University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #FSHN11-06

Shopping for Health: Vegetarian Diets1

Lauren Foster and Wendy J. Dahl2

A Healthy Choice: Vegetarianism

Well-balanced vegetarian diets can be nutritious and provide a variety of health benefits. Vegetarians are less likely to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and certain cancers.(1)

There are several types of vegetarian diets. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat animal products such as eggs and milk in addition to plant foods. Lacto-vegetarians include milk but not eggs in their diets, and ovo-vegetarians include eggs but not milk. Vegans are vegetarians that do not allow any animal products in their diet.

Health Implications

Vegetarians are at higher risk for several nutrient deficiencies, including iron, vitamin B12, calcium, and zinc. These deficiencies can be avoided with well-planned diets that incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dairy products. In addition, consumption of many fortified foods may substantially increase the intake/absorption of essential nutrients.(1)

Figure 1. 

Juliadeb goes shopping


Credit:

Photo by bricolage.108, used here under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Source: http://flic.kr/p/fV4z3.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Vitamin B12

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms (µg) per day for healthy adults.(2) Plant foods generally are not reliable sources of vitamin B12. Lacto-ovo vegetarians may get enough B12 from dairy sources, but vegans need to either eat foods enriched with vitamin B12 or consider B12 supplements. Table 1 lists several vegetarian foods that are good sources of B12.(3)

Calcium

Calcium is needed in the body for proper bone development and maintenance. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for healthy adults up to 50 years of age is 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day. Women over 50 and men over 70 should consume 1,200 mg of calcium per day.(4) Dairy products, leafy green vegetables, tofu, and dried fruit are all good sources of calcium for vegetarians. Many vegetarian foods are fortified with calcium. Table 2 lists vegetarian food options that are high in calcium.(3)

Figure 2. 

Clockwise from left: raw kale shitake salad, kale with cranberries, kale salad with grapefruit, preparing fresh kale for later use.


Credit:

Photo provided courtesy of elenaspantry.com, and used here under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Iron

Iron is an essential nutrient for oxygen transport in the body. The RDA for iron is 8 mg per day for healthy adult males, and 18 mg for females. Pregnant females have increased needs for iron, with the RDA set at 27 mg per day.(5)

Vegetarians are at higher risk for iron deficiency because the body does not absorb iron from plant sources as efficiently as it can from meat sources.(6) To enhance absorption, you should consume foods high in vitamin C (such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, or broccoli) along with iron-containing foods. Table 3 lists some iron-rich vegetarian foods.(3)

ZINC

Zinc is needed as a cofactor for numerous enzymes in the body. The RDA for zinc in healthy adults is 8 mg per day for females and 11 mg per day for males.(5) Like iron, zinc is not as readily absorbed from plant sources as it is from meat sources.(1) Because of this, vegetarians are encouraged to consume levels greater than the set RDA. Whole grains, dry beans, and seeds are generally good sources of zinc. Table 4 lists several vegetarian foods and their zinc contents.(3)

Learn More

The Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) agent at your county Extension office may have more written information, as well as nutrition classes for you to attend. Also, a registered dietitian (RD) can provide you with reliable information.

Endnotes

(1) Craig, W.J., and A.R. Mangels. (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc 109: 1266–1282.

(2) Food and Nutrition Board. (1998). Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

(3) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. (2009). National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl.

(4) IOM. (2010). Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13050.

(5) Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. (2001). Dietary Reference Intakes. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

(6) Hallberg, L., and L. Hulthen. (2000). Prediction of dietary iron absorption: An algorithm for calculating absorption and bioavailability of dietary iron. Am J Clin Nutr 71: 1147–1160.

Tables

Table 1. 

