Health & Prevention

800.659.7822 Toll Free

Understanding Vegetarianism

Plant-Based Nutrition

Eating a plant-based vegetarian or vegan diet can be a healthy, exciting alternative to traditional meat-based meal planning. Obtaining proper nutrients from non-animal sources is simple for the modern herbivore. There is a wide variety of vegetarian/vegan-friendly meat/dairy/egg replacements currently on the market. Recipes are abundant on the Internet as well as in a variety of vegetarian cookbooks.

Benefits of a plant-based diet

There really are no disadvantages to a herbivorous diet! A plant-based diet has many health benefits, including lowering the risk for heart disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. It can also help lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, plus maintain weight and bone health.

Vegetarians can be classified into 3 groups:

  • Vegans: exclude all animal products, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, and honey.
  • Lacto-vegetarians: exclude meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, but do include dairy products.
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: exclude meat, poultry, and fish but do include eggs and dairy products. Most vegetarians in America fall into this category.

How many Americans are vegetarian?

A 2008 study published in Vegetarian Times entitled “Vegetarianism in America” shows that 3.2% of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian diet. Approximately 0.5%, or 1 million, of those are vegans. In addition, 10% of adults in America, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.

Does a vegetarian diet provide all the necessary nutrients?

If a vegetarian diet is well-planned and balanced, it can be just as nutritious, if not more beneficial to health, than a traditional diet. Obtaining the nutrients listed below from plant, rather than animal foods, eliminates much of the saturated fat and cholesterol found in a meat-based diet.

Recommended Readings

  • Food for Life and Program for Reversing Diabetes, Neal Barnard, MD
  • Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., MD
  • Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease, Dean Ornish, MD
  • The China Study, T. Colin Campbell PhD and Thomas M. Campbell III

Informative Websites


Craig, WJ., Mangels, AR. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. July 2009, vol.109, no. 7.

More Information

Center for Human Nutrition
Digestive Disease Institute
9500 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44195
Appointments: 216.444.3046 (Main Campus) or toll-free 1.800.223.2273, ext. 43046.

*A new browser window will open with this link.
The inclusion of links to other websites does not imply any endorsement of the material on those websites nor any association with their operators.

This information is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

Reviewed: 12/13

Talk to a Nurse: Mon. - Fri., 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. (ET)

Call a Heart & Vascular Nurse locally 216.445.9288 or toll-free 866.289.6911.

Schedule an Appointment

Toll-free 800.659.7822

This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

© Copyright 2014 Cleveland Clinic. All rights reserved.

Cleveland Clinic Mobile Site