Vegetarian Diet

Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian Diet

What Is a Vegetarian Diet?

A vegetarian diet doesn't have meat, poultry, fish, and foods that have these items in them. There are many types. This article is about the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. It is based on plant foods, but also includes eggs and dairy.

Why Follow It?

There are many health benefits. It is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. It also has higher amounts of many vitamins and minerals than western diets. A well-balanced vegetarian diet may help:

People eat this way for many reasons, such as health benefits, concern for the environment, and concern for animal welfare.

The Basics

It is based on plant foods such as grains, veggies, fruits, legumes, seeds, and nuts, as well as dairy and eggs. To make sure that you meet all your nutrient needs, be sure to eat a variety of each of these foods. Make sure that you get enough protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Eating Plan

This table is based on the United States Department of Agriculture food guide, Choose My Plate.

Food Group Tips Key Nutrients
  • At least ½ of your grains should be whole grains.
  • Whole grains are: whole wheat products, oatmeal, brown rice, barley, bulgur, popcorn.
  • Vitamin B12 (fortified breakfast cereals)
  • Zinc-fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals
  • Eat different veggies each day.
  • During a meal, fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
  • Eat more of:
    • Dark green veggies like broccoli, spinach, bok choy, romaine lettuce
    • Orange veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash
  • Calcium (collard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, and mustard greens)
  • Iron (spinach, turnip greens, peas)
  • Eat a variety of fruit.
  • During a meal, fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
  • Choose fresh fruit over fruit juices.
  • Calcium (fortified orange juice)
  • Iron (raisins, prunes, dried apricots)
  • Choose low-fat (1%) or fat-free dairy products; limit full-fat cheese.
  • Milk alternatives are calcium-rich or -fortified foods and drinks.
  • Protein
  • Calcium (all milk products, fortified milk alternatives)
  • Vitamin D (fortified milk and milk alternatives)
  • Vitamin B12 (milk products and fortified milk alternatives)
Protein Rich Foods
  • Eat a variety of protein sources like eggs, beans, peas, nuts, nut butters, and soy (like tofu).
  • Protein
  • Zinc (white beans, kidney beans, and chick peas)
  • Iron (kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (eggs, ground flaxseed, walnuts)
Fats and Sweets
  • Limit or don't eat solid fats such butter, stick margarine, lard, and shortening.
  • Limit foods high in added sugar or solid fats.
  • Don't have sugary drinks. Drink water instead.


  • Eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups each day.
  • Limit how much cheese and other high-fat dairy products you eat.
  • If you are new to this, do not keep eating your usual food plan minus the meat. Replace the meat with other proteins like milk, beans, and nuts.
  • Think about meeting with a dietitian to make sure you are meeting all your nutrient needs. A meal plan can be made for you.
  • Enjoy your food, but don't overdo it. Avoid oversized portions.
  • Check the sodium amount on the Nutrition Facts label. Eat foods low in sodium.

Eat Right—American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

The Vegetarian Resource Group


Dietitians of Canada

Toronto Vegetarian Association


Craig WJ, Mangels AR; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am D Assoc. 2009;109(7):1266-1282.

Healthy eating for vegetarians. US Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate website. Available at: Updated July 25, 2017. Accessed December 10, 2018.

Proteins food gallery. US Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate website. Available at: Updated January 21, 2016. Accessed December 10, 2018.

Tips for vegetarians. US Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate website. Available at: Updated March 7, 2018. Accessed December 10, 2018.

Vegetarian diet. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: Updated June 30, 2017. Accessed December 10, 2018.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardDianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN  Last Updated: 12/10/2018