Food sources for vitamin B12

FOOD

VITAMIN B12 (µg PER SERVING)

SOY PRODUCTS

Morningstar Farms® Grillers Burger Style Crumbles (1 cup)

9

Morningstar Farms® Grillers Original Patty (1 patty)

3

Morningstar Farms® Chik’n Nuggets (4 pieces)

2

CEREALS

Kellogg’s® Special K, All-Bran, Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, Apple Jacks

2–6

General Mills® Total, Cheerios, Chex, Wheaties

2–6

DAIRY/EGG*

Swiss Cheese (½ cup, shredded)

2.5

Mozzarella Cheese (½ cup, shredded)

1.5

Plain Yogurt (8 oz)

1

Egg, hardboiled (1)

0.5

µg=microgram, g=gram, oz=ounce

*Not included in vegan diets

Table 2. 

Calcium-rich food sources

FOOD

CALCIUM (mg PER SERVING)

SOY PRODUCTS

Silk® Soymilk (1 cup)

300

Soybeans, cooked (½ cup)

130

Morningstar Farms® Chik’n Nuggets (4 pieces)

65

Morningstar Farms® Grillers Original Burger Patty (1 patty)

40

CEREALS

General Mills® Total

1000

General Mills® Kix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Chex

120–180

Kellogg’s® All-Bran

120

VEGETABLES

Spinach, cooked (½ cup)

125

Turnip Greens, cooked (½ cup)

125

Kale (½ cup)

90

DAIRY/EGG*

Plain Yogurt (8 oz)

450

Low-fat Milk (8 oz)

300

Swiss Cheese, shredded (¼ cup)

215

Mozzarella Cheese, shredded (¼ cup)

140

mg=milligram, g=gram, oz=ounce

*Not included in vegan diets

Table 3. 

Food sources for iron

FOOD

IRON (mg PER SERVING)

SOY PRODUCTS

Morningstar Farms® Grillers Burger Style Crumbles (1 cup)

6

Morningstar Farms® Grillers Original Patty (1 patty)

3

Morningstar Farms® Chik’n Nuggets (4 pieces)

2

CEREALS AND GRAINS

General Mills® Total

18

Kellogg’s® All-Bran

18

Kellogg’s® Mini-Wheats

16

General Mills® Cheerios, Chex, Kix

10

Kellogg’s® Rice Krispies, Crispix, Special K, Corn Flakes

10

Wheat flour, enriched (1 cup)

6

White rice, enriched (½ cup)

4

LEGUMES

Canned White Beans (½ cup)

4

Lentils, boiled (½ cup)

4

Kidney Beans, boiled (½ cup)

3

VEGETABLES

Spinach, cooked (½ cup)

3

Swiss Chard (½ cup)

2

µg=microgram, g=gram, oz=ounce

Table 4. 

Food sources with zinc

FOOD

ZINC (mg PER SERVING)

CEREALS AND GRAINS

General Mills® Total

15

Kellogg’s® All-Bran

15

General Mills® Wheaties

7.5

General Mills® Cheerios, Chex, Kix

5.0

SOY PRODUCTS

Soybeans, cooked (½ cup)

1.0

Morningstar Farms® Grillers Original Patty (1 patty)

0.8

NUTS/LEGUMES

Vegetarian Baked Beans, Canned (½ cup)

3.0

Kidney Beans (½ cup)

2.0

Pine Nuts (1 oz)

1.8

Cashews (1 oz)

1.6

Chick Peas/Garbanzo Beans (½ cup)

1.3

Lentils, boiled (½ cup)

1.3

Almonds, Dry Roasted (1 oz)

1.0

DIARY/EGG*

Ricotta Cheese (½ cup)

1.7

Plain Yogurt (8 oz)

1.6

Swiss Cheese, shredded (½ cup)

1.6

Low-fat Milk (8 oz)

0.9

µg=microgram, g=gram, oz=ounce

*Not included in vegan diets

Footnotes

1.

This document is FSHN11-06, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Published June 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/.

2.

Lauren Foster, BS, and Wendy J. Dahl, PhD, assistant professor; Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; University of Florida; Gainesville, FL 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication does not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.