At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.
What Is the Vegetarian Diet?
People who follow a vegetarian diet don't consume meat, poultry, or seafood, but they eat eggs, dairy, and other animal-derived foods like honey. Fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and soy-based products, among others, are all included.
Both environmentalists and health experts promote plant-based diets as healthier for our bodies and healthier for the planet. A plant-based eating lifestyle can provide substantial health benefits, but like any diet, it is essential to choose nutrient-rich foods and eat in moderation to get the benefits you're looking for.
The 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the vegetarian diet number 9 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.6/5.
What Experts Say
"The vegetarian diet limits animal products to varying degrees. Experts agree this can be an earth-friendly and healthful way of eating, but care should be taken to ensure that food variety provides nutrition and satisfaction and is not a restrictive weight loss diet in disguise."
—Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH
The 7-Day Diet Plan
A vegetarian diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and includes eggs and dairy in some variations. Most people eat the standard three meals a day with snacks as desired.
The 7-day meal plan laid out below is just one idea of what to eat for three meals per day. This is not an all-inclusive meal plan. If you are eating a vegetarian diet, you may find other meals that work well for you.
- Day 1: California summer vegetable omelet, orange juice; baked potato with chickpeas, zucchini, squash, and cherry tomatoes sauteed in olive oil, kale salad with toasted nuts; Mediterranean quinoa stuffed peppers
- Day 2: Whole-wheat toast with avocado, spinach, and everything-bagel seasoning; shredded Brussels sprouts and roasted lentil salad; spicy vegan tomato and plantain stew
- Day 3: Charred white bean breakfast pizza; egg salad sandwich on a bagel with fresh fruit; Brown rice pasta with healthier Alfredo sauce
- Day 4: Whole grain toast with eggs, sauteed kale, grapes; cabbage and white bean sauté with garlicky greens, brown rice; carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, hummus; bean, quinoa, and cheese stuffed bell pepper, side salad
- Day 5: Steel-cut oats with berries and almond milk, flaxseed, peanut butter; fruit and yogurt parfait; chickpea salad sandwich, cottage cheese, grapes; whole wheat pasta with seitan tomato vegetable sauce, garlic bread, green salad
- Day 6: Egg, mushroom, and cheese omelet, asparagus, grapefruit; chickpea and lemon soup with greens; yogurt with berries and nuts; tofu stir fry with bell pepper, zucchini, and broccoli on rice
- Day 7: Green smoothie with whey protein and coconut milk, peanut butter toast; strawberries, almonds; vegetable lasagna, side green salad; Asian tofu lettuce wraps, quinoa, broccoli
What You Can Eat
There are many different variations of the vegetarian diet. The main limitation is to avoid meat, poultry, and seafood. That means there are many compliant foods, including all plant-based foods (and other animal-derived foods, such as dairy products).
All grains are eaten on any version of the vegetarian diet.
Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are important staples on any vegetarian diet, as they are a source of protein.
- Black beans
- Kidney peans
- Split peas
- Adzuki beans
Fruits and Vegetables
All fruits and vegetables are eaten on any version of the vegetarian diet.
Plant oils are used as healthy fats on any vegetarian diet
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Olive oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Canola oil
Eggs and Dairy
The most common type of vegetarian diet is the lacto-ovo version, in which meat and seafood are avoided but dairy and eggs are included. Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but avoid dairy, meat, and seafood. Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy but avoid eggs, meat, and seafood.
What You Cannot Eat
Some people consider the pescatarian diet a variation of a vegetarian diet. Pescatarians eat plant-based foods and seafood. The flexitarian diet is primarily vegetarian but includes occasional meat or seafood-based meals. The vegan diet consists of no meat, dairy, eggs, or animal by-products, including honey.
Meat and Poultry
Most versions of the vegetarian diet avoid all meat and poultry, except the flexitarian diet, which is a hybrid version.
Most vegetarian diets avoid seafood, except the pescetarian diet, which is considered by some a version of a vegetarian diet.
- Fish (salmon, halibut, tuna, etc.)
- Shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels, etc.)
