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Vegetarian Diet: A Complete Guide

Vegetarian Diet: A Complete Guide

A complete guide on the vegetarian diet and if it actually works.

Excluding something from the diet serves to lose weight not so much because the excluded food hurts but rather because the belief that the diet you follow works gives you extra motivation and you can follow it without problem and continuity.

Many follow the vegetarian diet out of fashion or because they have heard of its benefits, others for ethical reasons.

There are those who use it as a strategy to lose weight from being sedentary to the bodybuilding athlete who has to cut the calories. Find out more!

What Is A Vegetarian Diet

What Is A Vegetarian Diet

The vegetarian diet is a type of dietary approach that excludes some or all animal products or their derivatives. The term ‘vegetarian’ is used to indicate all the variants of the plant-based diet.

It, therefore, includes several models:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian (LOV): based on the consumption of cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts, oilseeds, dairy products, eggs, and excludes meat, fish, shellfish, crustaceans, and derivatives.
  • Lacto-vegetarian (LV): similar to the previous one but also excludes eggs.
  • Ovo-vegetarian (OV): similar to the LOV but excludes milk and dairy products.
  • Vegan: based exclusively on the consumption of plant origin.

All these models, vegan included allowing to maintain health even if in some cases it is necessary to integrate in case of deficiencies, analyzed later.


Where Does The Vegetarian Diet Come From??

At the foundation of the vegetarian diet, there are certainly ethical reasons, which include respect for the life of animals often raised in conditions of exploitation and suffering in intensive farming.

But not only that the reason can also be environmental, but it is also established that the processing of animal foods requires more energy and therefore more pollution than that of non-animal products.

In 1997 at the third International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition in California, the first guidelines for vegetarian nutrition were formulated, even if it was already practiced before.

In the following years, various changes were made in conjunction with new scientific evidence.

The nutritional guidelines can be graphically explained in food pyramids, by subdividing these into several steps, each representing one of the main food groups that should always be present in a healthy vegetarian diet.

The most important is based on the guidelines for vegetarians produced by the USDA, the Mayo Clinic, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, or the Loma Linda University.

Characteristics Of The Healthy And Correct Vegetarian Diet

The vegetarian diet is not healthy regardless. Just as an omnivorous diet can be harmful, a vegetarian one can also be harmful when it is not properly planned and unbalanced.

The caloric distribution between the various groups of macronutrients varies not only according to the guidelines considered but also according to sex, age, and physical activity.

In 2005 the Scientific Society of Vegetarian Nutrition produced guidelines for vegetarians, the latest version of which dates back to 2010. The criteria are:

  • Consume copious quantities and varieties of foods.
  • Give preference to unrefined and poorly processed foods.
  • The consumption of milk and eggs is optional.
  • Choose carefully and limit fats.
  • Get good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Take adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Get adequate amounts of vitamin B12.
  • Consume generous amounts of water and other liquids

Benefits And Advantages Of A Vegetarian Diet

Is it the ultimate diet for staying healthy?

At the antipodes of vegetarianism is the paleo diet which involves high consumption of meat and this diet also has its principles on which it is based.

Even the vegetarian diet like all diets has its pros and cons and when properly managed it guarantees health and achievement of goals.

Team vegetables or team meat? Who is right?

Common sense in applying the diet surely.

Low Glycemic Index

It is common to incorporate low glycemic index foods into the concept of “healthy food” “because those with high GI make you fat”.

In reality, the idea is scientifically largely outdated and there is no direct relationship between GI and weight loss.

Given this premise fruits and vegetables tend to have a low GI, which contributes to satiety not because of this parameter but rather because the food itself contains fiber and is not very dense energetically.


Short (but true) sad story vegetarians also have cellulite.

This happens when you follow the vegetarian guidelines but add refined, preserved, densely calorie-rich, high-sugar, high-fat products and maybe even little movement.

If you train and follow a healthy vegetarian diet surely this eating style helps you to have less water retention, one of the causes of cellulite.

But if following vegetarianism is limited to “I eat French fries and snacks because they are not meat”, surely it will not help.

Cellulite is a complex process and as such must be treated there is no main food or the perfect diet that eliminates it.

However, there is a balanced lifestyle and the will to change, consistency, and training against resistance that together they certainly help to improve the situation.

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A great advantage of the vegetarian diet over other dietary approaches is the increase in the presence of dietary fiber.

