Some people think that being a vegetarian means that you will have to eat strange foods, really restrict your diet, or carefully combine foods. If you are interested in becoming a vegetarian, get the facts.
Not true. It is tough to find anyone in the United States—vegetarian or not—who is protein-deprived. Most Americans meet their daily protein needs, with many people exceeding their needs. While there is no doubt that meat is protein-packed, almost all foods contain at least small amounts of proteins. This means that just by eating a variety of foods, vegetarians get plenty.
Not true. Diners are demanding more meatless menu options, and restaurants are responding. Meatless dining out is easier than ever. Even if there are not a lot of choices, with a little creativity, it is not difficult to put together a tasty meal. Most restaurants are happy to prepare items without meat. Even fast food restaurants will usually take requests for burgers ordered as "hold the meat, add extra vegetables."
Vegetarians, like meat eaters, should follow the pattern set out by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Guide
and eat a diet based on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, with smaller amounts of low-fat dairy products and protein foods and limited amounts of added fats and sweets. The USDA does say that vegetarians may need to pay particular attention to
B12. Here are some common sources of these nutrients:
- Protein—beans, nuts, nut butters, peas, soy products, milk products, eggs
- Iron—iron-fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, turnip greens, molasses, whole wheat breads, peas, and dried fruits (apricots, prunes, raisins)
- Calcium—fortified breakfast cereals, soy products, calcium-fortified orange juice, dark-green leafy vegetables (collard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, mustard greens), milk products
- Zinc—beans (white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas), zinc-fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, milk products
- B12—milk products, eggs, foods fortified with B12 (breakfast cereals, soy-based beverages, veggie burgers)
According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), "well-planned…vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy." Moreover, says the ADA, meatless diets, when appropriately planned, also "satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents". Like all pregnant women, vegetarian women should take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy.
Babies born to vegetarians are just as likely to be a healthy, normal weight as those born to non-vegetarian mothers. Kids are fine without meat, too. Vegetarian children grow normally. It may be a good idea to see a registered dietitian who can spot any potential problem areas and address fears that parents might have.
Just because you are not eating meat, does not mean you are eating healthy. A vegetarian who eats a diet full of fried foods and foods packed with sugar like cake and candy is not eating well.
Not true. There are plenty of vegetarians who have never allowed tofu to pass their lips. In general, though, vegetarians do tend to experiment with different foods to replace the meat that they may have grown up with, but this is not a requirement of the vegetarian way of life. Vegetable pizza, bean burritos, broccoli stir-fry, pasta with marinara sauce, and other classics are all meatless dishes. And then there is macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, French toast…
Craig WJ, Mangels AR; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-1282. Available at: http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/2009_ADA_position_paper.pdf. Accessed January 22, 2014.
Healthy eating for vegetarians: 10 tips for vegetarians.
United States Department of Agriculture, Dietary Guidelines for Americans website. Available at:
Updated June 2011. Accessed January 22, 2014.
How much protein do you need?
NIH News in Health website. Available at:
Published March 2008. Accessed January 22, 2014.
Tips for vegetarians.
United States Department of Agriculture, ChooseMyPlate.gov website. Available at:
Accessed January 22, 2014.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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