What is a Vegetarian Diet?

Vegetarians can describe what they eat in a variety of ways.

Registered Dietitians are here to offer their expertise to assist you in navigating the healthy food choices available for the many different vegetarian options.

Does eating a vegetarian diet help you live longer?

Therapeutic Use of Vegetarian/Vegan Diets in Chronic DiseaseResearch reveals that when a person chooses to follow a vegetarian diet they may find it reduces the risks of many chronic diseases.  A vegetarian diet may treat, improve, or reverse the following:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Digestive problems

Following a vegetarian diet may also provide beneficial results in the treatment for cancer and kidney disease.

Will a vegetarian diet  improve your health? Download our resource Therapeutic Use of Vegetarian/Vegan Diets in Chronic Disease (PDF) and experience the potential benefits of choosing a well-balanced vegetarian diet.

How to Become a Vegan

hummus saladA recent Harris Poll found that 47% of Americans eat at least one vegetarian meal a week.  Are you one of this growing number of people interested in eating more plant-based meals? Or maybe you just want to totally change your diet and become vegan? Either way download Eat More Plant-based Meals a resource that provides tips on how to make the changes easy, fun and sustainable.

  • Discover how to increase your plant-based meals, while keeping one or two of your life long favorites.
  • Learn how to stock your pantry and refrigerator with staples that will make it easy to eat plant foods anytime.
  • Check out the Nutrition Tips that provide incentives to make plant foods your preference.

What is zinc? Why do I need zinc?

Zinc in Vegetarian Diets resourceZinc can be found all organs, tissues and fluids in the body. Zinc provides many functions including:

  • Optimal growth and development
  • Reproduction
  • Appetite
  • Taste ability
  • Night vision.
  • Proper function of the immune system.

Zinc is widely available from many types of foods, so deficiency is rare in North Americans including vegetarians.  The problem arises from phytate, a compound found in grains, nuts, and legumes that reduce our body’s ability to absorb zinc from these foods.

Download our FREE full-color Zinc in Vegetarian Diets resource and discover how to maximize the absorption of zinc from plant foods, choose foods high in zinc, and get menu ideas.

Vegetarian Myth Busters


Thinking about becoming a #vegan, #vegetarian, or switching to a #plant-based eating plan?

Do questions like this pop into your head?

  • Can I get enough protein?
  • Will my bones stay strong if I just eat plants?
  • Do vegan children grow properly?
  • Does soy cause breast cancer?

Discover the science based information that will inspire you to start creating vegetarian meals. Bust the myths — read 5 Myths About Building a Healthy Vegetarian Meal.

Already a #vegan or #vegetarian and want additional information about planning meals? Check out our FREE downloadable Resources on healthy meatless eating for all age groups.

Recommended Resources

Vegetarian/Vegan Myths ResourceVegetarian/Vegan Myths (PDF) provides information on how plant-based diets provide all the necessary nutrition for healthy diets free of animal food sources.

Vegetarian Toddlers Preschoolers RDLooking for ideas to go Meatless? (PDF) Follow these tips for including meatless meals into your family’s diet.

View all of our free Vegetarian Nutrition resources

Breaking the Fast

cereal with fruitThe word breakfast literally comes from the Breaking of the Fast. Before we had electric lights everywhere, when the sun went to bed, so did we. There was no midnight snack because we were up before the dawn and sacked out through the night after a hard day in our agrarian lifestyle. The biggest meal was at lunch when we had the most light with which to cook it. The evening supper consisted of a simpler fare and was the last food eaten before a long slumber.  Generally, there was about 10 to 12 hours between the last meal and breakfast. However, in the 24-7 fast paced 2009, it is a different story.

Many people I counsel eat later and later. They eat dessert while watching TV after work. Many tell me they just aren’t hungry in the morning. Here are some interesting facts I read from Dr. Caroline J. Cederquist.

Continue reading…

Got Enough Protein?

No matter how prolific the evidence nor how well presented our website, there will always be someone who asks, “Can a vegetarian diet provide enough?” Enough might mean enough protein, enough variety, enough nutrients, enough of whatever the questioner fears might be lacking.

It’s not surprising that this question continues to be asked. The societal belief that a well-balanced diet must include meat, fish, poultry and dairy foods is deeply ingrained and has some roots in the association of these foods with an individual’s ability to procure them, that is, one’s personal affluence. During World Wars I and II, many foodstuffs were rationed including butter, sugar, meat, and coffee. Transportation of food was limited by fuel rationing and so people began to cultivate their own gardens and raise their own chickens. Thus, Victory Gardens appeared where flowers once grew or cars once parked. The ‘Eat locally’ movement had begun but with a slightly different intent than today’s locavores.

