Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

These diets may seem like fad diets since they're pretty trendy right now, but they aren't at all! The difference is following a vegetarian or vegan diet can be just as healthy as one that includes meat, as long as it is done in the right way. You can also eat this way your whole life and never have any issues.

Before you decide to go vegetarian or vegan, it is important to do your research. This will let you know if switching to this lifestyle is right for you, and how to make sure you are still getting all the nutrients you need.

First, what is a vegetarian and what is a vegan?

  • A vegetarian is someone who does not eat any flesh from an animal. This includes poultry, meat, fish and seafood;
  • A vegan is someone who does not eat any animal products. This includes poultry, meat, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs, honey, and gelatin.

 Why do people go vegetarian or vegan?

  • Concern for animal rights and/or the environment
  • Preferences (they don't like meat or animal products)
  • Religious or other beliefs
  • Health reasons
  • Financial reasons (meat can be expensive)

There are pros and cons to switching to this lifestyle. Think about these when you are deciding if it is right for you.


  • Well planned diets are high in fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants, and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. This will keep you healthy and give you lots of energy
  • Well planned diets have lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers
  • You can feel good about your choice to support animal rights, lower your carbon footprint, or eat the things you really enjoy


  • More planning is needed to make sure you are getting all the right nutrients
  • There is potential to not get all the vitamins, minerals, and protein your body needs (especially if you are still growing);
  • Eating out can be tricky, since there are not too many options. Sometimes options that sound like they are vegetarian or vegan are actually made with animal based ingredients which can make things confusing.

Since these lifestyles cut out foods, it means they are naturally lacking a few key nutrients. Not to fear, with a little planning you can definitely get enough of everything!

Common nutrients lacking in vegetarian and vegan diets, and how to include them:


  • Protein
    • Needed for strong muscles, bones, blood, and organs;
    • Sources include legumes (peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, peanuts), chickpeas, seeds, nuts, soy products and whole grains;
    • In order to get the best quality protein, eat whole grains with legumes. For example, brown rice with lentils.
  • Vitamin B12
    • Needed for the growth and development of the brain and maintaining healthy blood;
    • Sources include dairy and eggs, fortified soy beverages, and breakfast cereals;
    • A supplement may need to be taken for this nutrient. See your doctor or registered dietitian to be sure.
  • Iron
    • Needed to carry oxygen around the body;
    • Sources include lentils, soybeans, quinoa, brown rice, and fortified cereals;
    • Add vitamin C to these foods to help your body absorb even more of the iron in them. For example, add red bell peppers to tofu stir fry, or strawberries to fortified cereal.
  • Zinc
    • Needed for a healthy brain and immune system;
    • Sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and oatmeal;
    • Add garlic and onion to whole grains to absorb even more of the zinc they have in them.


  • See all those included in the vegetarian category plus...
  • Calcium
    • Needed for strong bones and teeth;
    • Sources include dark green vegetables and fortified soy milk.
  • Vitamin D
    • Needed to help absorb calcium;
    • Sources include fortified soy milk and breakfast cereals;
    • A supplement may need to be taken for this nutrient. See your doctor or registered dietitian to be sure.

Want to get started but not sure where to begin? There are many resources that will help you plan vegetarian and vegan meals. For example:

If you are thinking of switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is important to speak to a doctor or registered dietitian first. You can also find more information at Dietitians of Canada. 

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