Graupen Tomaten vegetarisch
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Vegetarianism dates back to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras during the 6th century BC, who said, 'Everything that man does to animals comes back to man'. The word 'vegetarianism' comes from the Latin 'vegetare' and means 'to live' or 'to grow'.

The numerous scandals about animal products and feed contamination affirm many vegetarians' decision not to eat meat. Today, many people choose to eat less meat or a meatless diet not necessarily for philosophical or religious reasons, but more out of a concern for health and the environment. Most vegetarians are also eco-conscious and prefer certified organic foods.

Types of vegetarianism

There are different types of vegetarianism. The three main ones are:

  • vegan: vegans eat an entirely plant-based diet. They do not eat any substances or foods that come from animals, even honey.
  • lacto vegetarian: plant-based foods supplemented with milk and dairy products
  • lacto-ovo vegetarian: plant-based foods along with milk, dairy products and eggs

There are other types a well.  'Pudding vegetarians', for example, do not eat meat, but do not follow a health-conscious diet - for them, white flour products, sweets and industrially processed foods are also on their daily menu. Pescatarians eat fish as well as eggs and milk.  Raw food devotees mainly eat plant-based foods in raw form; however, they do not necessarily have to be vegetarians.

Benefits of a vegetarian diet

Vegetarians get a maximum of 30 per cent of their daily nutritional energy from fats. In contrast, for a person who eats an average amount of meat, this proportion is around 50 per cent. A low-fat vegetarian diet is therefore frequently used as a treatment, for example for lifestyle diseases such as obesity and arteriosclerosis, in which nutrition plays an important role.

In addition, the small proportion of cholesterol in plant-based fats lowers the risk of arteriosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases. Overweight and heart diseases are rare in vegetarians. However, most vegetarians are very health-conscious - they live an active life, rarely smoke and drink hardly any alcohol.

The carbohydrates contained in grain and cereal products, fruits and vegetables are the main suppliers of energy in a vegetarian diet. They supply 60 per cent of the required daily intake. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung (DGE) [German Nutrition Society] recommends that non-vegetarians should also consume fat and carbohydrates in a ratio similar to that of plant-based foods.


A vegetarian diet can lead to a deficiency in vitamin B12, because this vitamin is almost exclusively found in animal products.

It can be difficult to meet the body's need for iron without eating meat, the main supplier of iron, since humans absorb iron from meat products better than from plant-based food. Women of childbearing age who follow a vegetarian diet should pay particular attention to ensuring a sufficient supply of iron.

In addition, iodine, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, riboflavin and certain fatty acids may also not be absorbed in sufficient quantities.

People who eat a vegan diet still have a higher risk of developing health problems due to nutritional deficiencies. If a woman eats a totally vegan diet during pregnancy, it can cause blood cell formation disorders as well as serious growth disorders in the child and possibly mental retardation, amongst other things. Therefore, as a precaution, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung (DGE) [German Nutrition Society] advises against a completely vegan diet - especially for pregnant women, mothers who are breastfeeding, and children.

If you want to follow a vegan diet, you need to be thoroughly informed about the nutritional issues and how to properly combine foods. It can also be wise to ask your doctor about nutritional supplements (especially vitamin B12, iron, iodine, and others) and to have your nutrient levels checked on a regular basis.

What does science say?

If you eat a varied and balanced diet as a lacto-ovo or lacto vegetarian and are well informed about the optimal combination of plant-based foods, your body will usually be sufficiently supplied with all the essential nutrients. A vegan diet - which only contains plant-based foods - can lead to deficiencies in calcium, iodine and other vital mineral nutrients. This is particularly risky for people who need extra nutrients and for growing children and adolescents. For these reasons, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung (DGE) [German Nutrition Society] advises against following a completely vegan diet.

Tips for a varied and balanced vegetarian diet

To ensure a varied and balanced vegetarian diet, it is not enough to simply eliminate meat. Vegetarians should know how to combine their food together so that the ingredients are optimally utilised and supplement each other.

  • Adding variety to meals helps ensure a balanced diet.
  • In a meatless diet, the combination of different proteins is important. Plant-based protein from bread, cereal and grain flakes, vegetables, legumes or potatoes combined with animal protein from milk or eggs is particularly valuable for our bodies. Experts also speak of a high biological value in this context. Examples of effective combinations are potatoes with eggs or milk, for example an omelette or jacket potatoes with quark, grains with legumes, such as lentil soup with bread, or cereal and milk, such as a bowl of muesli.
  • Even if the myth of iron-rich spinach still pervades, the truth is that iron from animal-based foods is absorbed particularly well by our bodies. But even without meat, a sensible selection of foods will provide you with the required amount of iron. Wholegrain bread, sorghum, or certain vegetables, for example beets and leafy green vegetables, are iron-rich meatless alternatives. Important note: consuming foods containing vitamin C (e.g. orange juice) at the same time will improve your iron intake.
  • The food should be fresh and as healthy as possible. Industrially processed products often have fewer valuable nutrients.
  • Milk, dairy products and eggs supply our bodies with nutrients that plant-based foods cannot adequately provide.
  • Pregnant women must make sure they get enough folic acid. Good sources of this vitamin include kale, spinach, fennel, and mung beans.
  • Vitamin B12 is predominantly contained in meat. Our body needs it for blood cell formation, for example. Alternatively, enriched foods such as soy milk are also suitable sources.
  • Women with heavy menstrual bleeding should pay particular attention to ensuring a sufficient supply of iron.
  • The body's level of critical nutrients - such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D - should be checked by a doctor on a regular basis.
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