Vegetarian Diets

Well-planned vegetarian diets offer significant health benefits. When compared to nonvegetarians, vegegarians as a group demonstrate a lower rate of coronary heart disease, obesity, hypertension, noninsulin-dependent diabetes, colon cancer, osteoporosis, kidney stones, gallstones, and diverticular disease. Since the causes of these conditions are not singular but multifactorial, non-dietary lifestyle factors may also play a role in disease prevention.

Vegetarian diets are classified as:

  • Vegan: No meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or milk products
  • Lacto-vegetarian: No meat, poultry, fish, or eggs; includes milk products
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: No meat, poultry, or fish; includes milk products and eggs
  • Semi-vegetarian: Some animal foods excluded, usually red meats; may include fish, poultry, eggs, or milk products

A vegetarian diet can be nutritionally sound and well-balanced, but careful planning is essential for ensuring adequate daily nutrient intakes. Vegans in particular need to ensure that calorie intakes are sufficient to maintain desirable body weight, and that adequate intakes of protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamins B-12 and D are obtained. The most common type of vegetarians in the U.S., that is lacto-, lacto-ovo-, and semi-vegetarians, follow less restricted diets and so tend to have fewer nutritional problems.

Extra care in menu planning is essential for those with elevated nutrient needs due to growth, lactation, or recovery from illness. Infants, children, adolescents, and pregnant and lactating women following vegetarian diets need zinc and vitamins B-12 and D. Infants who are exclusively breast-fed may need to be given 400 IU of vitamin D and 7 mg of supplemental iron daily. Note that infants are very sensitive to nutrient overdoses.

Food Combinations that Provide Complete Protein


Legumes + Grains

Legumes + Seeds or Nuts

Grains + Dairy Products

Vegetarian protein foods + small amounts of complete animal protein

Examples of Vegetarian Dishes with Complete Protein:

lentils & rice

bean taco

peanut butter sandwich
tofu & sesame seeds

hummus (chickpeas & sesame seed paste)

macaroni & cheese

cheese & rice casserole

cereal with milk

pasta with cheese

Soy products provide complete protein by themselves

For more information about vegetarian diets call Maria Cruz at x3158.