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Diet and Nutrition

Vegetarian Diets: Healthy alternatives?

Are all "vegetarian" diets equal?

Not all vegetarian diets are the same. A vegan diet is the most limited type of vegetarian diet. This diet includes only plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, seeds, and nuts. A lacto vegetarian diet includes plant foods plus dairy products, such as milk and cheese. A lactoovo vegetarian diet includes eggs in addition to dairy products and plant foods. A semivegetarian diet excludes red meat, but allows fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and plant foods.

Are vegetarian diets healthy?

While some people adopt vegetarian diets due to a concern for animal welfare, the environment, or religious beliefs, many choose vegetarianism for its health effects. Plant-based, vegetarian diets often are healthy with minimally processed foods that are low in calories and fat and packed with nutrients and fiber. But of course, the quality of any diet depends on the balance, variety, and nutrient value of its foods. Vegetarian diets that include nutrient-poor foods or limit food choices to only plant foods (such as the vegan diet) may lack essential nutrients.

Tips for planning a healthy vegetarian diet:

Planning is the key to any healthy diet, particularly strict vegetarian diets. The main strategy is to include a wide variety of healthy foods that meet your energy needs. Read food labels and select foods that are nutrient-dense. Pay particular attention to the following nutrients:

This article originally appeared in Nutri-bytes (March 2007), a service of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

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Last Reviewed: Mar 05, 2007

Bonnie J Brehm, PhD, RD Bonnie J Brehm, PhD, RD
Professor of Nursing
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati