Skip to main content
Make a Well-Informed Decision When Becoming a Vegetarian

You are listening to Health Library:

Make a Well-Informed Decision When Becoming a Vegetarian

Dec 15, 2014

The choice to abstain from eating meat and other animal products can be a healthy alternative. Registered dietitian Kary Woodruff says it should be a well-informed decision. Some nutrients are hard to find in plants alone, and being aware of potential deficiencies can help steer vegetarians toward more balanced nutrition.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Healthy benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. That's coming up next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: I'm with Carrie Woodruff, a registered dietician at University of Utah Health Care. So, what are some of the benefits of a vegetarian diet?

Kary: Sure, we see that people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, lower risk for diabetes, for renal disease. They tend to have a healthier BMI and lower risk for obesity. And just their overall intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutrient dense foods tends to be higher.

Interviewer: So, as many pros as there are, it sounds like, to being a vegetarian, are there any cons?

Kary: No, I don't think so. I think as long as the person is educated. Someone who follows a vegetarian diet could be at greater risk for iron deficiency, for zinc deficiency, B-12, calcium, and some other nutrients. But if they follow a well-balanced diet, and they make sure they get enough protein in their diet, and enough nutrient rich foods, then they're not going to be facing those sorts of deficiencies, and can have all the health benefits that we mentioned.

Interviewer: Do you find that people often consult with their doctor or with the dietician before making the switch to a vegetarian diet?

Kary: No, I definitely think there are some people, but not everyone does. Sometimes people just decide to do it, and they go ahead and start a diet. And then a lot of times, at least what I see as a clinical dietician, is that patients maybe did get some sort of nutrient deficiency. So maybe they're deficient in iron, or deficient in B-12, and their doctor said "Hey, you should go see a registered dietician just to make sure that you are getting all the nutrients that you need to be getting from your foods."

Interviewer: So, for someone who is a vegetarian and who is iron deficient, or not getting enough protein, or something like that, what are some sources of those nutrients that they can eat and get that way?

Kary: Sure, so iron rich foods will be our leafy green vegetables. We'll even get some iron in some nuts. Definitely legumes are going to be a good source of iron. So those will be in soy products, will have some iron. And then we'll see protein coming from soy foods, from nuts and seeds and legumes as well.

Interviewer: How about vegan diet?

Kary: Vegan diet means that they're not consuming any animal products, so it would exclude any meat, any fish, eggs, or dairy foods. And so they can be at greater risk for nutrient deficiencies. Again, someone who follows a vegan diet can be meeting all their nutrients needs. They just need to be smart about it. And a vegan diet should be supplementing with B-12. That's the one nutrient that we can only get from animal sources.

Interviewer: Any final thoughts?

Kary: Well, I think a vegetarian diet can be very healthy, have lots of benefits, it just should be done with education and be done smartly, I suppose. And so if someone is choosing a vegetarian diet, just to make sure that they're educated on what nutrients they are at risk for deficiency. And to make sure they are getting enough plant sources of those nutrients.

Announcer: is University of Utah Health Sciences radio. If you like what you heard, be sure to get our latest content by following us on Facebook. Just click on the Facebook icon at