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Vegetarianism

Definition

A vegetarian diet is a meal plan that contains little or no animal products.

Types of vegetarian diets include:

  • Vegan: Diet consists of only foods of plant origin.
  • Lacto-vegetarian: Diet consists of plant foods plus some or all dairy products.
  • Lacto-ovovegetarian: Diet consists of plant foods, dairy products, and eggs.
  • Semi- or partial vegetarian: Diet consists of plant foods and may include chicken or fish, dairy products, and eggs. It does not include red meat.

Alternative Names

Lacto-ovovegetarian; Semi-vegetarian; Partial vegetarian; Vegan; Lacto-vegetarian

Function

A person may choose to follow a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons, including religious, moral or political beliefs, economics, or the desire to eat more healthy foods.

The American Dietetic Association states that a well-planned vegetarian diet can deliver good nutrition. Dietary recommendations vary with the type of vegetarian diet. For children and adolescents these diets require special planning, because it may be difficult to obtain all the nutrients required for growth and development.

Nutrients that may be lacking in a vegetarian's diet include:

Protein is necessary for good health. There are two types of protein: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins contain adequate amounts of the essential substances (amino acids) needed for health. They are found in meats, milk, fish, soy, and eggs. Incomplete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids, but not enough of them.

You do not have to eat animal products to get complete proteins in your diet. You can mix two incomplete proteins or an incomplete protein with a complete protein to get the proper amount. Some combinations are milk and cereal, peanut butter and bread, beans and rice, beans and corn tortillas, and macaroni and cheese.

Recommendations

Vegetarian diets that include some animal products (lacto-vegetarian and lacto-ovovegetarian) are nutritionally sound. Vegan diets require careful planning in order to obtain adequate amounts of required nutrients. The following are recommendations for feeding vegetarian children.

  • Breast milk or formula should be the basis of the diet until age 1. (See: Diet for age)
  • Milk or a fortified soy formula should be used.
  • Fat should not be limited for a child younger than age 2.
  • Children who do not drink milk or a fortified substitute may lack the following nutrients: calcium, protein, vitamin D, riboflavin. Such children may need a vitamin and mineral supplement.
  • Vitamin B12 supplements must be used if no animal products are eaten.
  • Adequate iron intake is difficult to achieve if meat is not consumed. Good sources of iron include prunes and prune juice, fortified cereals and grain products, raisins, and spinach.

NOTE: A registered dietician should review any specialized diet to make sure it meets you or your child's nutritional needs. This should be done before starting the diet.

References

Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dieticians of Canada: Vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2003;103(6).

Heird WC. Nutritional needs. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 41.

Heird WC. The feeding of infants and children. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 42.


Review Date: 5/2/2009
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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