A project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Skip Navigation

Womens Health logo
En Español

Fitness and Nutrition

divider line

Vegetarian eating

adult woman examining a bell pepper in a supermarket

You can get all the nutrients you need from a vegetarian eating plan by eating a variety of foods. But you may need to take extra steps to make sure that you are getting enough protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12.

What extra steps you need to take depends on what type of vegetarian you are. Vegetarians fall into three groups:

  • Vegans eat only plant-based foods. They do not eat any meat or animal products, including milk and eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarians consume milk and milk products along with plant-based foods. They do not eat eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat eggs and milk and milk products, in addition to plant-based foods.

Milk and milk products are good sources of calcium, vitamin B12, and complete protein. Eggs are a good source of vitamin B12 and complete protein. So if you don't eat milk or eggs, you need to look elsewhere for these nutrients.

By clicking on the links below, you can find lists of food sources for these nutrients, including non-animal sources:

Keep in mind that plants provide incomplete protein. In order to get all the amino acids your body needs, you have to eat a variety of plant foods. So, for instance, eating brown rice with beans will give you complete protein because each food contains the amino acids that the other food lacks.

With careful planning, vegetarian eating plans can be quite healthy. Because you are primarily eating foods from nonmeat sources, you tend to get less fat and cholesterol and more fiber than from meat-based eating plans.

Return to top

Content last updated: June 17, 2008.

Return to top