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Vegetarian Diets: Pros and Cons

According to the Washington Post, 5% of Americans identify themselves as vegetarians. Harvard Medical School has noted the increasing popularity of the vegetarian diet among Americans.

People choose to follow a vegetable-based diet for several reasons. For example, some people believe that consuming meat is becoming a concern for the environment, and others perceive that a vegetarian diet is more healthful and will make you lose weight. Some follow a vegetarian diet because of religious reasons.

Pros and cons are associated with vegetarian diets, so let’s take a look at some of them.


  • Obesity

Consuming beans, fruits and vegetables, which have fewer calories, can promote a lower body mass index (BMI) and a lower risk for obesity. Vegetarian diets can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.

Health Benefits

According to some studies, vegetarians may live longer. They have a lower risk of heart disease due, at least in part, to a lower blood cholesterol level. Consuming adequate fiber helps promote a healthy colon by increasing the good bacteria in our colon. Consuming adequate fiber, fruits and vegetables may promote weight loss.


● B-12 deficiency

A vegetarian diet may lack adequate vitamin B-12 because B-12 is found only in animal-based food. Vegans (those who eat no animal-based foods) will need to take a B-12 supplement.

● HDL and LDL

Known as the good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol, these blood components could be affected by a vegetarian diet, depending on the foods chosen. Vegetarians might consume a diet high in trans fats (from hydrogenated shortenings, for example). Trans fats may lower the good cholesterol in their bodies and raise the bad cholesterol. On the other hand, eating more beans, vegetables and fruits could reduce LDL levels.

● Minerals

Vegetarians may have lower levels of certain minerals, including zinc, iron and/or calcium, depending on their overall diet.

Note: Vegetarians who consume milk and eggs (lacto-ovo vegetarians) have a lower risk of issues with vitamins and minerals.

  • Mental Health

Some studies have concluded that vegetarians have an increased risk for anxiety disorders, mental disorders and depression.


The Takeaways

Although following a vegetarian diet has pros and cons, those following it must select foods wisely. The more you limit your diet, the more difficulty you will have in consuming the daily nutrients you need to fuel your body.

Being a healthy vegetarian will take a lot of meal planning. Vegetarians may need supplements to get all the nutrients the body needs. If you do it the right way, a vegetarian diet can offer you a healthful lifestyle.

People following a strict vegetarian diet may be putting their body at risk for some nutrient deficiencies through time. In particular, vitamin B-12 is a necessary nutrient for body function.



Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from

Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Retrieved from



By Miranda Berg, NDSU Extension Dietetic Intern, and Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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