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What is a Vegetarian?

A vegetarian does not eat animal flesh including meat, poultry and fish or other sea animals.

Why do people become vegetarians?

People become vegetarians for a number of reasons including concerns about animals, the environment, their health and world hunger.

How do vegetarians get enough protein in their diets?

This is not a problem if you eat a varied diet and are getting enough calories to meet your energy needs.  Vegetarian foods highest in overall proteins include dried beans and peas, soy products of various kinds (tofu, tempeh, meat analogs) and some nuts.  At one time, some nutritionists thought it was important to eat complementary proteins at the same meal, but more recent studies have show that this is unnecessary.

What about amino acids? Don’t they only come from animal products?

Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are found in all plants, and this includes the eight essential amino acids humans must obtain from food.

Where do vegetarians get their vitamins and minerals?

Most vitamins and minerals are found in abundance in plant foods.

Iron can be obtained from leafy greens, dried fruits (such as apricots, prunes and raisins), broccoli, wheat, peas and beans.  Iron absorption is increased when iron-rich foods are eaten with a source of Vitamin C.

Calcium is abundant in dark leafy greens, broccoli, almonds, chick peas, soybeans, figs, carob and sea vegetables.  The amount of calcium that is unused or excreted by the body increases dramatically in those people who eat a diet high in protein, especially dairy products and meat which are also high in phosphorus.  Dairy products, claimed to be good sources of calcium, are actually calcium inhibitors because of their high protein content.  The highest rates of osteoporosis are found in countries where calcium intake is greatest and most of the calcium comes from protein-rich dairy products.

Vitamin B12, which is produced by bacteria, is needed in microscopic amounts and is essential for the nervous system and all cell growth.   Deficiency can lead to spinal cord degeneration and death.  Almost every case of B12 deficiency is caused by malabsorption by the individual, not by a deficient diet.   Some foods, such as cereal, are fortified with B12, however B12 tablets (derived from non-animal sources) are available as a supplement.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone and not a true vitamin.   It is related to calcium metabolism.  Deficiency can lead to rickets in children. Our bodies are designed to obtain vitamin D through exposure to sunlight.   Because vitamin D is fat-soluable and can be stored in the body, reasonable time spent in the sunshine during warmer months (as little as 15 minutes per day) should provide enough to last the winter.  Dark-skinned children and those who live in northern latitudes or in cloudy or smoggy areas should be sure to have reliable dietary sources of Vitamin D.

How come vegetarians seem to eat more and yet are not overweight?

Some vegetarians do gain weight, but most keep a stable weight even though they eat a greater volume of food than meat-eaters.  This is because meat and dairy products are calorie dense and most of those calories come from protein and fat. Vegetable foods contain far fewer calories for the same quantity of food and those calories come primarily from complex carbohydrates.  Dietary fat tends to be converted into body fat faster than carbohydrates.

Can children be raised safely on a vegetarian diet?

A vegetarian diet provides more than ample nutrition for children and may actually help protect them from some illnesses, including those caused by pesticides and contaminants in foods.  Parents should make sure that children eat enough calories from unrefined whole foods, not junk foods.

Aren’t people physically designed to eat meat?

Animals closest to us physiologically are vegetarian or nearly vegetarian as were our not too distant evolutionary ancestors.   Unlike most species, humans can choose their diet, which is dictated more by tradition and culture than by physical restrictions.  One of the best indications that humans are best suited to a vegetarian diet is the many health benefits found with plant-based diets and the many diseases and illnesses linked to eating meat.

Weren’t animals put here for food?

Animals have their own lives and destinies separate from human needs.  While some people interpret religious teachings to mean that humans have dominion over animals, many believe having dominion does not mean we have to kill animals for food.  Many religions have vegetarian subdenominations and having compassion for animals doesn’t contradict the teachings of any of the major religions.

Won’t a vegetarian diet cost more money?

It is cheaper to eat a balanced vegetarian diet than a nutritionally-equivalent meat-based diet.  As a rule it is cheaper to buy plant proteins than the equivalent amount of animal protein.  The cost of food is not the only factor to consider.  There are a number of hidden costs, including medical costs for those people suffering from diet-related diseases, lost productivity, and higher taxes.  A portion of every American tax dollar goes to subsidize animal agriculture, including the costs of water, feed, grazing land and cleaning up the resulting pollution.

Don’t people get tired of eating just lettuce and carrots?

This is a common misconception. Vegetarians often eat a wider array of foods than many meat-eaters.

Doesn’t it take a long time to prepare vegetarian food?

For some people there may be a period of adjustment, especially if they are trying unfamiliar foods.  But many meals, such as spaghetti, vegetables and salad take no longer to prepare.  Grocery and health food stores sell vegetarian convenience foods that can cut down on preparation time.  For vegetarian recipes, visit
Vegetarian Times
International Vegetarian Union
The Vegetarian Resource Group

Isn’t it hard to shop?

It doesn’t have to be.  All of the staples of a vegetarian diet can be found in regular supermarkets.  Many vegetarian products can also be found in the gourmet, specialty, ethnic and health food sections. Health food stores and co-ops found in most areas, offer vegetarian staples and convenience foods. Mail-order companies also provide vegetarian foods.  Visit to order meat substitutes.

What about eating out?

Growing consumer demand has prompted many restaurants and airlines to offer vegetarian entrees.  Ethnic restaurants often offer meatless options.  Most restaurants are willing to adjust the ingredients or cook something that isn’t listed on the menu.

Where do I get started?

Begin by assessing your current diet.  Look for meat-free versions of foods you already enjoy, such as chili without meat, or tofu cutlets instead of chicken. L ook through vegetarian cookbooks or check out the local health food store for ideas.  Some people make the switch gradually; others make the switch overnight.  To get started, you can take the Veg Pledge. VegPledge

What are some of the changes I can expect?

You may eat more food.

You may lose weight.

You may be less constipated.

You might have more energy.

You might experience withdrawal – this should pass within a few days to a month.

You will feel better knowing that your diet is not contributing to animal suffering, environmental destruction or world hunger and that you are also protecting your own health.

*The information contained on this page was provided in part by the
North American Vegetarian Society

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