Have you ever thought about being a vegetarian? If so, you're not alone. Some girls choose to be vegetarians because they don't like the taste of meat or because their family raised them that way. Others are into animal rights and want to make a political statement. And girls who are Buddhists don't eat meat for religious reasons. There are almost 5 million vegetarians in the United States, including some people you've probably heard of, like Anne Hathaway, Avril Levine, and Carrie Underwood. Maybe some people think being a vegetarian is a little weird, but a vegetarian diet can be healthy for you and the planet. back to top
Why be a vegetarian?
There are many reasons girls decide to become vegetarians. It might be a moral decision. For example, you may not believe it is right to kill animals for food. Or maybe you are concerned about the harmful effect the animal industry is having on the planet's ecology. You might have other reasons. Maybe you have a desire to eat a healthier diet, or you may have a medical condition that doesn't allow you to eat certain kinds of animal products. back to top
What's a vegetarian?
There are four main types of vegetarian diets:
Is it healthy to be a vegetarian?
- Semivegetarians cut way back on meat, chicken, and fish but still eat some or all of these foods from time to time.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians don't eat any meat, chicken, or fish. But they do eat dairy ("lacto") products and eggs ("ovo").
- Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products like cheese and yogurt but no other animal-based foods.
- Vegans (pronounced vee-gun or vay-gun) eat only plant foods. They do not eat meat, chicken, fish, dairy products, or eggs. back to top
A well-balanced vegetarian diet can be one of the healthiest ways to eat. A diet of chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, and diet soda is not a well-balanced vegetarian diet. Vegetarian diets are usually lower in fat
and higher in complex carbohydrates
and fiber than diets that include meats. back to top
How do I plan a vegetarian meal?
If you follow the My Pyramid
you're already eating plenty of grains, vegetables, and fruit. But when you're a vegetarian, you need to be sure you are getting all the vitamins
you need. For example, if you don't eat dairy products, you need to find other sources of calcium
like leafy greens. If you have questions, talk with your health professional or a dietitian about how you can plan nutrient-rich vegetarian meals before you take any supplements
. back to top
Tips for getting nutrients you can use
Here are some tips for getting the nutrients your body needs when you are a vegetarian:
- Protein. Eat a variety of protein-rich plant foods, like legumes (peas and dried beans), grains, nuts, and seeds, every day. These contain protein building blocks called amino acids, which your body turns into complete proteins. Also try some alternatives to meat like tofu, seitan, and veggie burgers.
- Calcium. Dairy products are the best source of calcium, but if you don't eat them, you can get the nutrients you need from calcium-rich alternatives like soy milk with calcium added, leafy greens like Swiss chard and kale, and orange juice with calcium added. Talk with your health professional about whether you might benefit from taking calcium or vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium from the food you eat.
- Iron. Many plant foods are rich in iron. But your body can't absorb iron from plants as well as it can from animal foods. So eat lots of legumes and iron-fortified breads and cereals. Also get some vitamin C with each meal. That can be as easy as adding mandarin orange segments to your salad. Vitamin C helps your body use plant-based iron. You may want to take a vitamin C supplement if you aren't getting enough of this essential vitamin from the foods you eat.
- Vitamin B12. This important vitamin is found naturally only in animal foods. You can get some of what your body needs by eating breakfast cereals, soy milk, and veggie burgers that have vitamin B12 added. If you follow a vegan diet, you probably need to take a vitamin B12 supplement. Girls who do not eat any meat or dairy products are likely to have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Since there are usually no apparent symptoms early in this condition, be sure to ask your health professional about vitamin B12 supplements. back to top