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Vegetarian Diet

Vegetarian Diet


Vegetarian diets can be broken into two general categories: Vegan and ovo-lacto vegetarian.

Vegan diets are composed of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and cereal products and are devoid of all animal products; while ovo-lacto vegetarian diets include milk, cheese and eggs. There are two variants of the ovo-lacto vegetarian diet including lacto vegetarian (milk products) and ovo-vegetarian (eggs). The vegetarian diet is used by those who wish to avoid meat or animal products or those who are seeking a diet lower in fat and higher in fiber.

According to the RDA's of the National Research Council, depending on the individual's food choices, the lacto-ovo Vegetarian Diet can supply adequate amounts of all nutrients. The vegan diet, however requires careful planning and supplementation to avoid deficiencies of certain nutrients, particularly for pregnant or lactating women, infants, and children.

To maximize protein quality, foods containing complementary proteins should be eaten at the same time (see Complementary Proteins below). Sufficient calories must be included in the diet to ensure protein is utilized properly and efficiently. Because plant foods are generally very low in calories, the sheer bulk of foods required to satisfy caloric requirements may be difficult for some individuals to consume. This is of crucial importance for young children and adolescents. Naturally-occurring sources of vitamin B-12 are exclusively of animal origin; therefore, vegans must be very careful to avoid deficiencies.

Because plant sources of iron are not efficiently absorbed, iron deficiency is an area of concern for vegans. They should be certain to include many rich, natural sources of iron, iron-enriched foods, or iron supplements in their diets.

Vitamin C enhances iron absorption, therefore, vegans should consume rich sources of vitamin C with each meal. Iron supplementation is required during pregnancy, early adolescence, or with any major blood loss.

Because dairy products are absent in a vegan diet, calcium levels are decreased. Rich vegetable sources of calcium include tofu and dark green leafy vegetables. Certain dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, contain oxalic acid, a compound which binds with calcium and prevents its absorption. During periods when calcium requirements increase (such as pregnancy, lactation, infancy, and childhood), calcium supplementation or calcium-supplemented soybean milk is recommended.

Fortified milk is a major dietary source of vitamin D. Because vegans do not drink milk, they must be careful to avoid a deficiency of vitamin D. Supplementation is required for the aforementioned vulnerable groups and those vegans who spend little time in the sun. Sunlight is required to convert vitamin D in human skin to its active form.

To avoid a deficiency of riboflavin, vegans should consume dark green leafy vegetables, whole wheat breads and cereals, and Brewer's yeast with regular frequency. Cereal proteins and many roots and tubers contain phytic acid, the storage form of phosphorus. Preliminary evidence suggests phytic acid binds with certain minerals, such as zinc, calcium, magnesium, and iron, making them unavailable for absorption. If this is true, mineral supplementation would be necessary. Nuts and wheat germ are both excellent sources of zinc and food sources of magnesium. Beans are another rich source of zinc; bananas and peanuts provide excellent amounts of magnesium.

Complementary Proteins
Because vegetarians consume many foods which are deficient or lacking in certain essential amino acids, it is important they eat foods containing complementary proteins at the same time. While grains are an adequate source of methionine, they are deficient in lysine.

Consequently, they should be eaten in combination with legumes, which are an adequate source of lysine although deficient in methionine. Nuts and seeds should be added to the diet to provide fat and vitamin E.

Examples of Complementary Protein Foods
Milk and cereal
Beans and tortillas, with cheese
Peanut butter and bread

Sample Menu

Menu for One Day for Vegan Diet


1/2 c orange juice1 slice whole wheat bread
1 c oatmealHot, noncaloric beverage
2 tbls peanut butter1 c fortified soybean milk
3 tbls raw unsalted sunflower seeds


1/2 c tomato juice1 c vegetable soup
3 oz tofu3 tbls raw sesame seeds
1 tsp margarine2 slices whole wheat bread
Sliced lettuce & tomato1/3 c cooked sweet corn
1 appleHot, noncaloric beverage


2/3 c curried split peas1 c brown rice
1 c broccoli1 tbls wheat germ
1/2 banana1 c soybean milk
Hot, noncaloric beverage2 tbls oil & vinegar dressing
1 c salad: romaine or Boston lettuce; sliced carrot, cucumber, mushroom, bell pepper, celery

Total Calories For The Day: 2,161

Menu for One Day for Lacto-Ovo Diet


1/2 c orange juice1/2 c cottage cheese - 2% fat
3/4 c all-bran1 slice whole wheat bread
1 tsp margarine or butter1 c skim milk, or milk - 2% fat
Hot, noncaloric beverage


1 c vegetable soup3 oz grilled tofu
1 oz mozzarella1 slice whole wheat bread
1 tsp mayonnaiseSliced lettuce & tomato
Catsup, mustard (optional)1/3 c cooked sweet corn
1 apple1 c skim milk or milk - 2% fat
Hot, noncaloric beverage


3/4 c curried split peas1 c brown rice
1/2 c broccoli1 tsp wheat germ
1 slice whole wheat bread1 tsp margarine or butter
1 banana1 c yogurt - lowfat fruit
Hot, noncaloric beverage2 tbls oil & vinegar dressing
1 c salad; romaine or Boston lettuce; sliced carrot, cucumber, mushroom, bell pepper, celery

Total Calories For The Day: 2,081

Nutrient Content:

Calories: 2161 2081
Protein: 20% 20%
Carbohydrate: 62% 69%
Fat: 18% 11%
Cholesterol:2.5mg 78mg
Fiber: 13.7g 15.1g

Food Exchange List

Bread and Cereal Exchange List: Vegan - 5 or more. Lacto-ovo - 4 or more


Whole wheat bread (enriched)Beans (dried)
Whole wheat cereals (enriched)Green peas
Whole wheat pastas (enriched)Lentil
Potatoes Wheat germ
Sweet Potato

Refined, fiber-free breads and cereals
Sugarcoated cereals

Fat Exchange List: Vegan - 3 or more. Lacto-ovo - as needed

Polyunsaturated vegetable oils, such as safflower oil, corn oil, and soybean oil
Fortified margarine
Butter (not permitted for vegans)

Saturated fats, such as lard, and saturated oils, such as palm oil

Fruit Exchange List: 2 or more

Fresh or frozen, fruits, both whole and juice


Meat and Meat Substitute Exchange List: 6 or more

Egg, (not permitted for vegans or lacto vegetarians)
Low-fat cheeses, such as cottage cheese and mozzarella (not permitted for vegans)

Tempeh (fermented soybean cakes)Tofu
All nuts and seedsBeans (dried)
LentilsPeas (dried)



Milk Exchange List: 2 or more

Lacto-ovo and Lacto vegetarians only
All milk and milk products

Vegans only
Whole milk or products made with whole milk
Ice cream
Products made with cream

Vegetable Exchange List: 2 or more

All vegetables
Homemade soups (following guidelines above)
Brewer's yeast


Note: Include 6-8 cups of fluids, such as water, per day.

The number of exchanges in a Vegetarian Diet varies according to the type of regime followed and the amount of calories required. The number of food exchange list units shown applies to an adult without special health considerations such as illness, injury or pregnancy.


American Cancer Society. Facts on Prostate Cancer.

Chicago Dietetic Association and the South Suburban Dietetic Association of Cook and Will counties. 1981. Manual of Clinical Dietetics. W. B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia.

Lappe, F. M. 1971. Diet For a Small Planet. Ballantine Books, New York. 395 pp.


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