What is the Vegetarian Diet?
Many diﬀerent cultures around the world, especially in Latin America, the Mediterranean, Africa, India, Japan, and China rely on vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, herbs, and spices to bring great ﬂavors, colors, and sound nutrition to their daily meals. Here’s a quick look at several popular, healthful diets that all focus on increasing the amount of plant foods you eat every day. Which plant-based diet is right for you?
- Semi-Vegetarian or Flexitarian Includes dairy foods, eggs, and small amounts of meat, poultry, ﬁsh, and seafood.
- Pescatarian Includes dairy foods, eggs, ﬁsh and seafood, but no meat or poultry.
- Vegetarian (also known as Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian) Includes dairy foods and eggs, but no meat, poultry, ﬁsh, or seafood.
- Vegan Includes no animal foods.
How to Get Started
Health professionals encourage everyone to boost consumption of these delicious plant-based foods, and there are a lot of ways to go about doing that. See our recipes, resources, and infographics below to learn how to incorporate more vegetarian and plant-based foods into your life.
10 Small Steps to Healthier Plant-Based Meals
Build your breakfasts around oatmeal, whole grain cereal, or a slice of whole grain bread spread with guacamole or nut butter. Include some fresh fruit, too.
- Make a vegetarian meal one night a week. Include beans, whole grains, vegetables, herbs, and spices in a simple sauté or stew. Then try two nights a week, then three…
- Fill at least half of your dinner plate with salad greens and cooked or raw vegetables.
- Reach for healthy fats: Include small amounts of nuts, peanuts, nut butters, seeds, olives, avocados, and olive oil or other plant oils in your daily meals.
- Build a meal around salad. Fill a bowl with delicious salad greens. Add an assortment of chopped fresh or roasted vegetables, nuts, fresh herbs, beans, and sprouts and ﬁnish oﬀ with ﬂavored vinegar or your favorite dressing.
- Include a side of barley, quinoa, brown rice, farro or any other whole grain with dinner. Top with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, chopped nuts, and/or chopped fresh herbs to boost the ﬂavor.
- Go for the greens. Find ways to include spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collards, and other greens in daily meals. Steam or stir fry to preserve their tender ﬂavors.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day and reach for water as a beverage with meals.
- Eat fresh or dried fruit for dessert.
- Sit down with friends or family as often as possible to enjoy a meal together.
Our 4-Week Vegetarian/Vegan Menu Plan
Want a day-by-day, meal-by-meal guide to get you started (or keep you inspired)? We’ve got just the thing to help. Check out our 4-Week Vegetarian/Vegan Menu Plan!
Our “Veg 101” Brochure: Welcome to the Vegetarian and Vegan Diet
The Welcome to the Vegetarian and Vegan Diet brochure is a handout used by dietitians, medical professionals, health centers, and community organizations as an introduction to a Vegetarian and Vegan Diet. This trifold brochure includes the Vegetarian/Vegan Diet pyramid, the 10 simple steps above, plus more.
To purchase this brochure for your oﬃce or practice, visit the Oldways store.
Vegetarian Diets for Good Health
Around the world and throughout the centuries many – if not most – societies have relied heavily on plant foods, with small amounts of animal protein. While these diets grew out of a mix of available foods and cultural patterns, today many people choose a vegetarian diet for its proven health beneﬁts.
Research shows that people following a vegetarian diet (plant foods plus eggs and dairy) or a vegan diet (plants food with no animal products) enjoy many of the following health beneﬁts:
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced risk for coronary heart disease
- Decreased risk of colon and breast cancers
- Lower cholesterol
- Less risk of diabetes
Oldways’ Vegetarian & Vegan Diet Pyramid illustrates a healthy model of vegetarian eating, incorporating foods from many traditional diets around the world. Check out our Health Studies page to learn more about the health beneﬁts of a vegetarian diet.
A plant-based diet can be an excellent source of all the necessary nutrients (protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and all nine essential amino acids) for optimal health, particularly when a wide variety of foods are eaten each day. Some vegetarians (especially vegans) may need to add supplements (such as B12) to ensure that they are getting all the essential nutrients they require.
Agricultural sustainability is a positive aspect of vegetarian diets. The industrial food production system, heavily focused on meat production (beef, pork, sheep, and poultry, etc.), is not sustainable. Plant crops (including grains, beans, vegetables) require fewer natural resources such as fuel, water, and land area than do livestock and poultry, making them more sustainable.
Oldways’ Development of the Vegetarian & Vegan Diet Pyramid
The original Vegetarian Diet Pyramid, the fourth traditional diet pyramid released by Oldways, was presented at the 1997 International Conference on Vegetarian Diets held in Austin, Texas. In October 2013, Oldways introduced a new version of the pyramid, which for the ﬁrst time includes vegan guidelines
To create this updated Vegetarian & Vegan Diet Pyramid, Oldways brought together a world-renowned scientiﬁc committee to review extensive scientiﬁc data on plant-based diets and provide recommendations. Meet our Vegetarian Scientiﬁc Advisors.