An Overview of the Vegetarian Diet

The vegetarian diet continues to grow in popularity each year as consumers look for ways to each more plant-based meals and respond to social concerns. Is this diet for everyone? What nutritional factors should be considered if pursuing a vegetarian diet? This article provides a brief overview of those questions. 

What is the vegetarian diet? 

Most simply, it is the exclusion of animal meats. Variations of the diet may include or exclude dairy, eggs, or fish. Vegan diets are vegetarian diets that exclude all products made from an animal source including dairy, eggs, honey, and gelatin. 

Why choose the vegetarian diet?  

While anyone can hold these views and not become vegetarian, common factors that drive someone to a vegetarian diet include: 

  • A personal preference towards plant-based eating 
  • Environmental concerns related to food production 
  • Following a religion that encourages it 
  • Concern about animal welfare 
  • Health concerns 
  • Cost 

Similarly, a person might choose not to follow a vegetarian diet if they have: 

  • A personal preference toward omnivorous eating 
  • A dislike of fruits and vegetables 
  • A lifestyle related to animal production 
  • Risk of nutrient deficiencies 
  • A need to follow a low-carbohydrate diet 

Are there nutrient concerns of a vegetarian diet? 

Many people get protein, calcium, iron, and B12 from animal sources. If following a vegetarian diet, be sure to get these nutrients from other sources. 

What are some plant sources of these nutrients of concern? 

Protein: soy, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains 

Calcium: leafy greens, soy, fortified foods 

Iron: lentils, beans, spinach, soy, fortified foods 

B12: nutritional yeast, supplement 

Other considerations? 

Many of the health, financial, and environmental benefits from this diet are influenced by purchasing habits. While a processed food may be vegetarian, it may not always be nutritious, cost-friendly, or environmentally friendly. Consider the ingredients, the amount of processing, and the price before deciding to buy. 

Lastly, plant foods are essential to any healthy diet. Include a variety in your meals each day! 

Interested in learning more about the vegetarian diet? Visit https://www.myplate.gov/tip-sheet/enjoy-vegetarian-meals for more information. 

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