- Crustaceans (shrimp, lobster, crabs, etc.)
How to Prepare the Vegetarian Diet & Tips
On the lacto-ovo vegetarian and lacto-vegetarian diet, you consume foods in all food groups including vegetables, fruit, grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, protein foods, and oils. Those who adhere to an ovo-vegetarian diet would not consume foods from the dairy group. But milk alternatives (such as nut-based products) are widely available.
Instead of meat and seafood, vegetarians consume protein-rich grains, soy products like tofu, and vegetables with protein. It is fairly easy to eat a balanced diet on a vegetarian plan and to get your recommended intake of nutrients.
You don't need to follow any specific meal timing when you begin a vegetarian diet. However, if you currently consume a traditional American diet, experts often recommend a gradual approach to make the transition easier.
Some people try going meatless one day each week before fully adopting the vegetarian diet. Others use the flexitarian diet and slowly eliminate meat from their diets.
Best Vegetarian Meal Delivery Services
Sample Shopping List
The main products to avoid on a vegetarian diet are meat, poultry, and seafood. There are many foods you can include with a vegetarian diet, and they don't have to break the bank. Fruits and vegetables can be purchased fresh, frozen, or canned, and organic or conventional. Beans are available dried or canned.
Keep in mind that this is not a definitive shopping list. If you are consuming a vegetarian diet, you may find other foods that work best for you.
- Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, Brussels sprouts)
- Fruits (apples, banana, pears, oranges, peaches)
- Beans and Legumes (pinto, black, cannellini, kidney, chickpeas)
- Grains (brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats)
- Nuts and Seeds (almonds, cashews, peanuts, flax, chia)
Pros of the Vegetarian Diet
People following a vegetarian diet may enjoy several benefits documented by research.
- Large variety of foods to choose from: Beans, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are just the beginning of what you can eat as a vegetarian. You may even discover new foods you hadn't previously tried.
- May aid weight loss: A vegetarian diet may help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, and some researchers even believe that a vegetarian diet can help you live longer. Whether you lose weight depends on how many calories you consume, not necessarily on the source of the calories, but fruits, vegetables, and legumes are a lower-calorie source of nutrients.
- Better for the environment and animals: Many people follow a vegetarian diet to promote the ethical treatment of animals. While some animal products are consumed (if you consume eggs and dairy), this diet does not promote the farming of animals for slaughter. There is also evidence that a vegetarian diet is better for the environment.
- Reduced risk of diseases: Several studies have shown that those who consume plant-based diets experience a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, cardiometabolic risk factors, and some cancers. There is also evidence that a plant-based diet may have preventative effects against high blood pressure, diverticular disease, eye cataracts, kidney stones, and gallstones.
Cons of the Vegetarian Diet
While the vegetarian diet has many benefits, it also has a few drawbacks to consider.
- Potential nutrient deficiencies: The main downside to this diet is that nutritional deficiencies are possible if you don't follow a well-balanced eating plan.
- Processed vegetarian foods can be unhealthy: Vegetarian diets may minimize the risk for certain diseases. However, consuming too many processed vegetarian foods can be unhealthy and lead to unwanted weight gain.
- Lack of certain vitamins: Nutrients that may be lacking in a vegetarian diet include vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and zinc. In addition, without meat and seafood in the diet, it is possible (but not likely) that your protein intake may be lower than recommended. This can be avoided by consuming plenty of beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy.
- Potential for dependence on processed foods: Processed vegetarian foods, such as meat alternatives, cheese-like products, microwavable meals, and other convenience foods can be high in calories, fat, added sugar, and excess sodium. If your meal plan includes many of these foods, you are less likely to gain health benefits while on a vegetarian diet. In fact, researchers have found that an unhealthy plant-based diet (including sweetened juices, refined grain products, fries, and sweets) is associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease.
Is the Vegetarian Diet a Healthy Choice for You?
Vegetarian diets are abundant in healthy plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and more. They eliminate meat, poultry, and fish, and in some variations, dairy and/or eggs.
