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Vegetarian or 'plant-based' diets can be a very healthy eating style. All the rules still apply, however, including practicing variety, balance and moderation.

A vegetarian is someone who completely avoids all animal flesh whether it comes from cows, chickens or fish. Vegetarians are sometimes further classified by the types of food they are or are not willing to eat. Lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid animal flesh but eat eggs and dairy products. Vegans avoid all foods of animal origin.

Vegetarians are often asked "How will you get enough protein?" For a variety of reasons this concern has been overemphasized. Most Americans eat more protein than they need. For lacto-ovo vegetarians dairy products can be a major source of protein. For vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians beans, nuts, seeds and soy products are all excellent sources of protein.

There are many different types of beans (legumes). Some examples of these are: green or red lentils, peanuts, split peas, pinto, soy (beans, tofu, tempeh), garbanzo, black, white, kidney, navy beans, and so many more. You are probably already familiar with some of them as chili with kidney beans, refried pintos used in Mexican-style dishes, red beans and rice, lentil soup or chili, garbanzo beans made into hummus. Beans are available in many forms and with different flavors to enhance their taste. Nuts are high in protein but also deliver a lot of fat compared to beans. Enjoy them in moderation. One cup of cooked beans provides the same amount of protein as in two ounces of meat.

Nutrients of concern for vegans, who avoid all foods of animal origin, include vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin D. The primary source for vitamin B12 in the North American diet is animal foods. To be certain of an adequate intake, vegans are advised to regularly consume a vitamin B12 supplement or foods, which are fortified with vitamin B12, such as nutritional yeast or soy milk. The major dietary source of calcium for most North Americans is dairy products. Vegans can choose products such as orange juice and soy milk that have been fortified with calcium. Additionally, many leafy green vegetables and beans contain some calcium. Most North Americans obtain vitamin D from fortified milk products and sunlight. Reliance on sunlight to meet vitamin D needs is not realistic for a number of reasons. Vegans can obtain vitamin D from fortified soy milk or vitamin supplements.