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Some people think that being a vegetarian means that you will have to eat strange foods, really restrict your diet, or carefully combine foods. If you are interested in becoming a vegetarian, get the facts.
Myth One: Vegetarians Do Not Get Enough Protein
Not true. It is tough to find anyone in the United States—vegetarian or not—who is protein-deprived. Most Americans meet their daily protein needs, with many people exceeding their needs. While there is no doubt that meat is protein-packed, almost all foods contain at least small amounts of proteins. This means that just by eating a variety of foods, vegetarians get plenty.
Myth Two: It Is Difficult to Eat in a Restaurant When You are a Vegetarian
Not true. Diners are demanding more meatless menu options, and restaurants are responding. Meatless dining out is easier than ever. Even if there are not a lot of choices, with a little creativity, it is not difficult to put together a tasty meal. Most restaurants are happy to prepare items without meat. Even fast food restaurants will usually take requests for burgers ordered as "hold the meat, add extra vegetables."
Myth Three: Vegetarian Diets Take Meticulous Planning to Avoid Nutrient Deficiencies
Vegetarians, like meat eaters, should follow the pattern set out by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Guide ChooseMyPlate and eat a diet based on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, with smaller amounts of low-fat dairy products and protein foods and limited amounts of added fats and sweets. The USDA does say that vegetarians may need to pay particular attention to protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and B12. Here are some common sources of these nutrients:
- Protein—beans, nuts, nut butters, peas, soy products, milk products, eggs
- Iron—iron-fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, turnip greens, molasses, whole wheat breads, peas, and dried fruits (apricots, prunes, raisins)
- Calcium—fortified breakfast cereals, soy products, calcium-fortified orange juice, dark-green leafy vegetables (collard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, mustard greens), milk products
- Zinc—beans (white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas), zinc-fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, milk products
- B12—milk products, eggs, foods fortified with B12 (breakfast cereals, soy-based beverages, veggie burgers)
Myth Four: Vegetarian Diets Are Dangerous for Children or Pregnant Women
According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), "well-planned…vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy." Moreover, says the ADA, meatless diets, when appropriately planned, also "satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents". Like all pregnant women, vegetarian women should take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy.
Babies born to vegetarians are just as likely to be a healthy, normal weight as those born to non-vegetarian mothers. Kids are fine without meat, too. Vegetarian children grow normally. It may be a good idea to see a registered dietitian who can spot any potential problem areas and address fears that parents might have.
Myth Five: A Vegetarian Diet Is Always Healthier Than One That Includes Meat
Just because you are not eating meat, does not mean you are eating healthy. A vegetarian who eats a diet full of fried foods and foods packed with sugar like cake and candy is not eating well.
Myth Six: Vegetarians Have to Eat Weird Foods Like Tofu
Not true. There are plenty of vegetarians who have never allowed tofu to pass their lips. In general, though, vegetarians do tend to experiment with different foods to replace the meat that they may have grown up with, but this is not a requirement of the vegetarian way of life. Vegetable pizza, bean burritos, broccoli stir-fry, pasta with marinara sauce, and other classics are all meatless dishes. And then there is macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, French toast…
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
International Vegetarian Union
Dietitians of Canada
Craig WJ, Mangels AR; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-1282. Available at: http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/2009%5FADA%5Fposition%5Fpaper.pdf. Accessed January 22, 2014.
Healthy eating for vegetarians: 10 tips for vegetarians. United States Department of Agriculture, Dietary Guidelines for Americans website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet8HealthyEatingForVegetarians.pdf . Updated June 2011. Accessed January 22, 2014.
How much protein do you need? NIH News in Health website. Available at: http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2008/March/docs/01features%5F01.htm. Published March 2008. Accessed January 22, 2014.
Tips for vegetarians. United States Department of Agriculture, ChooseMyPlate.gov website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips/tips-for-vegetarian.html . Accessed January 22, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 01/2014
- Update Date: 01/22/2014