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!