Pros and cons of going vegetarian

I’m a level 5 vegan — I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow.

                                            Jesse Grass, The Simpsons


There are many versions of a “vegetarian” diet:

Vegan: only plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables, legumes (dried beans and peas), grains, seeds and nuts 

Lactovegetarian: plant-based foods plus cheese and dairy products

Lacto-ovovegetarian:  plant-based foods plus cheese, dairy and eggs

Pesco-vegetarians: plant-based foods plus cheese, dairy, eggs and fish

Whichever version you choose, the US Dietary Guidelines state that all variations of vegetarian diets can provide adequate nutrients for all stages of the life cycle, including children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly and even competitive athletes.

Vegetarians can be at risk of getting inadequate amounts of protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins A and B12, Omega-3 fatty acids and iodine, so the keys to maintaining adequate nutrition on a vegetarian diet are to eat a wide variety of foods and to plan ahead for meals.  The Mayo Clinic has a helpful list of foods that are rich in these nutrients and are vegetarian diet friendly.   

Vegetarian diets can be a challenge to follow, especially for a busy – and poor – college, grad or professional student, but if you can make it work for your lifestyle, there are many health benefits!  In general, vegetarian diets contain less saturated fat and cholesterol and more fruit, veggies, fiber, and phytochemicals – all good things.  Research has shown that vegetarians tend to have lower rates of obesity, bad cholesterol, heart disease, type II diabetes, and high blood pressure. There is also some evidence that vegetarians may have lower rates of cancer, but the verdict is still out on that one.

The best thing you can do if you are considering a vegetarian diet is to educate yourself – knowledge is power!  The US Department of Agriculture has great information about vegetarian diets.  You can also come in and talk to one of our expert nutritionists.  And if you have any health issues, are pregnant or breastfeeding, be sure to talk to your health care provider before beginning any type of modified diet. 

Cheryl Czapla, Med IV
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University