Maintaining health as a vegetarian

vegetarian food
One common form of vegetarianism is the lacto-vegetarian diet. In this form, meats, fish, poultry, and eggs are excluded from the diet, but dairy products such as milk, cheese, and butter are included. (Photos: Envato Elements)
Recently diets and meal fads have become increasingly popular. Regarding diets, vegetarianism seems to be one of the most popular. It is estimated that 18 percent of the world’s population follows some form of a vegetarian diet. Whether due to personal health reasons or ethical reasons, there are benefits to being vegetarian.اضافة اعلان

However, like any limitations on food intake, vegetarianism could pose certain risks if not done correctly.

Types of vegetarians

Generally, the concept of vegetarianism is no meat, poultry, or fish, but there are different forms for practice.

One common form of vegetarianism is the lacto-vegetarian diet. In this form, meats, fish, poultry, and eggs are excluded from the diet, but dairy products such as milk, cheese, and butter are included.

An ovo-vegetarian diet excludes meats, fish, poultry, and dairy products but includes eggs. A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, however, excludes meats, poultry, and fish but includes dairy products and eggs.

Lastly, a pescatarian diet excludes meats, poultry, dairy, and eggs but includes fish.


Aside from the ethical benefits of reducing the farming and butchering of animals, vegetarianism may provide many health benefits. Generally speaking, when compared to those who include meat in their diet, vegetarians tend to have better levels of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E, and magnesium.

In addition to better levels of nutrients, a vegetarian diet may also help with weight loss. A 2016 meta-analysis of vegetarians and non-vegetarians found that, on average, vegetarians lost 2kg more weight than non-vegetarians over an 18-week period.

Similarly, vegetarians tend to have lower levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL, or bad cholesterol. These defining features of vegetarianism may prove beneficial in certain chronic diseases such as diabetes and overall heart health. A 2014 meta-analysis found that vegetarianism was linked to better control of blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes.
A 2012 study conducted in Jordan ... comparing chronic disease and health between vegetarians and non-vegetarians ... found that vegetarians consistently had lower rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and obesity.
A 2012 study conducted in Jordan focused on accentuating the benefits of being a vegetarian by comparing chronic disease and health between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. They found that vegetarians consistently had lower rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and obesity.

Lastly, some evidence suggests that a vegetarian diet could be linked to a reduced risk of developing certain cancers such as breast, colon, rectum, and stomach cancer. Unfortunately, evidence is limited to observational studies and has been, at times, inconsistent.


Humans are omnivores, which means they can source food from plants and meats. Being omnivorous served an important role in human survival as it allowed us to obtain nutrients from various sources.

The more limited your diet is, the more likely you become deficient in certain nutrients, which can ultimately pose a health risk. In the case of vegetarians, many nutrients are found in meats and dairy products that may be hard to substitute.

Meats, poultry, and fish are good sources of protein and omega-3-fatty acids but also a source of other nutrients such as zinc, selenium, iron, and vitamin B12. Dairy products and eggs are also good sources of calcium, vitamin D, and various vitamin Bs.

As a result, vegetarians are at risk for deficiencies in protein, calcium, iron, iodine, and vitamin B12. Deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to a host of conditions and complications such as fatigue, general weakness, anemia, bone loss, and thyroid issues.

Additionally, to compensate for the restricted diet, vegetarians often rely on heavily processed foods that may be high in calories, sugars, fats, and sodium.

Getting your nutrients as vegetarian

To remain healthy, a vegetarian must supplement the lost nutrients in other forms. Often, vegetarians will use supplements and multivitamins to compensate, but there are more natural alternatives.

According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a proper diet for vegetarians can be broken up into six main food groups. This includes vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein, and oils.

The more restrictive the form of vegetarianism is, the more you will need to adjust your recommended food group intake. These guidelines serve as a rough template and if any foods do not coincide with your form of vegetarianism, be sure to supplement as them appropriately.


Vegetables are divided into five different groups: dark greens, reds and oranges, legumes, starchy, and others. Dark green vegetables include broccoli, spinach, romaine, kale, collard greens, turnip, and mustard greens, and 1.5 cup-equivalents should be consumed per week.

Orange and red vegetables include tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkin, and 5.5 cup-equivalents should be consumed per week.

Legumes include kidney beans, white beans, black beans, lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans, split peas, and edamame, but do not include green beans or green peas. A 3 cup-equivalents of legumes should be consumed per week.

Starchy vegetables include white potatoes, corn, green peas, green lima beans, plantains, and cassava, and a 5 cup-equivalent should be consumed per week. Other vegetables include iceberg lettuce, green beans, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, celery, zucchini, mushrooms, and green peppers, and 4 cup-equivalents should be consumed per week.


Grains are divided into whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains include whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereals and crackers, oatmeal, quinoa, popcorn, and brown rice, whereas refined grains include white breads, refined grain cereals, and crackers, pasta, and white rice. Around 3.5 cup-equivalents of whole-grain foods and 3 cup-equivalents of refined grain foods should be consumed each day.


Protein sources for vegetarians are limited. However, various nuts, seeds, soy products, and eggs, if your diet allows for it, could be beneficial sources. If eggs are allowed, you should consume a 3 ounce-equivalent per week. Examples include lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, and almonds, and 14 ounce-equivalents should be consumed per day.

Other nutrients

Vitamin B12, iron, and zinc are important in red blood cell production, and deficiency may result in anemia. Unfortunately, these nutrients are found almost exclusively in animal products. However, many soy and cereal products are fortified with vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. But it is important to monitor your levels regularly and take supplements if needed.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another important nutrient that plays a role in heart health. Omega-3s are commonly found in fish and eggs, but a few plant-based options are available. Canola oil, soy oil, walnuts, and soybeans are good sources of essential fatty acids.

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