Dairy Foods and Vegetarian Diets 101

October 01, 2015

Odds are good you know a vegetarian or at least someone who has made an effort to reduce the amount of animal products they eat. In fact, the trend has grown in recent years as people try different diets. 

For some, being a vegetarian is a way of eating and enjoying the foods they simply like; however, for others it’s about lifestyle and can include philosophical, ethical, religious or health beliefs.

In most cases, vegetarianism does not equate to eating zero animal products. We’ve checked in with Kristin Schrieber, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who has worked one-on-one with individuals on their diets, to help us understand the ins and outs of vegetarianism.

“A vegetarian diet can be healthy, but it’s important to help people learn how to follow their beliefs and also meet their nutritional needs,” said Schrieber.  “Just as each meal can vary, so can the types of vegetarians, with some limiting certain kinds of animal products.”

Here are a few:

  • Vegans avoid all animal products, including honey and gelatin.
  • Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy foods but no other animal products.
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat dairy foods and eggs, but avoid other animal products.
  • Flexitarians occasionally eat foods from animal sources, including fish, meat, fowl and dairy.

“Eating plans that include milk, cheese and yogurt provide calcium, vitamins D and B12, and protein — all nutrients important for a vegetarian diet,” added Schrieber. 

Like any well-planned menu, a vegetarian diet can be affordable and convenient as well as nutritious.

Focus on choosing high-quality protein foods to help your body to get all of the essential amino acids needed to make your body work properly. Eating natural sources of high-quality protein, like low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt, helps you meet your protein, and other nutrient, needs.

For those on the go, dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt can be a convenient, tasty and affordable source of protein, whether it’s cheese with an apple or a glass of milk on its own for a snack. Yogurt with fruit and whole grain cereal can be a portable, simple breakfast, too.

For those who enjoy spending time in the kitchen, there are lots of dairy options that round out a dish.

“As we get into a colder season, soups, chili, and casseroles are a great way to include protein sources like beans, milk, and cheese,” said Judy Jarvis, MS, RDN. “Every food group provides a unique combination of nutrients. Have fun exploring the possibilities.”

Craving more? Get the facts about the importance of protein and don’t forget to see a registered dietitian to help make sure your vegetarian diet is custom-fit to your lifestyle, and provides the nutrition your body needs.


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