by Scheinberg D
Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian Diet

What Is a Vegetarian Diet?

A vegetarian diet does not have meat, poultry, fish—or foods with these items in them. There are many types. This article is about the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. It is based on plant foods, but also includes eggs and dairy.

Why Follow a Vegetarian Diet?

There are many health benefits of a vegetarian diet. It is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. It also has higher amounts of many vitamins and minerals than western diets. A well-balanced vegetarian diet may help:

People eat this way for many reasons. It may be health benefits or concern for the environment and animals.

Vegetarian Diet Basics

The diet is based on plant foods. It includes grains, veggies, fruits, legumes, seeds, and nuts. It also includes dairy foods and eggs. To get enough nutrients, a person should eat a variety of each of these foods. It is important to get enough protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Eating Guide for a Vegetarian Diet

This table is based on the United States Department of Agriculture food guide, MyPlate.

Food Group Tips Key Nutrients
  • At least ½ of your grains should be whole grains.
  • Whole grains are: whole wheat products, oatmeal, brown rice, barley, bulgur, popcorn.
  • Vitamin B12 (fortified breakfast cereals)
  • Zinc-fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals
  • Eat different veggies each day.
  • During a meal, fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
  • Eat more of:
    • Dark green veggies like broccoli, spinach, bok choy, romaine lettuce
    • Orange veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash
  • Calcium (collard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, and mustard greens)
  • Iron (spinach, turnip greens, peas)
  • Eat a variety of fruit.
  • During a meal, fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
  • Choose fresh fruit over fruit juices.
  • Calcium (fortified orange juice)
  • Iron (raisins, prunes, dried apricots)
  • Choose low-fat (1%) or fat-free dairy products; limit full-fat cheese.
  • Milk alternatives are calcium-rich or -fortified foods and drinks.
  • Protein
  • Calcium (all milk products, fortified milk alternatives)
  • Vitamin D (fortified milk and milk alternatives)
  • Vitamin B12 (milk products and fortified milk alternatives)
Protein Rich Foods
  • Eat a variety of protein sources like eggs, beans, peas, nuts, nut butters, and soy (like tofu).
  • Protein
  • Zinc (white beans, kidney beans, and chick peas)
  • Iron (kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (eggs, ground flaxseed, walnuts)
Fats and Sweets
  • Limit or do not eat solid fats such butter, stick margarine, lard, and shortening.
  • Limit foods high in added sugar or solid fats.
  • Don't have sugary drinks. Drink water instead.
  • Eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups each day.
  • Limit how much cheese and other high-fat dairy products you eat.
  • If you are new to this, be sure to replace meat with other proteins—like milk, beans, and nuts.
  • Consider meeting with a dietitian to make a balanced meal plan.
  • Enjoy your food, but do not overdo it. Avoid oversized portions.
  • Check sodium amount on the Nutrition Facts label. Eat foods low in sodium.


Eat Right—American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 

The Vegetarian Resource Group 


Dietitians of Canada 

Toronto Vegetarian Association 


Craig WJ, Mangels AR; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am D Assoc. 2009;109(7):1266-1282.

Eating vegetarian. US Department of Agriculture. Available at: Accessed April 8, 2022.

Proteins foods. US Department of Agriculture MyPlate website. Available at: Accessed April 8, 2022.

Vegetarian diet. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: Accessed April 8, 2022.

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