“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods. This article reviews the current data related to key nutrients for vegetarians including protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12. A vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients. In some cases, supplements or fortified foods can provide useful amounts of important nutrients. An evidence- based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes. The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than non-vegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Features of a vegetarian diet that may reduce risk of chronic disease include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals. The variability of dietary practices among vegetarians makes individual assessment of dietary adequacy essential. In addition to assessing dietary adequacy, food and nutrition professionals can also play key roles in educating vegetarians about sources of specific nutrients, food purchase and preparation, and dietary modifications to meet their needs.”
(below is more info beyond the abstract above)
Vegetarian diets can meet the needs of bodybuilders and athletes.
Protein needs become elevated because training increases amino acid metabolism, but vegetarian diets that meet energy needs and include good sources of protein (e.g., quinoa, legumes, etc.) can provide adequate protein (protein supplementation can help).
For adolescent athletes, special attention should be given to meeting energy, protein, and iron needs. Amenorrhea may be more common among vegetarian than non-vegetarian athletes, although not all research supports this finding (1, 2). Efforts to maintain normal menstrual cycles might include increasing energy and fat intake, reducing fiber, and reducing strenuous training.
A variety of menu-planning approaches can provide vegetarians with adequate nutrition. In addition, the following guidelines can help vegetarians plan healthful diets. Choose a variety of foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and if desired, dairy products, and eggs.
Choose whole, unrefined foods often, and minimize intake of highly sweetened, fatty, and heavily refined foods. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables. If animal foods such as dairy products and eggs are used, choose lower-fat versions. Cheeses and other high-fat dairy foods and eggs should be limited in the diet because of their saturated fat content, and because their frequent use displaces plant foods in some vegetarian diets.
Vegans should include a regular source of vitamin B-12 in their diets along with a source of vitamin D if sun exposure is limited.
Vegetarian Diet for Pregnant Women
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian and vegan diets can meet the nutrient and energy needs of pregnant women. Birth weights of infants born to well-nourished vegetarian women have been shown to be similar to birth-weight norms and to birth weights of infants of non-vegetarians (3).
Diets of pregnant and lactating vegans should be supplemented with 2.0 micrograms and 2.6 micrograms, respectively, of vitamin B-12 daily and, if sun exposure is limited, with 10 micrograms vitamin D daily (4, 5). Supplements of folate are advised for all pregnant women, although vegetarian women typically have higher intakes than non-vegetarians.
Solely breast-fed infants should have supplements of iron after the age of 4 to 6 months and, if sun exposure is limited, a source of vitamin D. Breast-fed vegan infants should have vitamin B-12 supplements if the mother’s diet is not fortified. Do not restrict dietary fat in children younger than 2 years. For older children, include some foods higher in unsaturated fats (e.g., nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, avocado, and coconut oil) to help meet nutrient and energy needs.
1. Pedersen AB, Bartholomew MJ, Dolence LA, Aljadir LP, Netteburg KL, Lloyd T. Menstrual differences due to vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991; 54:520-525.
2. Slavin J, Lutter J, Cushman S. Amenorrhea in vegetarian athletes. Lancet. 1984; 1:1474-1475.
3. O’Connell JM, Dibley MJ, Sierra J, Wallace B, Marks JS, Yip R. Growth of vegetarian children: the Farm Study. Pediatrics. 1989; 84:475-481.
4. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Nutrition During Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1991.
5. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Nutrition During Lactation. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1991.