Are you considering the switch to a vegetarian diet? Here’s your guide to the different types of vegetarian diets, how to choose which one is right for you and ways to meet your nutritional needs.

Vegetarian Diet Breakdown

There are four types of vegetarian diets to choose from.

Vegan: A strict vegetarian diet that eliminates all animal products, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy foods.

Lactovegetarian: A vegetarian diet that eliminates meat, poultry, fish and eggs but includes dairy products.

Lacto-ovo vegetarian: A vegetarian diet that eliminates meat, poultry and fish but includes eggs and dairy products. This is the most popular type of vegetarian diet.

Flexitarian: This semi-vegetarian diet is based on plant foods with occasional inclusion of meat, poultry and/or fish.

Health Perks of Vegetarian Diets

Well-balanced vegetarian diets are associated with the prevention and management of certain diseases including:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type II diabetes
  • Certain types of cancer

Nutrients to Focus On

Eating a variety of different foods and proper meal planning is necessary to ensure your diet includes an adequate amount of essential nutrients. Vegetarians may find it difficult to meet their needs for the following nutrients.

Nutrient

Function

Best Source

Iron Oxygen transport Beans, enriched cereals, whole grains, soy products, dark green vegetables, dried fruits, baked potatoes with skin   Tip: Eat these food with Vitamin C-containing foods to boost absorption.
Zinc Promotes overall growth/development. Plays a role in skin and immune health Low-fat dairy, beans, soy, whole grains, nuts and nut butters, seeds
Protein Promotes skin, bone, muscle and organ health Low-fat dairy, beans, legumes, lentils, soy, whole grains, nuts and nut butters, seeds
Omega-3s Promote heart and brain health Fortified foods like eggs, cereals, granola bars, dairy products, vegetable oil spreads, nut butters, walnuts, canola oil, flaxseed, soy
Vitamin B12 Production of red blood cells. Brain and nervous system health Eggs, low-fat dairy, fortified foods   Tip: Vegans or strict vegetarians are advised to take a daily supplement
Vitamin D Promotes calcium absorption, reduces inflammation, promotes cell growth Eggs, low-fat dairy, soymilk, cereals,
Calcium Strengthens teeth and bones Low-fat dairy, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables such as collards and turnips

 

What about supplements?

If you’re concerned that your nutritional intake falls short of your body’s needs, meet with a registered dietitian (RD) who will evaluate your eating habits and make recommendations to get you on track with a well-balanced vegetarian diet.

Transitioning to a vegetarian diet is a major lifestyle change. Ease into your new way of eating gradually and at your own pace to help yourself stay committed. Start with these simple tips:

Make Mondays Meatless
Stick solely to plant-based meals on one day of the week, then ramp up the number of meatless days to make the full transition.

Try Simple Substitutions
Many of your favorite meals can be made meatless with just a few simple substitutions. For example: omit ground meat from chili and add an extra can of black beans or soy crumbles. Instead of chicken Parmesan, give eggplant a try. Or expand your horizons and replace chicken with extra-firm tofu to make stir fry.

Get Creative
Experiment with unfamiliar foods and recipes that fit within your approach to the vegetarian diet. Try a few of our favorite recipes!

Don’t Go it Alone!

Always be sure to consult your primary physician or a registered dietitian before making any serious dietary changes. Choosing to become vegetarian can be a great health choice but if not done right, could cause potential problems. Check out the following sites for more information regarding going vegetarian!

Additional Resources

My Plate. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips/tips-for-vegetarian.html
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.vegetariannutrition.net/, http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6375#.UDPNTqmPXso