Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Weight Loss & Diet Plans

Font Size

Is A Vegetarian Diet For Me?

Is a Vegetarian Diet Balanced?

A well-planned vegetarian diet -- just like any diet -- can be nutritionally balanced, according to the American Dietetic Association. But you have to plan the diet to meet your nutrient needs for growth and development.

Nutrients are compounds found in foods that support the body's repair, growth, and wellness. They include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

A deficiency of nutrients can lead to illness. Vegetarians often use fortified foods or dietary supplements (especially calcium, vitamin B-12, iron and folate) to make sure they get proper nourishment, especially nutrients they'd normally get in animal food.

Nutrition and the Vegetarian Diet

Many parents worry about their teenage vegetarians. But plant foods have potent phytochemicals, the biologically active substances that give plants their deep colors, flavors, and odors. These phytochemicals help protect against disease, too. Vegetarians have a much lower rate of heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension -- all serious conditions linked to excess body fat.

If your diet is well-planned, you should get most of the nutrients necessary for good health. Let's look at a few key nutrients and how to get them in a vegetarian diet:

  • Protein. Many vegetarian teens enjoy black bean "burgers" with cheese; soy chicken nuggets; and pizza with vegetables and high-protein cheese. Other protein sources include nuts and nut butters, eggs, dairy products (like yogurt, cheese, milk, and cottage cheese), legumes (like chickpeas, kidney beans, and black beans), soy products, cereal with milk, pasta, and whole grain breads and pasta.
  • Vitamin B12. This is one vitamin you may need to supplement, so it's important to talk to your doctor. Meat and dairy products provide the only dietary source of B12. Inadequate vitamin B12 intake eventually leads to anemia. You can get B12 by drinking fortified soymilk or eating fortified nutritional yeast (sprinkled on your salad or popcorn), ready-to-eat cereals, and soy products. Vitamin B-12 is also in most multivitamins
  • Vitamin D. Get some sunshine! Exposure to the sun helps the body make vitamin D. Other sources include fortified milk for vegetarians, and fortified soymilk for vegans. Vitamin D is in most multivitamins.
  • Iron. Vegetarians, especially girls who menstruate, are at greater risk for iron deficiency than those who consume animal products. Some good choices of iron for vegetarians include iron-fortified breads and cereals, legumes, soybeans, dried fruit (raisins, prunes, apricots), blackstrap molasses, and broccoli. Check with your doctor about supplementation to be safe. Women are particularly at risk for anemia if their intake is inadequate.
  • Calcium. During the teen years, you need to get enough calcium to ensure peak bone mass and prevent fractures later. Vegetarians can get plenty of calcium from dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt). You can drink calcium-fortified juices and soymilk, too. Other nondairy calcium sources include legumes (white beans, soybeans), Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale, and Swiss chard. If you're coming up short on calcium, talk to your doctor about supplementation. You can only build bone mass until about age 30. After that you slowly start losing bone.
  • Zinc. Zinc is plentiful in both animal and plant foods. Vegetarians can get zinc from milk and milk products, whole grains, legumes, wheat germ, and nuts. Vegans get zinc from cereals, legumes, nuts, and soy products. It's important to read labels on fortified foods to ensure you get enough zinc.

Today on WebMD

vegetables
Video
Woman trying clothes / dress
Assessment
 
Woman looking at reflection in mirror
Article
Hot cup of coffee
Quiz
 
woman shopping fresh produce
Video
butter curl on knife
Quiz
 
eating out healthy
Article
Smiling woman, red hair
Article
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
thumbnail_woman_tossing_spinach
Video
lunchbox
Article
 
What Girls Need To Know About Eating Disorders
Article
teen squeezing into jeans
fitfor Teens
 

Special Sections