Tuesday, April 20, 2010

vegetarianism & veganism-healthful or not?

You may have seen this article about meatless Mondays as recently implemented in San Francisco, which I thought was really interesting. It would be nice if the Midwest would jump on the bandwagon, but I don’t think we’re quite as progressive here.


The most common styles of vegetarianism include:

  • Flexitarians: preferential vegetarians; eat some meat
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: vegetarian food + dairy and eggs
  • Lacto-vegetarians: vegetarian food + dairy
  • Vegans: consume only plant-based foods (no animal products)


The American Dietetic Association (ADA) states that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. View the position paper on vegetarian diets at the American Dietetic Association’s website.


Important nutrients for vegetarians and vegans include:

Calcium: Bone health; plant sources such as spinach or soybeans contain oxalates, which make calcium absorption from these foods minimal; if you’re not consuming adequate dietary calcium, you may need a supplement (calcium citrate w/o meals, calcium carbonate w/ meals) to meet your requirements.

Iron: Primarily functions as a carrier of oxygen in the blood; iron from plant sources is not absorbed as well as iron from meat sources; always consume iron containing foods with vitamin C, which helps convert the iron into a form more usable by the body.

Zinc: Affects metabolic rate; supports immune function; found in soy products, legumes, grains, cheese, and nuts.

Vitamin D: Bone health; fortified foods such as cow’s milk, some brands of soy milk, rice milk, and orange juice, some breakfast cereals and margarines; sun exposure.

Vitamin B12: Synthesis of red blood cells, maintenance of the nervous system; found in dairy foods, eggs, vitamin B-12-fortiļ¬ed foods (soy and rice beverages, some breakfast cereals and meat analogs, or Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast); otherwise a daily vitamin B-12 supplement may be needed.

What about eggs?


If you’re a flexitarian or lacto-ovo-vegetarian, eggs are a great way to get your protein. The American Heart Association recommends consuming < 300 mg of cholesterol per day. Eggs contain ~ 200 mg per yolk, and the egg white is still a good source of protein. The AHA suggests a reduced cholesterol intake because of concern about increasing blood cholesterol levels. However, dietary cholesterol has not been found to contribute significantly to blood cholesterol levels, which have instead been linked to a high intake of saturated fat. Now, we know that level of cholesterol may not be the biggest indicator of risk for heart disease, but instead the size of the cholesterol particle (small and dense) may be more contributory.

Bottom line: eat eggs in moderation. I think an egg a day is fine.


  • According to the ADA, it is important to choose a variety of foods regardless of the style of vegetarianism practiced.
  • Following a vegetarian diet might take some planning, but it is possible to consume all the nutrients that are important to health.
  • View the guidelines and tip sheet at www.mypyramid.gov.


Another post coming soon answering your questions about vitamin/mineral absorption, soy, alternative protein sources, the concept of complementary protein, and more on B12!

I’m in RD exam review sessions for the next 2 days and then heading to the Missouri Dietetic Association’s annual meeting through the end of the week.

Have questions that you want answered in the next post? Ask away!



  1. Actually Governor Granholm did make such a suggestion and was promptly pounded for making such a suggestion by the dairy farmers considering the state of MI economy.

  2. excellent post, thanks so much for the links too! I love the Mypyramid tips link. Have a good day Emily

  3. Hey Emily, great post!

    I was wondering how you felt about the whole "Food Revolution" show that is on television right now. Do you think Jamie Oliver's strategies are effective? Do you think government guidelines for schools are appropriate? For example, the show points out that french fries are considered a vegetable by federal standards. You posts are really insightful, and I would love your point of view on the "food wars" that are going on right now.

  4. 1. I really like your radish photo. It's wonderful to see the spectrum of different colors.
    2. As always, fantastic information. It's great to hear another OK for eggs; they had such bad publicity for a while, but while eaten in moderation have been a fantastic source of protein in my diet!

  5. great post! when i'm at school i tend to be a vegetarian simply because the meat is so sketchy so it's great to see a post that is helpful in making sure i get what i need :)

  6. I consider myself flexitarian. I was vegetarian for over a year and my health condition wasn't good so I incorporated fish/egg/meat again to my diet. Maybe I didn't do it properly or maybe my body just need some animal source protein. I think everyone needs to know what works the best for oneself and not follow any trend. :)

  7. Best wishes on your RD exam! I heard about the meatless Mondays initiative in San Francisco, and thought it was a great idea, but I will have to tell you that it sparked negative reaction by people who felt it encroached too much on personal decisions.

  8. Great post. Most of the trouble with cholesterol containing foods is the addition of saturated fat with them which stimulates the liver to produce more cholesterol. Cholesterol on it's own is not nearly as bad as the addition of saturated fat with it. My old boss once reviewed this with us because of the debate of the cholesterol in shrimp. Alone this cholesterol is not really so bad, but when eaten in butter or shrimp scampi, then it is like a double whammy.

  9. I have had post transplant problems with anemia for many years. I was concerned that going Vegan would not get enough iron into my diet. A good source of iron I have found is Blackstrap Molasses. I put it in my oatmeal or cream of wheat in the morning. And it is much tastier than the spinach you have been putting in your oatmeal lately!! My hemoglobin count has not gone down at all since starting to use it.

  10. Great post, Emily! As lacto-vegetarian and fellow RD-to-be, I put a lot of faith in the ADA's support of my diet.

  11. Great post Emily! While I rarely go a full day without meat or animal protein, I typically only eat about 2-3 ounces a day. I like to think that's pretty good, considering some people consume as much as 12-15 ounces per day, crazy.

    I do really love eggs, but they cause me the worst gas, ever. Same with tofu. It's really a shame, because I would eat more of those if I could!

  12. I really liked this post, I am a vegetarian but I am nervous about soy products these days. I know I do not get enough protein a day and am looking for ways to incorporate it without soy products. Any suggestions?


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