; iron-fortified breads and cereals; and if on your plan, eggs.
Calcium: Dark green leafy vegetables; dried beans; broccoli; calcium-fortified products like orange juice, grains, soy and rice drinks; and if on your plan, dairy foods.
Vitamin D: Foods fortified with vitamin D, such as orange juice; and if your plan allows, milk.
Vitamin B12: Cereals, breads and soy and rice drinks fortified with vitamin B12; nutritional yeast; and if your plan allows, dairy and eggs.
Zinc: Nuts, dried beans and pumpkin seeds; fortified cereal and wheat germ.

In some cases, your health care provider might recommend a supplement to help meet your nutritional needs.

By Ginny Greene, Editor
Created on 07/02/2008
Updated on 05/06/2014
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Vegetarian lifestyle.
  • Vegetarianism.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010.
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