How can I eat healthy as a vegetarian?

Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
As a vegetarian, reducing sodium, sugar and saturated fat intake in processed and packaged foods is important for a healthy diet. Choose nutrient dense foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil, protein including eggs, fish, nuts, legumes, beans, soy or low fat dairy. A heart healthy diet is recommended with mono and poly unsaturated healthy fats of less than 30% of calories, including saturated fat less than 7% of calories. Be mindful of reducing intake of high calorie restaurant foods that are fried, butter, cream sauces and creamy salad dressing.
Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics

A healthy vegetarian diet is one that includes a wide variety of foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods (dairy/plant-based dairy alternatives), beans, lentils, tofu (protein), vitamin-B12 fortified foods (cereals, plant-based dairy alternatives) or a B12 supplement and is low in fat. A registered dietitian specializing in vegetarian nutrition can guide you in planning/meeting your individualized needs on a vegetarian diet.

If you are considering a vegetarian eating plan, here are some nutritional guidelines:
  • Eat a variety of foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy products and eggs.
  • Eat whole, unrefined foods often and minimize intake of highly sweetened, fatty and heavily refined foods.
  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • High-fat dairy foods like cheese and eggs should be limited because of their saturated fat content and because they can displace plant foods.
  • Vegans should have a regular source of vitamin B12 in their diets along with a source of vitamin D if sun exposure is limited.
  • Infants who are exclusively breast fed should have supplements of iron after 4 to 6 months and, if sun exposure is limited, a source of vitamin D. Breast-fed vegan infants should receive vitamin B12 supplements if the mother's diet is not fortified.
  • Do not restrict dietary fat in children younger than 2. For older children, foods higher in fat (eggs, nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils) help meet nutrient and energy needs.

Continue Learning about Vegetarian Diets

Vegetarian Diets

When you look at vegetarian diets, it's hard to do so without understanding that many of the practitioners believe that it is not only healthful, but more to practice vegetarianism. This is true even if the diet may include occasi...

onal meats or fish as in the Macrobiotic diet with it's Zen beliefs, or the Indian Ayurvedic diet, which finds milk and dairy central to good health along with plants. Anyone considering a vegetarian diet should learn about the food values of different vegetables, and consider getting advice on whether or not to supplement the diet with vitamins and minerals, particularly if you have special nutritional needs like growing children or pregnant or lactating women.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.