Vegetarian Diet

Author:  Frank W. Jackson, M.D.

Purpose

Many people will choose vegetarian diets for personal, health, or religious reasons. On a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, only vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains are eaten. The lactovegetarian diet adds milk and milk products to the vegan diet, and the ovo-lactovegetarian diet adds eggs and milk products. People who avoid meat and vegetables in their diets are called fruitarians, eating only fresh or dried fruits and nuts, honey, and olive oil. Finally, partial or semivegetarians may eat some animal foods, but not red meats. It is recommended that people eat less fat and more fiber for a healthy diet, and vegetarian diets have less fat and more fiber than most regular diets.

Nutrition

Proteins, calories, vitamins, and minerals are required in the correct amounts for growth and for good health. These elements can be found in any vegetarian diet, but it is necessary to understand how they fit together to plan a healthy diet.

Special Considerations
  1. Proteins are made up of many small amino acids. Some amino acids are made by the body. Others, called essential amino acids, must come from foods that are eaten. The proteins found in milk, eggs, meat, fish, and cheese are the most complete sources of essential amino acids. Proteins are also found in foods from plants, but no one plant food has all of the essential amino acids in the correct amounts. To get all the essential amino acids the body needs for growth and good health, eat a variety of foods. The body will make its own complete protein if enough variety and calories are eaten each day. Whole grain cereals should be used in large amounts because they give calories for energy and are a good source of iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B complex. Include several different selections of legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds throughout the day.
  2. Calories: Eating enough whole grains and legumes throughout the day will give the body the calories it needs for energy.
  3. Vitamins and minerals are important for a vegan diet. If the lactovegetarian and the ovo-lactovegetarian diets are planned well, they will contain all the vitamins and minerals the body needs for good health. Vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in the vegan diet are vitamin B-12, vitamin D, riboflavin, calcium, zinc, and iron. Soybeans and soy bean milk and dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium and iron, but spinach, chard, and beet greens should be eaten in smaller amounts because they contain oxalic acid. Oxalic acid may interfere with the absorption of calcium. Whole grains and cereals, legumes, dates, prunes and raisins are rich in iron. If they are eaten with foods that have ascorbic acid or vitamin C in them, the iron will be absorbed better by the body. Leavened breads, legumes, nuts and spinach contain zinc, and the body gets vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Eating fruit helps to satisfy the body’s need for vitamins and minerals.

    Since vitamin B-12 is not found in plants, it is necessary for strict vegetarians to get it another way. Commercially prepared foods and meat substitutes are sometimes fortified with vitamin B-12. Check the special foods sections of the supermarket or health food store for these items. The health care provider may prescribe a vitamin B-12 supplement.

  4. Gender, age, disease, and certain health conditions may affect the amounts of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and calories needed by the body. For example, women who are pregnant or nursing will have different needs. The physician or registered dietitian should be asked for advice in these cases.

Helpful Hints

  1. Avocados are a good source of protein, but they are high in fats. There are two varieties: the California avocado, and the Florida avocado. The Florida avocado is larger, but contains half the calories and half the fat per ounce.
  2. Dark green leafy vegetables are a more nutritious choice for salads. Romaine lettuce, for example, has eight times as much beta-carotene and six times as much vitamin C as iceberg lettuce.
  3. Eat vegetables both raw and cooked. Some yield more nutrients when cooked. Carrots, for example, have 30% more beta-carotene after cooking. Vitamin C can be lost in cooking. However, only 15% may be lost when these vegetables are cooked in a microwave, while up to half may be lost in boiling.
  4. The soybean is a world-class protein. In the orient it is often referred to as “the meat of the fields.” It is available in a variety of products: tofu, soy milk, soy oil, miso, and soy nut snacks. It is also a tasty substitute in recipes calling for other dried beans. One cup of cooked, dried soybeans yields 20 grams of protein.
Sample Menu
Strict Vegetarian (Vegan)

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

  • orange juice 1/2 cup
  • oatmeal 1 cup
  • whole wheat toast
    2 slices
  • margarine 2 tsp
  • sugar 1 tsp
  • whole wheat toast
    2 slices
  • preserves 1 Tbsp
  • peanut butter 2 Tbsp
  • carrot & celery sticks
  • banana
  • fruit ice
  • vegetarian chili 1 cup
  • baked potato 1 med
  • green beans 1/2 cup
  • tossed salad with
    oil & vinegar
  • margarine 2 tsp
  • fresh apple
This Sample Diet Provides the Following
Calories

1687

Fat

62 gm

Protein

41 gm

Sodium

1828 mg

Carbohydrates

259 gm

Potassium

3203 mg

© Frank W. Jackson, M.D.