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Friday’s Flavor: Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice involving the consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes and seeds, with or without dairy products or eggs. Ovo, meaning egg, and lacto, meaning milk, placed in front of the word vegetarian, ovovegetarian and lactovegetarian, can express what added animal products a vegetarian includes in their diet. Ovo-lacto vegetarians consume both dairy products and eggs. Vegans, or total vegetarians, do not consume any animal products at all. There are also semi-vegetarians, who consume a vegetarian diet on a regular basis, but incorporate animal products occasionally, such as fish or chicken. Some products, like marshmallows, chips, cakes, and soups, may be avoided by vegetarians because they can possibly contain added ingredients from animals, such as gelatin and rennin, which are two common animal-derived ingredients in food products.


The reason for choosing to consume a semi-vegetarian, vegetarian or vegan diet can be very unique to the individual. This personal belief can be based on taste preferences, cost, religion, culture, environment, animal rights, or perceived health benefits. Some people do not enjoy the taste of meat and therefore choose not to eat it. Many other vegetarians believe it is better for the environment if they grow and consume only plants. There are several religions that restrict the consumption of animals. Islamic law, for example, forbids the intake of pork and has strict slaughtering laws on permitted animals, like cows. Animal rights are a controversial topic, but many people base their vegetarian lifestyle on this belief. Animal rights are the philosophy of allowing non-human animals to have the most basic rights that all beings desire: the freedom to live a natural life free from human exploitation, unnecessary pain and suffering, and premature death.


A general assumption about vegetarians is that they mostly consume a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables. However, this is not always accurate. A vegetarian might only eat a diet consisting of fried foods, chips, candy, and pasta each day, which lacks fruits, vegetables, vitamins and minerals and is high in calories and unhealthy fats. By eliminating the entire meat category as a food option, other food groups, like fruits and vegetables, need to be increased to ensure adequate nutrition and overall energy intake. Becoming a vegetarian with the belief that you will lose weight or gain health benefits is misguided. This can be true, but understanding the importance of variety is crucial before beginning a vegetarian diet.


An intake of a variety of foods is necessary to provide adequate nutrients. Not consuming meat or animal products can limit the amount of nutrients a vegetarian is receiving. Vegetarians that consume dairy products, eggs, or both can receive every essential nutrient if they eat a balanced diet from each food group. This includes an assortment of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, dairy and eggs. These food choices, rich in fiber and vitamins and minerals, can be lower in calories and unhealthy fats. Regular consumption of these foods may contribute to weight loss, lower blood pressure or other health advantages. Vegans usually need supplements or fortified products in their diet to assure that they obtain adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, zinc, and protein, since these are most abundantly found in animal products. Tofu, soy products, and other meat alternatives that provide these vitamins and minerals can be conveniently found in most grocery stores.



If you are considering starting a vegetarian diet, first talk with your doctor or registered dietitian.

Below are some websites that can provide other helpful information.


Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets


Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition


Vegetarian Diets: American Heart Association


Vegetarian Diets: MyPyramid



Here are websites for delicious, nutritious vegetarian recipes!



Revised for accuracy by Amanda Newell, RD, Bradley Dietetic Internship

Director and Assistant Professor in Family and Consumer Sciences.

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