Naturally, with the rationing came a sense of deprivation that persisted until the end of the wars and the relative improvement of choices in the market. As people were able to add some of the former luxuries back into their regular diets, it wasn’t long before these luxuries became daily staples.

It’s worth noting here that as countries around the world become increasingly more developed and affluent, their diets also change to include the very luxuries mentioned above; fat, sugar, meat and another, alcohol. Patterns of disease in those countries parallel the dietary changes as both become more like disease and diets seen in Western countries.

So the question remains, “Does a vegetarian diet provide enough?”

Once again my dear photographer friend, who also happens to be a midwife, comes to the rescue with a delightful visual aid.

Take a look at the platter of food she compiled for her pregnant clients; its beauty belies its nutrient value. Not only colorful but also displaying the recommended plate proportions of protein, vegetables and fruits, this meal offers enough for an individual to meet nutrient needs as well as support good health. All the foods are rich in vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals and fiber while being relatively low in calories and fat as well as being free of simple sugars and cholesterol. These characteristics help to maintain appropriate weight and reduce blood pressure as well as risks for heart disease and diabetes.

White lima beans are this meal’s primary source of protein, with one cup providing 16 grams or about 30 percent of an adult woman’s daily requirement. The limas’ 30 grams of fiber meet the daily recommendation for adults and do a great job of modulating blood sugar, providing satiety and maintaining intestinal health. Besides being rich in potassium, white lima beans pack iron to the tune of 60 percent of the adult recommended daily intake. There are 140 calories in one cup.

Sugar snap peas, which are actually a hybrid of English peas and snow peas, are completely edible. One cup has barely 30 calories but more than 60 percent of recommended vitamin C intake. This is a vitamin K rich vegetable, which is why it is so aptly included in the lunch for pregnant women.

The much-maligned watermelon also does its share to support good health by providing vitamins B6, C and K, plus potassium and lycopene, a beneficial phytochemical found only in red-pigmented fruits and vegetables. One cup has about 50 calories, a trace of protein but no fat or cholesterol. What is fascinating about the protein is that it is comprised of amino acids that can metabolize to nitric oxide, a substance that helps to maintain artery function and thus improve blood pressure.

Without examining the familiar nutrient gifts of the mixed greens and herb salad, you can see that a lunch comprised of what we have just discussed can be not only quite filling but also nutrient dense, providing almost a third of a woman’s daily protein needs, wrapped in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals as well as including enough fiber for the day.

These nutrients promote good health; the fruit and vegetable packages they come in are visually and gastronomically pleasing, and the relatively low caloric load helps to maintain a healthful weight.

Is this not enough to make you curious to learn more about a vegetarian diet?

Do vegan children get enough iron?

Iron in Vegetarian Diets ResourceIron deficiency anemia is a worldwide problem and often vegetarian and vegan diets are viewed as at risk for this nutrient deficiency.  Use Iron in Vegetarian Diets (PDF) to discover –

  • Evidence-based research on the iron status of vegetarians
  • The best plant sources for iron
  • How vitamin C increases iron absorption

Can a vegetarian get enough protein?

Vegetarian and vegan diets provide adequate protein when menu planning focuses on how much your body needs and which plant foods provide this essential nutrient. Protein is made of amino acids which are the building blocks for our muscles and many other structures in the body. So it is important to consume a wide variety of protein-rich plant foods in meals and snacks throughout the day.

Protein in Vegetarian and Vegan Diets RD ResourceThe free downloadable resource Protein in Vegetarian and Vegan Diets (PDF) provides the tools you need to consume plenty of protein from plant foods. Discover –

  • How to calculate the body’s need for protein
  • A chart listing Protein-rich Plant Foods
  • Tips on how to plan meals with adequate protein

Download this tool and learn the facts about getting adequate Protein in Vegetarian and Vegan Diets (PDF).

Five Tips for Creating Meatless Family Meals

Healthy Tips for Meatless MealsCheckout Healthy Tips for Meatless Meals from Kids Eat Right a website sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In the Healthy Tips for Meatless Meals you will find five tips for feeding your family more fruits, vegetables, whole grains,  beans, and nuts every day. Also discover how easy it is to feed your family meals with out meat.

Download “Healthy Tips for Meatless Meals” »

Transitioning to a Plant-based Diet

Making the change from the standard American diet to a plant-based one may seem daunting, but with just a few gradual changes you’ll be eating a healthier, more satisfying diet before you know it.

Start by eating more of the plant-based meals you already eat. Bean and rice burritos? Pasta Primavera? Cereal? These are vegetarian foods! By focusing on the ones you already eat you are making changes even before you introduce new foods.

Add more plant foods to the mixed meals you are eating. Shift the balance of plant and animal foods toward more plants – the ones you already eat and love.

Don’t give up your favorite animal foods immediately.  If you love cheese pizza more than life itself, keep eating it! Make the easier changes first.

