Vegetarian Awareness Month

By Patrice Powers-Barker, OSU Extension, Lucas County
The Truth Contributor

What do you mean no meat??? Okay, I hear you! But this nutrition article is about vegetarian awareness month. It is not a challenge to eliminate all animal products from your diet, but it will offer the chance to think about how some meatless dishes and meals can be added to your meal patterns.

There are many reasons why someone might choose to eat a vegetarian diet, including but not limited to health, religion, animal welfare, environmental resources, and personal preferences. In regards to nutrition and health, the American Dietetic Association shares, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” A vegetarian diet may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

OK, so what’s the difference between vegetarian and vegan? While some vegetarians choose to not eat any animal products at all, there are different ways to define vegetarian diets depending on what foods an individual chooses to eat or not eat. Many of these categories do not use any meat, poultry, or fish (except pescatarian) but might have some foods from animals. Some of the more common vegetarian diets include these categories.

  • Lacto-vegetarian diets include dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt and butter (but no eggs).
  • Ovo-vegetarian diets include eggs (but no dairy).
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets include both dairy products and eggs.
  • Pescatarian diets include fish.
  • Vegan diets include only food from plant sources. Therefore, no eggs, dairy, or honey are used.

Some people follow a diet that is mostly plant-based, but they still eat meat, dairy, eggs, poultry and fish on occasion or in small quantities. This is sometimes called a “flexitarian” diet or even a semi-vegetarian diet. In this instance, it shows that you do not have to be a full-time vegetarian to experience the health benefits.


Are vegetarian diets always the healthiest choice?  Not necessarily. Just like any other eating pattern, the goal is to choose a variety of healthy foods from each food group. A vegetarian diet could rely too much on overly processed foods that are high in sodium and fat, even if they are not from animal products. Healthy eating is important at every age. When deciding what to eat or drink, choose options that are full of nutrients and limited in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Choose a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, dairy or fortified alternatives. For example, if someone is a Ovo-vegetarian (no dairy), they may choose soy drinks or even orange juice that has been fortified with calcium as a way to meet calcium recommendations. In addition to fortified foods, other foods are a good source of calcium if you eat enough of them. Dark green vegetables like turnip and collard greens and broccoli are a good source of calcium.

Obviously, protein can be sourced from meat and animal foods. If someone doesn’t eat meat or poultry but does eat eggs or fish, they are good sources of protein. Plant-based foods like legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains like quinoa offer protein to the diet and are often common in vegetarian dishes.

The body doesn’t absorb iron from plant sources as easily as animal sources so the recommended intake of iron for vegetarians is higher than the recommendation for nonvegetarians. Plant foods that are sources of iron include: dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit. Eating foods rich in vitamin C with those foods to help the body absorb iron. Foods high in vitamin C include: peppers, strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli. For iodine, seaweed is a plant option.

The following tips are from MyPlate to Make Simple Changes:

  • Think about your main dish such as pasta or stir fry. Add more vegetables and some dried peans or tofu.
  • Eat a variety of plant protein foods such as black or kidney beans, cooked split peas, and yellow or green lentils. Nuts and seeds are also great options to help you meet protein needs.
  • Eat a small handful of almonds or walnuts as a snack or add on top of a salad.
  • Try a bean-based chili, three bean salad, or split pea soup. Beans, peas, and lentils, which are excellent sources of protein, fiber, folate, and several minerals, are recommended for everyone – vegetarians and nonvegetarians alike – because of their high nutrient content.
  • Enjoy a snack of  raw veggies and hummus – a Middle Eastern dip made from blended chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Information for this article was sourced from MyPlate, Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School.