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Vegetarianism

Alternate Names

  • strict vegetarian or vegan
  • ovo-vegetarian
  • lacto-vegetarian
  • lacto-ovo-vegetarian
  • pesco-vegetarian
  • semi-vegetarian

Definition

There are several categories of vegetarians. These include:
  • vegan, that is, strict vegetarian: eats no animal foods of any kind
  • ovo-vegetarian: eats eggs, but no dairy foods or other animal foods
  • lacto-vegetarian: eats dairy foods but no other animal foods or eggs
  • lacto-ovo-vegetarian: eats dairy foods and eggs, but no other animal foods
  • pesco-vegetarian: eats dairy foods, eggs, and fish, but no other animal foods
  • semi-vegetarian: mostly follows a vegetarian diet but eats meat, poultry and fish occasionally

How does the nutrient affect the body?

People have many motivations for choosing a vegetarian diet. These may include ethical, religious, environmental and personal health reasons. A plant-based diet that is built around a wide variety of foods can be a healthy choice for many people. People with chronic conditions such as heart disease and some types of cancer may benefit from a vegetarian diet. It can also be a good choice for people who want to lose weight.

Information

According to the Food Guide Pyramid, a balanced diet should include food from both fruit and vegetable as well as meat groups. In general larger amounts of fruit and vegetables are recommended than meats. These guidelines are based on studies of people around the world that show plant-based diets are among the healthiest.
However, people who choose more limited types of vegetarian diets (such as vegan) need to do more planning to get all the essential nutrients. They may need to take a multi-vitamin supplement. It is recommended not to take more than 100 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA).
Vegetarian diets tend to be healthier, if planned correctly, than diets that include animal foods. They contain more fiber (roughage) and are lower in fat, especially saturated fat. They also tend to be lower in calories and higher in certain vitamins and minerals. Diets based on animal foods tend to be higher in cholesterol and saturated fat. Saturated fat is the type of fat that has been most closely linked with an increased risk of heart disease.
Vegetarians who eat no meat, fish, poultry or dairy foods (vegans) face the risk of missing out on certain nutrients. These are iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and zinc. The following is a list of good plant sources for these key nutrients:
  • iron. This is found in legumes, tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, seeds, whole grain products and iron-fortified cereals and breads.
  • vitamin B12. This is found in fortified foods including soymilk, vegetarian burger patties and cereals.
  • vitamin D. The body makes this vitamin in the presence of sunlight. It is also found in fortified foods such as cereals, margarine and soy beverages.
  • calcium. This is found in tofu, broccoli, seeds, nuts, kale, legumes, greens, okra, rutabaga, calcium-fortified soymilk, calcium-enriched juices and grain products. It is also found in tortillas made from lime-processed corn and in fortified cereals.
  • zinc. This is found in whole grains such wheat germ and bran, whole-wheat breads and cereals, legumes, seeds, nuts and tofu.
All plant foods contain some protein. By eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes every day even vegans can get enough of this nutrient. No one plant food contains all of the 9 essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Therefore, it is crucial that vegetarians and vegans, in particular, eat a wide variety of plant proteins every day.
To maximize the intake of essential amino acids a person should eat legumes at the same meal or within several hours of eating grains. Legumes include peas, chickpeas, peanuts, lentils, and any of the wide variety of beans. Grains include rice, wheat, corn, rye, bulgur, oats, millet, and barley.
The key to healthy vegetarian diets is planning. Well-planned vegetarian diets can be safe for children, adults, as well as, pregnant and lactating women. Vegetarians should pay special attention to the nutrients mentioned above to plan a healthy diet.

Sources

Mahan, K, MS, RD, CDE&Escott-Stump, S., MA, RD, LDN. (2000). Krause's Food, Nutrition,&Diet Therapy (10th ed.). Pennsylvania: W.B. Saunders Company.

Duyff, R., MS, RD, CFCS. (1996). The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food&Nutrition Guide. Minnesota: Chronimed Publishing.

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