When properly planned, a vegetarian eating pattern can be a nutritious and delicious way to reduce disease risk and consume healthy, balanced meals. Some people may end up eating more processed vegetarian foods high in sugar and salt, which do not contribute to nutrient goals and may lead to excess weight gain.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services included a Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern as part of the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guide provides recommendations for the consumption of various food groups based on intake goals ranging from 1,000 to 3,200 calories per day.
On a well-balanced vegetarian diet, you are also likely to limit some foods in accordance with the USDA's advice. For example, most of the saturated fat consumed in a standard American diet comes from meat and dairy products. Most of these foods are eliminated or reduced on a vegetarian diet.
These healthy foods are recommended on a healthy diet:
- Vegetables and dark, leafy greens (kale, spinach,broccoli, Swiss chard, green beans)
- Fruits (apples, berries, melon)
- Grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats)
- Lean meats (chicken breast, fish, turkey breast)
- Beans and legumes (all beans,lentils, peas)
- Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds)
- Dairy (reduced-fat milk, cheese, yogurt)
- Oils (olive oil,avocado oil)
Healthy vegetarian diets can also include soy products and should include additional grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Everyone's calorie needs differ based on age, weight, sex, and activity level. Check out the following calculator to determine what yours are.
Per the USDA, vegetarian diets can meet nutrient requirements provided they include a large variety of plant-based foods, along with supplements as needed.
Getting Started With a Vegetarian Diet
A Word From Verywell
If you're used to eating meat, shifting to a vegetarian lifestyle may take some time and effort. It might be easy to rely on meat alternatives and other foods that provide the same flavor and mouthfeel as meat.
But if you branch out and learn to cook with whole, nutritious plant-based foods, you'll enjoy satisfying filling meals in the short term and gain the long-term health benefits that this diet can provide.
Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.
If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.
What to Expect on a Vegetarian Diet
To get the most out of a vegetarian diet, choose a variety of healthy plant-based foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, and whole grains. At the same time, cut back on less healthy choices, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices and refined grains.What is a true vegetarian diet? ›
A vegetarian eats no meat at all, including poultry or fish. A lacto-ovo vegetarian eats dairy products and eggs. A lacto vegetarian eats dairy products but not eggs. An ovo vegetarian eats eggs but not dairy products.Do vegetarians eat eggs? ›
Well, the short answer is yes! Unless they are vegan (meaning they don't eat dairy products, eggs, or any other products which are derived from animals), some vegetarians do eat eggs and belong to a group known as lacto-ovo-vegetarians which according to the Vegetarian Society is the most common type of meatless diet.What does a vegetarian eat for breakfast? ›
- Easy huevos rancheros. A star rating of 4.8 out of 5. ...
- Kale, tomato & poached egg on toast. A star rating of 4.3 out of 5. ...
- Carrot cake porridge. ...
- Easy crêpes. ...
- Fried egg Florentine toastie. ...
- Eggy cheese crumpets. ...
- Blueberry & banana power smoothie. ...
- Vegan strawberry pancakes.
Beans and legumes are affordable sources of plant-based protein that serve as hearty and filling meat substitutes. What's more, they're a whole, unprocessed food. There are many types of beans: chickpeas, black beans, lentils and more.Do vegetarians eat cheese? ›
Most vegetarians generally avoid foods that require the death of an animal. Although there are different types of vegetarians, cheese is often considered vegetarian-friendly. However, certain cheeses contain animal rennet, which contains enzymes commonly sourced from the lining of animal stomachs.Who should avoid a vegetarian diet? ›
1. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. When pregnant or breastfeeding, women need to provide more nutrients to the body to ensure the health of the mother and the development of the fetus. Women in this period, if vegetarian, will lack vitamin B12, lack of iron, zinc, copper...What are the 4 main types of vegetarian? ›
- The Vegan Diet. This is the most restrictive type of vegetarian diet. ...
- Lacto-Vegetarianism. ...
- Lacto-Ovo Vegetarianism (Ovo-Lacto Semi Vegetarian) ...
- Pescatarians. ...
