Some people think that being a vegetarian means that you will have to eat strange foods, really restrict your diet, or carefully combine foods. If you are interested in becoming a vegetarian, get the facts.
Not true. It is tough to find anyone in the US who is protein-deprived. Most Americans meet their daily protein needs, with most people exceeding their needs. While there is no doubt that meat is protein-packed, almost all foods contain at least small amount of proteins. This means that just by eating a variety of foods, vegetarians get plenty.
Not true. Diners are demanding more meatless menu options, and restaurants are responding. Meatless dining out is easier than ever. Even if there are not a lot of choices, with a little creativity, it is not difficult to put together a tasty meal. Most restaurants are happy to prepare items without meat. Even fast food restaurants will usually take requests for burgers ordered as "hold the meat, add extra vegetables."
Vegetarians, like meat eaters, should follow the pattern set out by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Choose My Plate Food Guide and eat a diet based on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, with smaller amounts of low-fat dairy products and protein foods and limited amounts of added fats and sweets. The USDA does say that vegetarians may need to pay particular attention to protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and B12. Here are some common sources of these nutrients:
According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), "well-planned…vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy." Moreover, says the ADA, meatless diets, when appropriately planned, also "satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents". Like all pregnant women, vegetarian women should take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy.
Babies born to vegetarians are just as likely to be a healthy, normal weight as those born to non-vegetarian mothers. Kids are fine without meat, too. Vegetarian children grow normally. It may be a good idea to see a registered dietitian who can spot any potential problem areas and address fears that parents might have.
Just because you are not eating meat, does not mean you are eating healthfully. A vegetarian who eats a diet full of fried foods and foods packed with sugar like cake and candy is not eating well.
Not true. There are plenty of vegetarians who have never allowed tofu to pass their lips. In general, though, vegetarians do tend to experiment with different foods to replace the meat that they may have grown up with, but this is not a requirement of the vegetarian way of life. Vegetable pizza, bean burritos, broccoli stir-fry, pasta with marinara sauce, and other classics are all meatless dishes.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
International Vegetarian Union
10 tips: Healthy eating for vegetarians. Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/ten-tips-healthy-eating-for-vegetarians. Updated July 25, 2017. Accessed October 24, 2017.
Craig WJ, Mangels AR; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(7):1266-1282. Available at: http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/2009_ADA_position_paper.pdf.
Pendick D. How much protein do you need every day? Harvard Health Publishing website. Available at: http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2008/March/docs/01features_01.htm. Updated October 20, 2017. Accessed October 24, 2017.
Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 1/22/2014