Eliminate animal foods you don’t eat often.  You won’t miss these so let them go first.

Find other vegetarians and vegans!  Most likely they will be excited to share their favorite foods, meals and their restaurants.  There are many types of vegetarians with varying food preferences, so talk to as many as possible.

Find recipes and cookbooks that you like.  Skip the gourmet ones (for now!) and go for the ones that are most similar to your cooking/eating style.

Cook with others.  Invite friends over for a vegan dinner feast. When making changes in your life it’s always easier when you involve others.

Many health food stores and grocery stores carry plenty of healthy vegetarian foods like non-dairy milks, faux meat products and a variety of produce and whole grains.  Take the time to explore different sections of these stores. You may find stuff you didn’t know existed.

The abundance of plant foods that exist in the world is mind-boggling! And the variety of ways to prepare them is incomprehensible. Imagine the possibilities and don’t discount a food immediately, look for other ways to prepare it.

Be prepared.  Stock your kitchen with the healthy, plant foods you want to eat and it will be harder to lapse into old ways.

Stay connected.  Subscribe to our blog and stay informed about the health, ethical and environmental benefits of eating a plant-based diet.

Vegetarian Diets in Pregnancy

Vegetarian Diets in Pregnancy resourceCan I continue my vegan diet during pregnancy?
I’m vegetarian and pregnant what can I eat?

Making great food choices during pregnancy is vital for all women.  This includes eating a variety of foods, which are full of nutrients and calories to meet the needs of mother and baby. If you are choosing any type of vegetarian diet during pregnancy there will be questions about what you are eating.  Will you get enough protein, folate, iron, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, and other nutrients.  Be prepared to answer YES with this FREE on-line resource Vegetarian Diets in Pregnancy.

Vegetarian Diets in Pregnancy provides menu plans, how to stay hydrated, keeping a healthy weight, and staying active. It also provides how much of a nutrient is needed and what foods provide nutrient rich sources of:

  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Folate
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc

Be prepared — download Vegetarian Diets in Pregnancy today .  Then you will have the tools to make healthy food choices and answer “YES, a vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients and calories needed by mothers and babies.”

Also available in the Resources/FAQ section of this website are the following:

  • Dietas vegetarianas durante el embarazo  (Spanish version)
  • Vegetarian Diets in Lactation
  • Vegetarian Diets in Infants
  • Vegetarian Diets in Toddlers and Preschoolers
  • Vegetarian Diets in School-aged Children
  • Vegetarian Teens

Are soy foods safe to eat?

  • resource-safety-of-soyfoodsCan men eat soy?
  • Does eating soy cause breast cancer?
  • Can I feed soy to my children?

If want the facts about eating soy foods, download the FREE Safety of Soy Resource. These easy to read fact sheet which will answer your questions about eating tofu, edamame, and veggie foods.

Avocado – a Fruit to Enjoy!

AvocadoThere’s been a new discovery. If you eat a whole avocado with orange-colored tomato sauce or raw carrots, the absorption of carotenoids, plant pigments that convert to vitamin A, is enhanced. Well, this isn’t really news.

Nutrition scientists and experts have known for years that fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K need fat for your body to use them.  Fat soluble vitamins actually dissolve into the fat we eat and then are absorbed into the circulatory system so they can do their jobs —

  • Vitamin A is key to great vision
  • Vitamin D supports bone health
  • Vitamin E is a free radical fighting antioxidant
  • Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting.

Avocados contain fat and two-thirds of that fat is monounsaturated fat, which is considered a heart healthy fat. Avocados also have a delicious and creamy mouth feel and provide a good source of fiber.

Due to the high fat content, avocados contain lot of calories. One avocado is about  320 calories. While this study suggests eating an entire avocado with orange colored-foods, it only takes a couple of bites of fat to get vitamins A, D, E and K absorbed during digestion.

So next time you create a salad add a few slices of an avocado to maximize the amount of fat soluble vitamins that are available to your body.

Vegan/Vegetarian and diagnosed with Celiac Disease (CeD)*?

Eating a plant-based diet with CeD means your body has zero tolerance for gluten which is found in plant foods that are also rich in protein.  Wheat, rye, and barley are common in vegan and vegetarian diets but for optimal health a person with CeD must avoid them.

Combining Vegetarian, Vegan, and Gluten-Free DietsIf you are a vegetarian or vegan with CeD missing the key nutrients in these grains, means you must find other foods to meet your body’s needs. Download the free resource Combining Vegetarian, Vegan and Gluten-Free Diets (PDF) and discover the tools for combining a gluten-free diet with vegan or vegetarian food choices.

  • What foods supply Calcium and Vitamin D
  • Gluten-free Vegetarian foods high in Iron and Zinc
  • Hidden Sources of Gluten
  • How to increase your fiber intake

Find the tools you need when Combining Vegetarian, Vegan and Gluten-Free Diets (PDF), download it today!

