Vegetarian and Vegan Nutrition

Vegetarianism is a diet that does not consume foods of animal origin in limited amounts or at all, and instead consumes foods of plant origin. Veganism is; It is defined as people who consume only plant foods and do not consume animal foods (such as red meat, chicken, fish, milk and dairy products, eggs).

Vegetarian and vegan diets have become increasingly popular in many developing countries for health, animal protection and ecological reasons, and many studies have been published on the diet and health effects of this group.

There are many types of vegetarian diets. These:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet:The diet includes plant-based foods, dairy products and eggs.

  • Lacto-vegetarian diet:The diet does not contain meat, fish and eggs, only milk and dairy products and foods of plant origin.

  • Ovo-vegetarian diet: Meat and dairy products are not included in the diet. However, there are plant-based foods and eggs.

  • Vegan diet: All animal foods, meat products, milk and dairy products, eggs, honey, etc. foods are not consumed. Some vegans do not even use animal-derived products such as leather and silk in their daily life.

  • Semi-vegetarian diet: Meat is not consumed in this diet. The diet includes foods of plant origin, as well as limited amounts of fish and poultry. It can also consume milk and dairy products and eggs.

  • Pesco-vegetarians: Meat and poultry meat are not consumed. Fish, milk and dairy products and eggs are included in the diet.

  • Polo-vegetarian diet:In addition to plant-based products, there are poultry meats in their nutrition programs.

  • Fruvitarians (fruit-fed):Only vegetables and fruits, which are in the botanical fruit group, and nuts are included in this diet.

  • Macrobiotic:The diet consists of grain foods and cereals.


The oldest documents on vegetarianism date back to the 6th century BC in Europe. In the early 1800s, some Christian groups adopted a vegetarian diet and under the influence of these groups, the first ‘Vegetarian Society’ was established in England in 1847. Today, the association still continues its activities under the name ‘Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom’. After the International Vegetarian Union was founded in 1908, the first vegan community emerged in 1944. Vegetarian associations, which continued to increase into the 20th century, continued to spread thanks to vegetarian nutrition followers such as Mahatma Gandhi. In the 21st century, due to scientific studies and the reducing effect of vegetarian diet on some disease risks, prejudices about this diet have decreased and this diet has gained importance by adopting it. Today, the vegetarian diet still continues widely.


In vegetarianism, which has various diets, the nutrients needed for each group may differ. Balanced nutrition problems for vegetarians are about whether nutritional elements such as protein, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D and fatty acids are taken in a balanced and adequate way.

Among these nutrition groups, especially vegan diet is the most risky. Vegan nutrition can only be made sustainable with a planned and careful nutrition program.

Positive Effects

  • It is a diet rich in fiber and positively affects the health of the digestive system.

  • It is a diet rich in antioxidants.

  • Since it is a vegetable and fruit-based diet, vitamin and mineral intake is provided at a high level.

  • It protects heart health as there is no saturated fat and cholesterol intake.

  • The risk of kidney and gallstone formation is less.

  • It helps to lose weight.

  • It is protective against some types of cancer.

  • It reduces insulin resistance.

Adverse Effects

  • Due to B12 deficiency; pernicious anemia, growth retardation, depression and memory problems may occur.

  • Due to insufficient protein intake; Deficiency may be seen in amino acids and muscle loss may occur.

  • Phytic acid, which is found in high levels in cereal group foods, legumes and other plant products; can interfere with the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.

  • In the long term, depending on the decrease of these minerals, muscle bone pain and anemia can be observed.

  • Recent studies have revealed that allergies are 2 times more common in this type of diet.


  • You should not approach prepackaged vegan products with the logic of “vegan nutrition equals healthy life”. It is imperative that you examine their contents. Because for the sake of obtaining vegan products, you may be consuming products that are overprocessed, unhealthy fatty acids and excessive carbohydrates added.

  • Fatty acids such as EPA, DHA and alpha linoleic acid are very important for vegetarians. ω-3 fatty acids, which contain two important fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, which cannot be synthesized by the body, play an active role in the development of nerve tissues, brain, eye health and cardiovascular functions.

  • Insufficient intake of ω-3 fatty acids leads to visual and learning disorders due to the decrease in the amount of DHA in the brain. In ω-3 deficiency, some skin diseases such as dry skin, asthma, arthritis, growth retardation, diabetes and some types of cancer, as well as many psychological diseases occur.

  • EPA and DHA are found in foods of animal origin, especially cold water fish. The precursor of ω-3 fatty acids, α-linoleic acid, which can be found in plant sources, is converted to EPA and DHA fatty acids in the liver, albeit in small amounts. Therefore, it is an important fatty acid for vegans.

  • Although plant-derived foods contain α-linoleic acid, they are poor in long-chain EPA and DHA fatty acids. For vegetarians, foods such as walnuts, canola oil, soy, flaxseed, sea vegetables, seaweed and their derivatives are recommended as sources of ω-3 fatty acids. Fish consumption may be recommended for some vegetarian types (except vegan).

  • Mastering the macronutrient, vitamin and mineral values ​​of the foods you consume will save you from a uniform diet. In this way, you can add variety to your diet by knowing what you need.

  • Vegans and vegetarians who do not consume seafood or dairy are in the risk group in terms of iodine. For this reason, vegans can compensate for their iodine deficiencies by using seaweed, iodized salt or iodine supplements.

  • Vegetables such as sweet potatoes, soy, broccoli and brussels sprouts, which are commonly consumed by vegans, reduce iodine absorption due to their goitrogen content.

  • For vegans, low iodine intake is recommended for risky situations and for pregnant vegans of childbearing age to supplement with 150 μg iodine daily.

  • During pregnancy, if the expectant mother is fed with foods that are insufficient in terms of iodine, obstacles in the mental and physical development of the child can be observed.

  • For vegetarians, enriched breakfast cereals, dried fruit, beans, lentils, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, nuts, wholemeal bread can be used as sources of iron.

  • Calcium and tannin reduce iron absorption. Therefore, consumption of tea and coffee; A calcium supplement should be consumed a few hours before a meal with a high iron content.

  • In addition, it is recommended to consume these foods with foods containing vitamin C to increase iron absorption. The presence of these foods as a source of iron in vegetarian diets that can consume fish and poultry will increase iron absorption compared to plant-based foods.

  • Calcium-rich foods, especially this group, should be consumed more. Dairy products are a natural source of calcium for vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Vegans can consume fortified soy formulas, calcium-rich leafy greens, soy milk, soy yogurt, and various calcium supplements.

  • B12 supplements must be made. In a study, 52% of vegans and 7% of vegetarians and those who eat both animal and plant sources have vitamin B12 deficiency.

  • Soy milk, breakfast cereals, milk and dairy products, eggs, foods fortified with B12 can be used as a source of B12 for vegetarians. Vitamin B12 supplementation is recommended especially for pregnant, lactating vegans and their babies.

  • In order to meet the need for essential amino acids, the intake of cereals, shell foods and seeds or dry legumes such as rice and lentils together in the same meal supports the protein need.

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