Becoming a Vegetarian

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, vegetarian lifestyles have been associated with improved health outcomes such as lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure.

Are you thinking of becoming a vegetarian? Here’s what you need to know.

What is a Vegetarian?

According the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegetarians are classified into the following categories:

  • Strict vegetarian or vegan: A vegetarian diet that excludes all animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products
  • Lactovegetarian: A vegetarian diet that excludes meat, poultry, fish and eggs, but includes dairy products
  • Lacto-ovovegetarian: A vegetarian diet that excludes meat, poultry and fish, but includes eggs and dairy products. Most vegetarians in the United States fall into this category.
  • Pescatarian: A vegetarian diet that excludes meat and poultry, and includes fish, eggs, and dairy products.
  • Flexitarian: A semi-vegetarian diet with a focus on vegetarian food with occasional meat, poultry, or fish consumption.

No matter which category you may fall into, you’ll still want to include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes into your diet. If you are eating a vegetarian diet, you may need to find other sources for the following nutrients.

Nutrients in Vegetarian Food Sources

Calcium:

  • Fortified soymilk or rice milk
  • Fortified ready-to-eat cereals
  • Calcium-fortified juice
  • Calcium-set tofu
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Beans
  • Almonds and almond butter
  • Sesame seeds and sesame butter (tahini)
  • Soybean nuts

Iron
Pair a food high in vitamin C (citrus fruits, orange juice, bell peppers, tomatoes) with the following vegetarian-friendly iron sources to increase iron absorption.

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Soybean nuts
  • Dark green, leafy greens
  • Beans
  • Enriched breads, rice and pasta
  • Eggs
  • Peanut butter

Protein

  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Soy products
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

Vitamin B12

  • Vitamin B12-fortified foods including nutritional yeast, soymilk, and ready-to-eat cereals. Be sure to check the label.
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

Vitamin D

  • Eggs
  • Vitamin D-fortified soymilk, cow's milk
  • Orange juice
  • Ready-to-eat cereals

Try to get your nutrients through food sources, and speak with your doctor before taking vitamins or supplements. 

Vegetarian Recipes

Need help planning nutritious vegetarian recipes? Here are some quick and easy meatless meals to get you started: