A vegetarian diet does not include meat. People who follow a vegetarian diet are called vegetarians. They do not eat animal meat, poultry, or fish. Many vegetarians also avoid other animal products such as gelatin, rennet (used to make some kinds of cheese), and animal fats. Vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products are called ovo-lacto vegetarians. People who do not eat any animal products are called vegans.
A well-planned vegetarian diet can be good for your health. By not eating meat, you eat less cholesterol and less saturated fat. This may lower your risk of heart disease, gallstones, stroke, and some types of cancer.
All of the rules for a healthy diet are true for a vegetarian diet. You need to eat a variety of foods in moderate amounts. You may have to work a little harder to get all of the nutrients you need without meat. This is especially true if you eat no animal products at all.
A well planned vegetarian diet is safe. If it is too restricted or too high in sweets, sodas, and snack foods, it may be unhealthy. Even if you eat a lot of healthy salads and whole grains and drink fruit juice, you may not be getting enough important nutrients, such as calcium, iron, zinc, and protein. However, it is getting easier than it used to be to get all of the nutrients you need. Many fortified and convenience foods such as soy milk, meat analogs (veggie burgers and dogs), and frozen entrees are available now.
Here are some of the nutrients you need to be sure to get from your vegetarian diet.
If the diet is well planned, a vegetarian diet is safe during pregnancy and while you are breast-feeding. However, you need to make sure that the foods you eat have the nutrients your growing baby needs. You should include milk or other dairy products in your diet. You should also try to eat foods that have a high protein content, such as peanut butter, nuts, eggs, tofu, and legumes. These foods will help supply the protein and calcium your baby needs. Also make sure that you get enough zinc, iron, vitamin B-12, and vitamin D.
Many healthcare providers recommend taking prenatal vitamins during pregnancy and while you are breast-feeding. This can be especially helpful for vegetarians. Ask your provider if you need a B-12 supplement. Your baby may need to take B-12 as well.
Breast-fed babies should also take a vitamin D supplement. You can buy liquid multivitamin drops with vitamin D without a prescription. Ask your provider for a recommendation.
If you follow the above guidelines for getting enough nutrients from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and oils, you and your baby can have a healthy diet.
If you are not getting enough vitamins or minerals, you may have symptoms such as:
Check with your healthcare provider if you think you may not be getting all the nutrients you need.
Recipes and more information on vegetarian diets can be found at your local library and on the Internet. Some helpful Web sites are:
Call your provider if: