A vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat, poultry, or fish. They eat mainly plant food such as fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and nuts. There are three types of vegetarians:
- The strict vegetarian avoids eating any meat, poultry, or fish as well as foods made with animal products. These products include eggs, milk, cheese, and honey.
- The lacto vegetarian avoids meat, fish, and poultry but will eat foods made with milk. This includes cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
- The lacto-ovo vegetarian avoids meat, poultry and fish. They will eat food that is made with milk and eggs.
People choose to become vegetarians for many reasons. It may be due to feelings for animals, concern for world hunger, health or religious beliefs. Whatever the reason vegetarian diets need to be properly planned. Vegetarian diets are generally low in calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B-12 and calories. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is to make sure the diet provides enough calories and includes a wide variety of foods.
To meet these needs it is recommended that vegetarians:
- Eat at least 4 servings of a calcium rich food every day.
- Get at least 20-30 minutes of direct sunlight 2-3 times each week for vitamin D.
- Eat a food item that is fortified with vitamin B-12 and iron every day. This means that a vitamin or mineral has been added to a food item. A good source of this would be a fortified breakfast cereal.
- Eat a variety of whole-grain products every day.
- Enjoy a vitamin C fruit or juice with meals to help the body absorb iron.
As a side note - vegetarian diets are not recommended for pregnant women, young children, or teenagers unless the diet is carefully planned with a health care provider.
Susan Mills-Gray, Mills-GrayS@missouri.edu
Regional Specialist, Nutrition and Health Education
Cass County, Missouri
University of Missouri Extension