How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian

What is a vegetarian?
A vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat, including beef, chicken, pork, or fish. Some vegetarians may or may not choose to eat animal products such as eggs, milk, gelatin, or honey. There are different types of vegetarians:
Lacto-ovo vegetarian
Lacto–ovo vegetarians do not eat meat but do eat eggs and dairy products (ovo means eggs and lacto means dairy).
Lacto vegetarian
Lacto vegetarians do not eat meat but do eat dairy products.
Ovo vegetarian
Ovo vegetarians do not eat meat but do eat eggs.
Vegans avoid eating any animal products. Vegans do not eat any meat products, milk, cheese, eggs, honey, or gelatin. Many vegans choose not to wear clothes containing animal products, such as leather, wool, or silk, or wear makeup tested on animals.
Why do people decide to be vegetarian?
People decide to become a vegetarian for many reasons. Some common motivators include the environment, animal rights, and health. You may have different reasons. Deciding to become vegetarian is an individual decision.

Are vegetarian diets healthy?
Vegetarian diets can be very healthy, but eating a balanced diet when you are vegetarian usually requires a little extra attention. Because vegetarians eliminate certain foods from their diets, they often need to work to add foods into their diet that will provide the nutrients found in meat products. By eating a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you can get nutrients you need from non–meat sources. Vegans need to pay special attention to getting enough iron, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
Carbohydrates provide energy and vitamins for your brain and muscles. Grain products, especially whole grains, are very important because they provide the carbohydrate, fiber, and many vitamins that your body needs.

Fat is needed by your body to stay healthy. Fat provides essential fatty acids and helps your body absorb certain vitamins. Vegetarians need to include sources of fat such as nuts, oils, or avocado.
Protein is needed for your muscles to grow. Vegetarians have to be careful not to just cut meat out of their diet, but to replace the meat with high–protein vegetarian foods. Nuts, peanut butter, soy foods, and legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils all provide protein. Protein is also found in dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese for vegetarians who eat these foods.
Zinc is important for growth and your immune system. Zinc is found in whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, dairy products, soy foods, and legumes.
Iron is important for your blood and is found in beans, seeds, soy foods, fortified breakfast cereals, and dark green leafy vegetables, like spinach. Vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron so it is important to eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits and certain vegetables (such as tomatoes) as well.
Calcium is required to build strong bones for later in life. Calcium is found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Some foods are not naturally high in calcium but have calcium added to them; these foods are called calcium–fortified. Some soy products, orange juices, cereals, and cereal bars are calcium fortified. Look at the Nutrition Facts Label to find out which brands are highest in calcium.
Vitamin D is necessary for strong bones and is particularly important for people who live in colder climates because you need the sun to make it. During the winter the sun is not as strong and you are not able to make enough vitamin D. Therefore, it is especially important to make sure you get vitamin D from the foods you eat, such as fortified dairy products and soy milk, or from a supplement.
Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods, so vegans must eat food fortified with B12. Examples include nutritional yeast flakes, fortified soymilk, and fortified cereals.
How can I convince my parents that being a vegetarian is healthy and right for me?
Your parents may be worried that you are choosing to follow a vegetarian diet without knowing how to do it in a healthy way. If you can explain your plans to stay healthy and your reasons for wanting to become a vegetarian, your parents may be more likely to understand. You still might need to give them time to accept your new diet. Read vegetarian cookbooks or nutritional information with your parents and offer to help with the shopping and cooking.
What are some healthy meals that I can prepare?
Refer to our sample menu suggestions to get ideas about incorporating enough protein and other nutrients into your vegetarian diet. You can also look at vegetarian cookbooks or websites for more ideas.

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