Good news! Many pizzas are 100% vegetarian-friendly. A basic pizza contains crust, marinara sauce, and cheese, which are all vegetarian ingredients. The best way to ensure that your pizza is vegetarian is to skip out on any meat toppings, such as pepperoni and sausage.Do vegetarians eat pasta? ›
Most packaged pasta—including spaghetti, rotini, and any other type—is 100 percent vegan. To know for sure, simply check the ingredients on your package! Sometimes, you might see “egg” listed as an ingredient in “fresh” pastas, so avoid those—but generally, pasta contains no animal-derived ingredients.
Potatoes can play a great role in a vegetarian diet for both culinary and nutritional purposes. Their versatility allows vegetarians to create tonnes of recipe ideas using the delicious consistencies and meal types that potatoes have the capability of bringing to the table.Do vegetarians eat mcdonalds? ›
McDonald's offers a variety of vegetarian options, whether you are taking personal health, ethical issues, economical efficiency (including minimal impact on the environment), or all three factors into consideration.What should a vegetarian eat first? ›
Non-meaty sources of protein and iron are nuts, pulses, tofu and leafy greens. Almonds, pistachios and cashews contain healthy fats too, and are perfect for snacking. Dairy is a good source of protein, as is quinoa which is ideal for a filling salad. Above all, embrace the egg, the easiest source of protein out there!How many eggs can vegetarians eat in a day? ›
If you're pondering going veggan, or if you just love your eggs, be sure to keep your intake in check. Rumsey says two to three eggs per day are OK within an overall healthy diet.Can vegetarians eat bananas? ›
Bananas have always been a quick and healthy go-to snack for those on a vegan diet. Enjoyed on their own, and in desserts, they are considered as one of the most versatile fruits.What vegetable is most like meat? ›
Mushrooms. Mushrooms are one of the most popular vegetables to replace meat due to their savory umami flavor and meaty texture.What can I eat instead of meat for dinner? ›
- Pulses. Pulses are an inexpensive protein choice, are high in fibre and a source of iron. ...
- Soya beans. ...
- Quinoa. ...
- Nuts. ...
- Seeds. ...
- Cereals and grains. ...
- Quorn™ ...
- Mushrooms. Many a dish using mushrooms had always fooled countless people to think they're eating meat. ...
- Eggplant. ...
- Jackfruit. ...
- Beans and Legumes. ...
- Lentils. ...
- Cauliflower. ...
- Beets. ...
Absolutely! There are tons of delicious dairy-free ice creams on the market, and you can also make your own excellent versions at home. What is vegan ice cream made of? Virtually any sort of plant-based milk, from almonds to soy to coconut.Can vegetarians eat chocolate? ›
Chocolate itself comes from a plant and is therefore suitable for vegetarians and vegans. However, during the production process some additives or ingredients that are not suitable for these types of diets can be added to chocolate-based products.
Fish and seafood of any kind—just like the meat of other animals—is not vegetarian. Fish is not vegetarian, shrimp is not vegetarian, lobster and crab are not vegetarian, and eating any kind of animal which lives in the sea, lake, or river is not vegetarian.Which is healthier vegan or vegetarian? ›
Vegan diets have a possible advantage when it comes to sustainability and animal welfare, but vegetarian diets might be superior when it comes to nutrition and health benefits. Of course all of this depends on how well vegans and vegetarians plan and execute their nutrition.What are the negative effects of a vegetarian diet? ›
- Low Vitamin D. Yes, you can get vitamin D from plant sources and supplements. ...
- Not Enough Zinc. Beef and lamb are two of the highest sources of zinc. ...
- Anemia. ...
- Anxiety. ...
- Depression. ...
- Eating Disorders. ...