To say that fiber is able to lower cholesterol and lipid levels, in general, is a bit limiting the question is more complex.

In short, on the one hand, its action can limit the absorption of lipids in the intestine and modify the turnover of cholesterol.

On the other hand, the fiber is nothing more than an element of a multifactorial context that leads to a lowering of fats and to a better lipid profile.

In fact, the consumption of dietary fiber should correspond to a healthier lifestyle in general which includes the consumption of fruit and vegetables, wholemeal products, energetically less dense foods.

All factors contribute to maintaining the lipid balance in the right balance.

Irritable Colon

For those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, a correct lifestyle and dietary approach are essential.

The introduction of fruits and vegetables is very useful as they contain water-soluble fibers, which contribute to an increase in intestinal flora.

However, the amount of fiber must be increased gradually, and paying more attention to fruit the intake of which could be counterproductive.

What Does The WHO Say?

Among the guidelines of the WHO to stay healthy and prevent cancer, it is recommended to limit the consumption of red meats and avoid those that are preserved.

This does not directly imply that one should not eat meat and that vegetarianism is the best option in order not to contract neoplastic events.

There is no guideline “do not eat meat, a vegetarian diet does not cause cancer”. In these terms, the vegetarian diet does not bring more benefits than the omnivorous one.

Disadvantages And Risks Of The Vegetarian Diet

Disadvantages And Risks Of The Vegetarian Diet

If you exclude meat and fish do you really risk some deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, essential fats, and proteins?

Food Shortages

Excluding certain categories of foods, it is normal for there to be deficiencies, which in reality can also occur in those who have an omnivorous diet but spontaneously, without knowing it some foods are foreclosed.

It is also true, however, that both the vegetarian diet and its more restrictive vegan subclass guarantee a healthy life.

To make up for the shortcomings first of all it is necessary to know what they may be, how to remedy “adjusting the diet” and only then eventually take specific supplements.

How To Integrate Proteins Into A Vegetarian Diet?


Epidemiological and observational evidence says that a vegetarian diet does not create particular problems for an individual’s nitrogen balance.

The body uses 20 amino acids for the synthesis of new proteins, but the fundamental point is that it is not able to synthesize them all.

The amino acids that it cannot biosynthesize are defined as essential and must necessarily come from the diet.

When an essential amino acid is missing even if all the other amino acids are present, protein synthesis stops, since our body cannot produce the essential amino acids and therefore cannot continue in the synthesis of proteins.

Unlike vegetable proteins, animal proteins have a better amino acid profile which results in a greater quantity and ratio of essential amino acids, and this is the reason why they are preferred over vegetables.

So far everything is correct, it is clear that animal proteins are superior to vegetable ones.

One last piece of information is missing to be able to build reasoning that is based on a scientific basis and not on the rumors handed down over the years in the locker rooms of gyms.

Amino acids have a blood half-life of several hours that is even if they cannot be deposited and therefore if not used in protein synthesis must either be used for energy purposes or stored as fat.

What matters is not the amino acid composition of the proteins of the single food we eat and, possibly, of our single meal, but rather the total protein intake in several meals during the day.

In fact, we can take more vegetable proteins from different sources in the same meal or in several meals during the day in order to obtain a complete amino acid pool that is suitable for protein synthesis. And this is the secret of vegans.

This is why the guidelines that recommend combining legumes with cereals are born, as the former is rich in lysine but poor in cysteine ​​and methionine and the latter rich in cysteine ​​and methionine but poor in lysine.


Iron deficiency in a non-omnivorous diet is due to two interrelated reasons:

  • The first is that some animal foods such as pork liver, bovine liver, turkey, tuna, bresaola are in general among the richest in iron: excluding them, there are fewer sources to draw from.
  • The second more important is that the body has more difficulty in extracting iron from ingested plant foods much more than that necessary to take it from animal products. To reach the daily iron requirement it is, therefore, necessary to prefer a greater proportion of foods containing iron, or possibly and secondly to resort to a supplement.
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Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is quite concrete for vegetarians since this is essentially found in foods of animal origin such as eggs, beef, liver, milk, and derivatives.

So in reality, this deficiency is more typical of vegans as they have to exclude eggs and milk as well, unlike some vegetarians who can include them instead.

However, it must be remembered that the B vitamin family is water-soluble, and therefore there are reserve deposits in the body and that it takes several years for them to be depleted.

