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The simplest definition of vegetarianism is a diet free of meat, fish, and fowl flesh. But eating habits of vegetarians cover a wide spectrum. At one end are lacto-ovo vegetarians, who avoid animal flesh but eat eggs and milk products. At the other end are vegans, who forgo eating (and often wearing) all animal-based products, including honey. Raw foodists are vegans who eat mainly raw fruits, vegetables, legumes, sprouts, and nuts.

There are also pescatarians, who eat fish and seafood; and lacto-vegetarians, who eat dairy products but not eggs. Fruitarians follow a diet that includes fruits, nuts, seeds, and other plant food. Those who follow a macrobiotic diet eat mostly grains but can also eat fish. They don't necessarily identify as vegetarians.

Flexitarians refer to vegetarians who occasionally eat meat and fish.

Reasons for Becoming a Vegetarian

Many adherents of vegetarianism and veganism – former Beatle Paul McCartney and actor Alec Baldwin are two celebrities who happily promote the cause -- regard a flesh-free diet not only as more healthful, but as a more ethical way to live. They point to the cruel practices and the high environmental cost of raising animals for food as reasons for excluding meat from the diet.

Most Americans, however, continue to eat some form of meat or fish. Ten percent of people consider themselves to be vegetarians, according to a 2013 Gallup poll.

Vegetarianism and Health

Most doctors and nutritionists agree that a low-fat diet high in fruits, vegetables, and nuts can be a boon to health. There’s also research suggesting that reducing or eliminating red meat from the diet may cut your risk of heart disease.

Research also has shown that a vegan or vegetarian diet may lower your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. And a 2011 study found that vegetarians had lower triglycerides, glucose levels, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI).

Does Being a Vegetarian Lower Cancer Risk?

It’s difficult to say whether being a vegetarian or a vegan lowers cancer risk. This is mainly because of the diversity within the vegetarian population.

Many studies of the cancer-vegetarian relationship conclude that diets rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, isoflavones (found in soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts, and more), and carotenoids (found in carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, tomatoes, red peppers, and more), seem to protect against disease, including cancer, when part of a health-conscious lifestyle.

An 11-year study in Germany examined colon cancer among 1,900 vegetarians. Researchers noted fewer deaths from cancers of the stomach, colon, and lung in study participants than in the general population -- particularly among those who practiced some form of vegetarianism for at least 20 years. They suggested, however, that other factors, like body weight and amount of exercise, likely affected mortality rates in the vegetarians they studied.

Food and recipe choices have a major impact on health and wellness. Knowing how to select healthy foods, read labels, stock your kitchen and prepare healthy recipes is a good start. We have all the information you need on special diets and healthy cooking, with tips and tricks to help you create delicious and nutritious meals.

Nutrition

Learn the basics of healthy eating and getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet.

Healthy Eating Healthy Eating Organic Foods Slideshow

People who buy organic are seeking assurance that food production is gentle to the earth, and/or they're looking for safer, purer, more natural foods.

Healthy Fats Chart

Remember, all fats are loaded with calories, so use them sparingly.

USDA's MyPlate

The USDA has simplified nutrition guidelines with its "MyPlate" campaign. MyPlate replaces the older Food Pyramid that many adults grew up with.

Get Your Vitamins Get Your Vitamins Getting Enough Vitamin D

Despite the ability to get vitamin D from food and the sun, an estimated 40%-75% of people are deficient.

Foods With Calcium and Vitamin D

Along with weight-bearing exercise, calcium and vitamin D go together for good bone density -- and good health in general.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Get all the information you need here.

Food Sources of Vitamins and Minerals

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, you're probably looking for the bottom line: how much do you need? Here's a chart to help you out.

Cooking Tips

After you clean out your kitchen, time to hit the grocery store and start cooking. Here are some tips for healthy recipes and healthy meals from start to finish.

Shop and Save Shop and Save Save Money While Food Shopping

WebMD asked some experts for tips and strategies on saving money on your grocery bill while still eating healthfully. 

Making a Fast Grocery List

Healthy eating doesn't start in your kitchen. It begins when you wheel your cart down the aisles of your local supermarket.

Food Safety Food Safety Safe Cooking

It is important to cook foods at a safe temperature to avoid food poisoning. The following picture shows you safe temperatures for a number of foods.

Handling Food Safely

Medically known as food-borne illness or food-borne disease, you probably know food poisoning as miserable -- whatever it's called.

Kitchen Germs

Quick tips to help keep bacteria and parasites out of your kitchen -- and your food.

Dining Out Dining Out Eating Out the Healthy Way

Resisting temptation at a restaurant can be tough, especially when you're taunted by seemingly unlimited choices -- like when they roll around the dessert cart.

Best and Worst Fast Food Breakfasts

While high-fat, high-calorie breakfasts abound at the nation's fast-food restaurants, most chains offer at least one or two healthier items -- if you must fill up at a drive-through.

Worst Restaurant Meals Slideshow

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has identified nine of the most fattening restaurant meals.

Recipes

Fear not, you can find nutritious recipes to suit your style. Check out our healthy recipes for all seasons, holidays, ethnicities, and health conditions.

Recipe Finder Recipe Finder Healthy Recipes Index

Looking for a healthy recipe? All of these healthy recipes are low in calories and can be incorporated into your diet plan.

Seasonal Meals and Entertaining Seasonal Meals and Entertaining Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes

This Thanksgiving what if you have lots of leftovers? We have the recipes for you.

Tips for Tailgating

A perfect formula for fun-filled tailgate parties include coolers, barbecue grills, and lots of food.

Super-Fast and Easy Appetizer Recipes

In a rush? Whip up these simple appetizers in five minutes or less.

Fast and Easy Meals Fast and Easy Meals Grilling Slideshow

Find ideas for healthy grilled dinners.

Easy Meals for One or Two

Skip the drive-through with these simple cooking tips.

Special Diets

Whether you're searching for meals you can prepare for a low sodium diet, looking for tips on cooking for vegetarians, or thinking of going gluten-free, you can still do it healthily.

Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Most doctors and nutritionists agree that a low-fat diet high in fruits, vegetables, and nuts can be a boon to health.

Part-time Vegetarian

You won't miss the meat with these vegetarian recipes and meal ideas.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has long been considered one of the healthiest diets on the planet - and rightfully so.

Gluten-Free Diet Slideshow

A gluten-free diet is essential for most people with gluten allergies or celiac disease, a condition which causes intestinal damage when gluten is eaten.

Low Sodium Diet

Considering that salt is an ingredient in just about every type of processed food or restaurant meal, it's no wonder most Americans are getting double -- or triple -- the amount of sodium they need each day.

Raw Food Diet

Depending on the source, a raw food diet is either a path to perfect health or to serious undernourishment.

Detox Diets

Despite the popularity of detox diets, nutrition experts say they are not necessary nor are they scientifically proven to work.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the sugar primarily found in milk and dairy products.

Food Resources

You may be cooking for just your family, but there’s a whole world of resources out there to help you get healthy food to the table.

Support Support Health & Cooking: Support

Boards and blogs for everything about healthy cooking and eating.

Resources Resources Health & Cooking: Resources

Health and cooking resources.

Healthy Recipe Finder

Browse our collection of healthy, delicious recipes, from WebMD and Eating Well magazine.

Top searches: Chicken, Chocolate, Salad, Desserts, Soup

Healthy Recipe Finder