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Vegetarian eating

Vegetarian eating

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A vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat. 

Some vegetarians, called vegans, do not eat any animal products, such as eggs or milk. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you may need to take a dietary supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.


Image:Women Health gov.

What is a healthy eating plan for women who are vegetarian?

A healthy eating pattern for women who are vegetarian is the same as for any woman. Because vegetarians eat mostly plant-based foods, they usually get more fiber-rich foods and low-cholesterol foods than non-vegetarians do. But women who are vegetarians still need to make sure they are eating healthy, which includes foods with calcium and protein.

Do women who are vegetarian need to take a dietary supplement?

Not always. You can get all the nutrients you need from a vegetarian eating plan by eating a variety of foods from all of the food groups. But you may need to take extra steps to get enough protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B-12, and zinc.

The extra steps you need to take depend on what type of vegetarian you are. For example, low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products are good sources of calcium, vitamin B-12, and complete protein. Eggs are a good source of vitamin B-12, choline, and complete protein. So if you don’t drink milk or eat eggs, you need to get these nutrients from other foods.

See a of good sources of protein, iron, calcium, and more for vegetarians at ChooseMyPlate.gov.

Do vegetarians need more nutrients during pregnancy?

Yes. Just like all women, your body needs more of some nutrients, such as folic acid, during pregnancy to help your baby grow and develop. In general, though, choosing a variety of healthy foods from each of the food groups will help you get the nutrients you need during pregnancy.1 Be sure to get enough protein, found in beans, nuts, nut butters, and eggs if you eat them. See the resources below for vegetarian sources of important nutrients for women.  

Use the MyPlate Plan tool to find out how many calories you need based on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.

Some Healthy Sources:

Some simple tips to improve your eating habits are to eat more vegetables, snack on fruit more often, and cook at home more each week.

  • Fruits and vegetables. Everyone needs to eat fruits and vegetables every day. Try to fill about half of your plate with fruits or vegetables at meals. Most women do not get enough fruits and vegetables.3 Eat whole fruit (not juice) and try different types of vegetables during the week.
  • Protein. Eat different types of foods with protein, including seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products. Most women do not eat enough seafood to meet weekly recommendations of 8 to 10 ounces (or about two servings a week).4
  • Grains. Make at least half your grains whole grains, such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, or whole-wheat bread. Most women do not eat enough whole grains.5
  • Dairy. Women should get 3 cups of dairy each day, but most women get only half that amount.6 If you can’t drink milk, try to eat low-fat plain yogurt or low-fat cheese. Dairy products are among the best food sources of the mineral calcium, but some vegetables such as kale and broccoli also have calcium, as do some fortified foods such as fortified soymilk, fortified cereals, and many fruit juices. Most girls ages 9 to 18 and women older than 50 need more calcium for good bone health.
  • Oils. When cooking try to use oils from plants instead of solid fats like butter, margarine, or coconut oil. See this list of oils and fats to see how healthy each type of cooking oil and solid fat is. Most women eat too much solid fat through packaged foods like chips or salad dressing, and not enough healthy fats like olive oil or the type of fat in seafood.

Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2016). Tips for Pregnant Moms (PDF – 1 MB).

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