There are several categories of vegetarians. These include:
According to the Food Guide Pyramid, a balanced diet should include 11 to 20 servings of plant foods. Only 4 to 6 of the day's food servings should come from animal foods. This includes meat and dairy products. 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, B1\ \
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. Plant foods do not contain 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.
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.
Author:Clare Armstrong, MS, RD
Editor:Keefe, Sandy, RN, MSN
Reviewer:Kimberly A. Tessmer, RD, LD
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.