Truth: Research shows that people who follow a vegetarian eating plan, on average, eat fewer calories and less fat than non-vegetarians. Some research has found that vegetarian-style eating patterns are associated with lower levels of obesity, lower blood pressure, and a reduced risk of heart disease.
Vegetarians also tend to have lower body mass index (BMI) scores than people with other eating plans (BMI measures body fat based on a person’s height in relation to weight). But vegetarians—like others—can make food choices that impact weight gain, like eating large amounts of foods that are high in fat or calories or low in nutrients.
The types of vegetarian diets eaten in the United States can vary widely. Vegans do not consume any animal products, while lacto-ovo vegetarians eat milk and eggs along with plant foods. Some people have eating patterns that are mainly vegetarian but may include small amounts of meat, poultry, or seafood.
If you choose to follow a vegetarian eating plan, be sure you get enough of the nutrients that others usually take in from animal products such as cheese, eggs, meat, and milk. Nutrients that may be lacking in a vegetarian diet are listed in the chart below, along with foods and beverages that may help you meet your body’s needs for these nutrients.
|Calcium||dairy products, soy beverages with added calcium, tofu made with calcium sulfate, collard greens, kale, broccoli|
|Iron||cashews, spinach, lentils, chickpeas, bread or cereal with added iron|
|Protein||eggs, dairy products, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, soy-based burgers|
|Vitamin B12||eggs, dairy products, fortified cereal or soy beverages, tempeh, miso (tempeh and miso are foods made from soybeans)|
|Vitamin D||foods and beverages with added vitamin D, including milk, soy beverages, or cereal|
|Zinc||whole grains (check the ingredients list on product labels for the words “whole” or “whole grain” before the grain ingredient’s name), nuts, tofu, leafy greens (spinach, cabbage, lettuce)|