Insufficient doses of B12 can be the cause of pernicious anemia and neuropathy due to the progressive demyelination of nerve fibers.


Calcium is essential for bone health and muscle contraction.

In vegetables, it is found mostly in green leafy vegetables, which however are rich in oxalates which reduce their absorption.

If you consume fortified foods such as soy drinks or cereals it is more difficult to be deficient.

In fact, supplementation must still be evaluated if with these foods you do not reach an average of about 1000 mg of calcium per day.

Vegetarian Diet Examples

Vegetarian Diet Examples


In themselves the rules of the vegetarian diet are already a good basis for being able to follow a low-calorie diet, it will be enough to make a calorie cut to keep yourself below your basal requirement to be able to lose weight.

Protein And Ketogenic Diet

Protein And Ketogenic Diet

If by protein diet we mean a ketogenic diet it is not too difficult to set it up because, excluding meat, there are still eggs, dairy products, cheeses, nuts,… which provide both proteins and fats with very few carbohydrates.

If, on the other hand, we intend a diet type fasting modified protein it becomes much more difficult if it is not supplemented with protein powder.

The food choice would be too limited, as you can only consume lean protein sources and without carbohydrates (meat lean, white fish, egg white and protein powders are the ideal prototype).


The vegetarian diet gets along quite well with the Mediterranean lifestyle since both promote the consumption of fruit, vegetables, and grains albeit in different proportions.

The Mediterranean diet limits animal products and derivatives to the top of the food pyramid, which are to be consumed less and further limited in the case of vegetarians and eliminated for vegans a truncated Mediterranean pyramid.

For a Mediterranean and vegetarian style, the combination consists of physical activity, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables in abundance and according to seasonality, vegetable lipid sources with polyunsaturated fats.


Even for celiacs, following a gluten-free vegetarian diet is possible, the restrictions are not much more marked as all vegetables, fruit, legumes, eggs, milk can still be consumed.

Attention should only be paid to some cereals such as wheat, barley, oats, rye, Kamut, and all baked goods that may have traces of gluten, which is essential for many doughs.

1300 Calories Meal Plan

  • Breakfast: 200 ml almond milk (115 kcal) + 30 g oats (130 kcal) + 30 g jam without added sugar (15 kcal)
  • Snack: 30 g rye bread (76 kcal) + 100 g cottage cheese (115 kcal)
  • Lunch: 40 g dried chickpeas (160 kcal) + 30 g light spreadable cheese (60 kcal) + 2 eggs (170 kcal) + 50 g bread (133 kcal)
  • Dinner: 80 g pasta (300 kcal) + 100 g peppers (27 kcal) + 70 g lettuce (18 kcal)

1500 Calories Meal Plan

  • Breakfast: 3 wholemeal rusks (120 kcal) + 20 g honey (60 kcal) + 200 ml soy milk (6 kcal)
  • Snack: 1 banana (80 kcal) + 20 g almonds (120 kcal)
  • Lunch: 80 g pasta (300 kcal) + 30 g dry beans (110 kcal) + 200 g broccoli (60 kcal) + 20 g parmesan (80 kcal)
  • Snack: oat porridge (30 g rolled oats + 200 ml soy milk + 10 g nuts + cinnamon = 205 kcal)
  • Dinner: 100 g soy steak (310 kcal) + 70 g rocket (20 kcal) + 150 g tomatoes (28 kcal)

How Many Eggs Per Week?

There is no single answer as it depends on your blood cholesterol values if the parameters are not normal, too high, high then it will be better to exclude the eggs from your diet.

If, on the other hand, you eat 3 eggs a day and you have the perfect values, you can continue like this without problems.

In any case, it is better to prefer cooking with bull’s-eye or soft-boiled the yolk must remain liquid to limit the intake of cholesterol present.

Vegetarian Diet For Weight Loss

Vegetarian Diet For Weight Loss

A vegetarian diet can also be useful for weight loss the greater quantity of vegetables and fibers introduced promote satiety, but in any case, to lose weight it is necessary to establish a caloric deficit that is to follow a low-calorie diet.

The precautions are the same as for any other diet, plus take into account any shortcomings discussed above.

The pounds lost depend on the caloric deficit set and the pursuit of the diet in the long term, in any case, the weight loss must be achieved gradually and considering the calories.