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Named one of the healthiest diets in the world, the Mediterranean diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil. It features fish and poultry—lean protein sources—over red meat. Red wine is consumed regularly but in moderate amounts.Can you eat chicken as a vegetarian? ›
According to the Vegetarian Society, vegetarians are people who do not eat the products or byproducts of animal slaughter. Vegetarians do not consume: meat, such as beef, pork, and game. poultry, such as chicken, turkey, and duck.Do vegetarians drink milk? ›
According to the simplest definition of vegetarian, yes, milk is vegetarian, and you can still drink milk on a vegetarian diet and call yourself a vegetarian. If you're confused, you may be thinking of a vegan diet.What cheese is vegetarian? ›
Which cheeses are usually vegetarian? Paneer and cottage cheese is traditionally made without rennet and is instead coagulated with an acidic ingredient like vinegar or lemon juice. Artisan cheeses from specific areas may be vegetarian.Why can't vegetarians eat mozzarella? ›
Authentic mozzarella, like many kinds of cheese, is made using animal rennet – a product derived from the stomach lining of unweaned young animals. This puts mozzarella, and a range of other traditional European cheeses, off the menu for many vegetarians as well as those who are lactose intolerant.Can vegetarians eat fries? ›
Short answer: Yes! Most fries are 100 percent vegan—but in some (rare) cases, they aren't. For example, McDonald's French fries contain beef fat!How do vegetarians lose weight fast? ›
- Filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. ...
- Incorporating protein at every meal and snack. ...
- Opting for complex carbs. ...
- Watching your portions of high-calorie foods. ...
- Eating mostly whole foods. ...
- Limiting highly processed foods.
Lacto-ovo vegetarianism, the most common type of vegetarian diet, involves eliminating all meat, poultry, and fish.Do vegetarians lose weight easily? ›
What the research tells us. People who follow a vegetarian diet are more likely to lose weight compared to people who follow non-vegetarian nutritional plans, and vegans tend to lose more weight than lacto-ovo vegetarians.What are the three major vegetarian diets? ›
There are approximately seven types of vegetarian diets: flexitarian, pescatarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, lacto vegetarian, ovo vegetarian, pollo vegetarian and vegan.Can vegetarians eat cheese? ›
Given that dairy — including cheese — does not require the slaughtering of an animal, it's usually permitted by lacto- and lacto-ovo-vegetarians, as well as some pescatarians. On the other hand, vegans avoid all animal products or animal byproducts, including dairy and milk.What happens to your body when you go vegetarian for a week? ›
Here's what to expect when you switch to a plant-based diet. After just a few days, the health benefits of eating a whole-food, plant-based diet become clear. Your heart health improves, your skin clears up and the more you stay away from simple carbs and sugar, you can experience healthy weight loss.What do vegetarians lack the most? ›
A meatless diet can be healthy, but vegetarians -- especially vegans -- need to make sure they're getting enough vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns of the risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal products.Can vegetarians eat pasta? ›
Most packaged pasta—including spaghetti, rotini, and any other type—is 100 percent vegan. To know for sure, simply check the ingredients on your package! Sometimes, you might see “egg” listed as an ingredient in “fresh” pastas, so avoid those—but generally, pasta contains no animal-derived ingredients.How do vegetarians get protein? ›
Vegetarians should obtain protein from a variety of plant sources, including legumes, soy products, grains, nuts and seeds. Eggs and dairy products also provide protein for those following a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet.Do vegetarians eat fish? ›
Vegetarians do not eat the flesh of animals. Thus, by this definition, fish and seafood are not vegetarian ( 1 ). Some vegetarians, known as lacto-ovo-vegetarians, eat certain animal products, such as eggs, milk, and cheese. Still, they do not eat fish.How does being vegetarian change your body? ›
Vegetarians appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than meat eaters. Vegetarians also tend to have a lower body mass index, lower overall cancer rates and lower risk of chronic disease.
- Coconut Curry Ramen. ...
- Crock-Pot Vegetable Lasagna. ...
- Roasted Cauliflower Tacos. ...
- Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Pasta. ...
- Three-Ingredient Tomato Sauce.
Some decide they do not want to eat eggs, but are okay with dairy products; they are called lacto-vegetarians. Others are fine with eating eggs but exclude milk and dairy products from their diet; they are known as ovo-vegetarians. Breads are not excluded from these diet regimens unless they contain animal ingredients.