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Vegetarian Vs. Meat Diets

by Natalie Stein

About Natalie Stein

Natalie Stein specializes in weight loss and sports nutrition. She is based in Los Angeles and is an assistant professor with the Program for Public Health at Michigan State University. Stein holds a master of science degree in nutrition and a master of public health degree from Michigan State University.


Figuring out the advantages and disadvantages of meat and vegetarian diets can be complicated. Start by looking at the foods on each diet, and whether you can meet your nutritional needs. If you are trying to decide whether a meat or a vegetarian diet is a better choice for you, also think about whether you will enjoy eating the foods on the diet.


A meat diet can include all kinds of animal products, including red meat, poultry and seafood. There are many types of vegetarian diets. If you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you still eat eggs and dairy products even though you do not consume meat, poultry or fish as you would on a meat diet. A lacto-vegetarian diet is slightly more strict because it does not include eggs. If you are vegan, you avoid all products that have animal-based ingredients in them.


On a meat diet, it is easy to get high-quality protein because meat, fish and poultry are common sources. The Harvard School of Public Health explains that you can also get complete proteins with all of the amino acids you need from any animal-based protein, including dairy products and eggs. Soy is a vegetarian source of complete protein. Furthermore, you can use the principle of combining proteins to make complete proteins from incomplete plant-based sources. If you are vegan, you can meet your protein needs by eating a variety of nuts, vegetables and whole grains.

Fat and Cholesterol

If your meat diet includes plenty of fatty meats, you risk eating too much saturated fat and cholesterol, which raise levels of bad LDL cholesterol in your blood and increase your risk of heart disease. On a meat diet, you can reduce your saturated fat intake by avoiding fatty meats and making leaner choices such as chicken breast or fish. Even a vegan diet can be high in saturated fat if it includes palm and coconut oil. Cholesterol is a non-essential nutrient that is only in animal foods, and a vegan diet does not supply dietary cholesterol.

Mineral Concerns

A potential advantage of a meat diet compared to a vegetarian diet is that it may meet your requirements for certain nutrients, but a vegetarian diet can be adequate if you are careful. Your body absorbs iron from meat better than from plant foods, so your iron needs are higher on a vegetarian diet. If you are vegan and do not eat dairy products, be sure to get your calcium from fortified sources or soy products.


Regardless of whether you choose a meat or a vegetarian diet, remember that your specific food choices determine if your diet is healthy or not. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a healthy diet is high in fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains. Reduced-fat dairy products are also part of a healthy diet, and if you like meat, you can choose lean sources such as white meat turkey. If your vegetarian diet is high in sugar and fat, it is not necessarily healthier than a meat diet.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.