Supplements That Can Be Used In The Vegetarian Diet

Regarding the aforementioned shortcomings, integration is useful when needed for this reason do-it-yourself is not the best solution but it is more appropriate to rely on an expert, perhaps the doctor.

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Among the various supplements that may be recommended to you are those of vitamin B12, most often in the form of cyanocobalamin, minerals such as zinc and iron, or calcium especially in the case of vegans or ovo-vegetarians.

Even vitamin D would be helpful to integrate and not just for vegetarians, since most of the population is poor and may only be necessary to daily exposure to the sun for 20 to 30 minutes.

Vegetarian Diet, Bodybuilding, And Gym

First of all, there is no scientific evidence that confirms the theory according to which a diet without animal proteins leads to loss of muscle mass or does not make it possible to increase or maintain it.

This depends on more factors and primarily the total daily and weekly amount of protein, rather than the source; in addition to the practice of physical exercise with adequate hypertrophic stimuli.

The differences analyzed previously suggest that consuming more proteins of animal origin can allow us to introduce fewer proteins in general while a vegan, for specific objectives such as those of maintaining muscle mass during weight loss, or muscle hypertrophy during the period.

To gain weight will need to consume a slightly higher amount of protein than those on an omnivorous or predominantly carnivorous diet.

Vegan athletes usually refer to the guidelines for general protein content: 1.6-2.5 g / lbs of weight (lean mass if the subject has a high percentage of fat).

As we can see the range is very wide so there is not even a need to “rework” the guidelines specifically for vegans, they will simply tend to position themselves towards the extreme high also helping themselves with the protein supplements or by taking EAA (essential amino acids).

For the general population, an intake of about 1g / kg is suggested: a quantity that is perhaps too low, but which is shared with the omnivorous population.

Vegetarian Diet For Athletes And Sportsmen

As we have seen, it is quite easy to avoid the deficiencies due to the exclusion of meat and fish and that a vegetarian protein diet for athletes is feasible without too many compromises.

Creatine supplementation will also be considered, because the liver alone produces little, and serves to improve performance and recovery.

The proteins will be kept according to the protein requirements and possibly integrated with whey proteins (for lacto-ovo-vegetarians) which have a high biological value, excellent digestibility, and a very advantageous cost/protein ratio. Sources like soy, peas, etc. are fine for vegans.

Given the greater amount of fiber linked to plant foods, it may be necessary, in order to improve absorption and decrease digestive effort, to consume fewer sources of whole and more refined carbohydrates such as white rice, simple semolina pasta, potatoes, and possibly use powdered carbohydrates such as maltodextrins.

Comparison Between Vegetarian Diet And Other Diets

As already mentioned, there is no better diet than others in absolute terms, if not the personalized diet. Here are some comparisons.

Vegetarian Or Vegan Diet?

Between the two, the substantial difference is the exclusion of animal derivatives in the vegan diet a further food restriction that limits the choice of products to be consumed but which in any case does not in itself imply damage to health.

A greater limitation translates into an increased risk of possible deficiencies, which must therefore be monitored and corrected.

Vegetarian Or Omnivorous Diet?

Although it may seem strange at first glance, it is not certain that the vegetarian diet is healthier than an omnivore the secret always lies in the correct balance of foods and consequently not to judge a particular food choice.

If on the one hand with the omnivorous approach it is more difficult to meet deficiencies, on the other hand, there is the risk of abusing products such as meat, especially red meat, or of having a limited intake of fibers; vice versa for the vegetarian diet.

Vegetarian Or Carnivorous Diet?

The food crossroads on the one hand exclusion of meat and fish, on the other the exclusive consumption of meat, fish, and derivatives.

Surely the second is more limiting and more incomplete in the choice of foods and in the availability of nutrients in a diet without cereals, fruit, and vegetables, carbohydrates are practically absent, as are fibers, both of which are very important.

Furthermore, exceeding the quantities of cholesterol and saturated fats is a risk certainly present in the case of a carnivorous diet and absent in the case of a vegetarian diet.

Conclusion On The Vegetarian Diet

Like any eating style, even the vegetarian diet is a choice the important thing is to know if it has scientific validity, on what it is based on, and above all how it works, in order to compensate for any weaknesses.

As seen, with some precautions the vegetarian diet does not lead to health problems but it is not even to be idolized as the only diet that makes you feel good as long as it is valid and balanced for the person, any diet works and will really be “the better one”.

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