*Celiac disease (CeD) is an autoimmune disease that should be diagnosed by a physician before eliminating gluten from your diet as that could cause a false test result.

Beans by any other name are cancer fighters

vegetarian ironInteresting synergy of the Universe – I’m eating a healthy serving of pinto beans doused with substantial spoonfuls of salsa and open my mail.  Lo and behold, the Dry Bean Quarterly.  Now, you think I kid you, but you never know what finds home in a dietitian’s mailbox.

With many of us either eating to prevent or recover from disease, I was curious to read that eating beans reduces cancer risk.  In the Nurses’ Health Study II, eating common beans (as opposed to soybeans, which are oily) and lentils was associated with a significant reduction in breast cancer risk.  Significant in research is powerful – it might be a small change in a large population but the change rates high on the board.

Dr. Henry Thompson, the author of the Dry Bean Quarterly, did a pre-clinical trial of his own – just to see if the change in risk was real.  It’s keen that a food staple like beans that offers a rich source of protein, resistant starch (not as readily taken up in the bloodstream, thereby keeping blood sugar more constant), and soluble fiber can also keep our breasts cancer-free!  The results of his study showed that cancer cells were inhibited by eating beans.  Hence, he now recommends at least one-half cup of beans or lentils daily, and as much as 1 1/2 cups of cooked beans a day if you’re adventurous.  For more info, log onto www.beaninstitute.com.

Beans, beans, good for your body, the you more you eat, the more you rest — with satisfaction that you’ve done a lot in preventing this disease.

Happiness Begins with Veggies!

saladIf there was an eating style that made you happy, would you do it?

What if that same eating style helped keep your weight in the healthy range?  And reduced your risk of breast, bladder, and other cancers?  Would you then?

I’m even charged thinking that my risk of other diseases, like heart disease and diabetes that runs in my family, is lower with this eating style.

What if this eating style was really quite simple to follow, with no deprivation aspect, and fills you to satisfaction every single meal?  And is environmentally friendly?  Would you then?

So what is it?

Vegetarians have been studied extensively and recently, studies reveal that a vegetarian lifestyle is healthier overall.  In Nutrition Journal, vegetarians had less depression, anxiety and stress and overall, better moods than meat-eaters in the U.S.  The reason?  Vegetarians eat less animal-based essential fatty acids and more omega-3 from plants.  Sign me up!

People with diabetes have a higher incidence of colon, liver, pancreatic, and endometrial cancers.  The American Diabetes Association and American Cancer Society suggest more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less red and processed meats which reduces the risk.

In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers say postmenopausal women can lower their risk of breast cancer with a diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and flax and sesame seeds (great sources for lignans).

And, red meat and processed meat, because of their processing with nitrates and nitrites, and grilled meats because of the high temperature required in grilling, increase bladder cancer between nearly 20-30% (Cancer).

And another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, meat consumption contributed ONE POUND per year weight gain.  That doesn’t sound like a lot but multiply that times 10 years and you’ve got the beginnings of a chunky monkey.

Want to go vegan and have an iPhone?  The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine just launched a free iPhone app to their 21-Day Vegan Kickstart online program.

Vegetarian? Vegan? Raw Diet! What’s the difference?

Plant-based diets are gaining momentum and becoming more mainstream. Pop your head into any grocery store and you’ll be able to find numerous products marked “Vegetarian” or “Certified Vegan.” It can be difficult to know what’s what! Below are brief definitions to help guide you.mushrooms

Vegetarians do not consume any fish, meat, or poultry. A lacto-vegetarian consumes dairy products and an ovo-vegetarian consumes eggs. A lacto-ovo vegetarian consumes both dairy products and eggs, but no meat. Products labeled “vegetarian” typically do not contain any meat or meat-derived products; however, there are no regulations in the U.S. governing the use of “vegetarian” on a label.  To be certain that a product is vegetarian, contact the manufacturer. An example of a meat-derived product is gelatin, which is prepared from animal bones.

Vegans are vegetarians who do not consume any animal/insect=derived products including dairy products, eggs, and honey. This group avoids animal/insect-based food dyes, binders, and additives.

Individuals following a Raw Diet consume products that are uncooked and unprocessed.   The percentage of raw foods can vary from 50-100% raw.  Their diet may or may not be vegan.  Consumers of the raw diet do not cook foods at temperatures greater than 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Examples of raw foods are typically vegan include fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, beans, and dried fruit. Depending on the individual’s preference raw meat like Carpaccio or raw fish like sushi may be eaten as well as raw milk products.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognizes that appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthful for all age groups.   Completely raw diets are not recommended for infants and children due to concerns with nutrient adequacy