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Vegetarian diet: advantages and disadvantages

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 235 views

Food from killed animals is taboo on a vegetarian diet . Milk, eggs and dairy products are allowed. The motives for this diet range from ethical to health reasons. Read here about the advantages and disadvantages of a vegetarian diet and what you should pay attention to.

What is a vegetarian diet?

Vegetarian nutrition is booming in Germany. According to the Allensbacher market analysis, the number of people who classify themselves as vegetarians was 7.5 million in 2021 – one million more than in the previous year.

However, opting for a meat-free diet is not a new trend. Thousands of years ago, people came up with the idea of ​​not eating animals anymore.

There are traditions that as early as the sixth century BC the sect of the Orphics was vegetarian. For their followers, asceticism was the reason for not eating animal food.

The philosopher Pythagoras brought the vegetarian diet to Europe. In Germany it became more widespread in the 19th century.

The motivation for a vegetarian diet varies. Some vegetarians want to prevent animal suffering. Others forgo food and products from killed animals for health or environmental reasons.

In fact, meat production causes about 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Vegetarians are also less likely to suffer from common diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

However, with this type of diet it is important to take a closer look at the nutrient content of food in order to avoid deficiency symptoms.

What do vegetarians eat?

For vegetarians, all food from living animals is excluded – i.e. meat, sausage and fish. Animal fats such as lard or gelatine are also taboo. There is room for maneuver with honey. Whether you are allowed to eat it depends on how strict you are on the diet.

The following foods are permitted on a vegetarian diet:

  • milk and milkproducts
  • Owner
  • vegetables and fruit
  • nuts and seeds
  • grain products
  • potatoes and rice
  • legumes

These variants of vegetarianism exist!

There are different types of vegetarian diets. The best-known representatives are the ovo-lacto-vegetarians . They abstain from meat and fish, but continue to eat dairy products and eggs.

Learn more about lacto-ovo vegetarians here .

Other variants are:

  • Ovo-vegetarians avoid meat, fish and milk, but eat eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarians avoid meat, fish and eggs, but eat dairy products.
  • Vegans avoid all foods that come from animals.

Find out more about veganism here .

There are also the so-called “pudding vegetarians”. They feed primarily on highly processed, nutrient-dense foods such as white flour and sweets. However, this type of diet is not recommended because the risk of deficiency symptoms and obesity is high.

What should be considered when following a vegetarian diet?

There is no typical plan for a vegetarian diet. You can eat what you like – except for food from killed animals.

A vegetarian diet usually consists of three to five meals a day. Anyone who lives without meat usually eats healthier, since the nutrients contained in fish and meat, such as protein , zinc and iron, have to be consciously balanced in other ways. Vegetarians are often better supplied with vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and folic acid than people who eat meat and fish.

If you still want a meat-like taste, you can now find a large selection of meat substitutes in the supermarket – such as tofu schnitzel or soy sausages. However, many aromas and flavor enhancers are often added to these foods. The salt content is also often high.

Read more about meat substitute products here .

Which nutrients are important in a vegetarian diet?

Grain products, potatoes, legumes and lots of fruit and vegetables are well suited to a vegetarian diet. This allows you to meet your vitamin and fiber needs.

Since there are some nutrients in meat and fish, such as protein and iron, a vegetarian diet requires you to meet your needs from other foods.


Vegetarian people usually have no problems consuming enough protein from plant products. Even athletes easily cover their protein requirements exclusively through plant-based food. Legumes, nuts, seeds and grain products contain all the important protein building blocks.

Learn more about protein foods here .

Vitamin B12

In contrast to vegans, vegetarians do not have as much of a problem thinking about their vitamin B12 needs. The vitamin is found in dairy products, for example. So anyone who still eats cheeses such as Camembert or Emmental secures their supply. Nevertheless, you should keep an eye on the vitamin B12 levels.

You can find out more about foods with vitamin B12 here .


The iron intake of vegetarians is usually normal – at least for lacto-ovo vegetarians it is not lower than for omnivores. Vegetarian food provides a little less iron, since the human body uses vegetable iron less well than animal iron.

However, if you consume enough vitamin C and avoid foods that inhibit iron absorption (black tea, coffee, garlic , onions), you should not develop any deficiencies with a conscious and varied overall diet. Legumes and whole grain cereal products, for example, are well suited.

Find out more about iron-rich foods here .

Omega-3 fatty acids

While a vegetarian diet is often rich in omega-6 fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids are sometimes lacking. They are important for heart and vascular health, as well as eye and brain development.

Vegetarians should therefore make sure to supplement their meals with flaxseed, walnuts, rapeseed oil and soy products. Pregnant and breastfeeding women who have an increased need for omega-3 fatty acids could also benefit from the addition of certain microalgae.

Learn more about omega-3 fatty acids here .

Vegetarian Diet: Benefits

A vegetarian diet has numerous benefits. According to a study by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), vegetarians and flexitarians, i.e. people who rarely eat a piece of meat or fish, live longer than the general population.

Although this result could be due to the study participants’ generally healthier lifestyles, eating meat does offer health benefits, such as:

  • Many vegetarians are more health conscious.
  • People who are vegetarian have better blood pressure values ​​and a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.
  • Vegetarian women are less likely to suffer from common diseases such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Vegetarians have a lower cancer death rate than meat eaters.

Vegetarian diet: disadvantages

There is only one downside to a vegetarian diet: you need nutritional knowledge or the motivation to acquire it to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Otherwise, you can now easily implement this form of nutrition in everyday life.

Who is vegetarianism suitable for?

A vegetarian diet with healthy and wholesome foods is basically suitable for everyone. There are few specifics about certain groups.

Babies, toddlers and teenagers

In the case of children and young people, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a vegetarian lifestyle – as long as they absorb the nutrients they need from meat and fish through other foods.

In the growth phase, milk and whole grain products as well as fruit and vegetables are particularly important. Eggs also contain vitamin B12 , which is very important in this development phase .

In the case of babies, it is particularly important to ensure that their iron requirements are met after breastfeeding.

Pregnant and lactating women

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are best advised to speak to their doctor again about the right diet. For them, an adequate supply of vitamin D , vitamin B12, folic acid, iodine and iron, among other things, is important. If the requirement cannot be covered by a vegetarian diet, dietary supplements may be useful.


Vegetarian athletes get all the important nutrients from plant-based foods, eggs and dairy products. They particularly focus on protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids and calcium.

Some female athletes have low iron status. In this case, an individual consultation with a nutrition expert is helpful on how to meet the need.

Vegetarian diet: Conclusion

If you choose wholesome foods and eat a variety of foods, then a vegetarian diet is healthy and also possible in the long term. It is important that you deal with the nutrient content of your food. A vegetarian diet with fast food such as fries, pizza and sandwiches or chips and lots of sweets is not recommended.

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