Why I Love the USDA’s New Tip Sheet for Vegetarians

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has just released 10 Tips for Following a Vegetarian Diet, and you could knock me over with a feather. It’s not just that it takes a positive approach; it actually takes a vegan approach.

While the fact sheet lists some nutrients that vegetarians need to focus on, it doesn’t have any of that annoying verbiage about the need to carefully plan meals. (Vegetarians and vegans should, of course, carefully plan their meals; so should everyone else.) More importantly, there isn’t a word about animal products in the whole fact sheet, other than how to replace them.

Beans and grains are highlighted as good protein sources. And—amazingly—the only sources of calcium mentioned are soy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods. It’s really not at all like the USDA to ignore dairy, but they have essentially agreed that calcium needs can be met without these foods.

Overall, I don’t think the tip sheet is especially useful. A few ideas about how to boost iron absorption would have been more practical than a tip about asking for vegetarian choices in restaurants. The advice about meeting requirements for essential fatty acids seems pretty weak. And I’m not entirely sure why they chose to waste an entire tip on vitamin E. (Vegetarians consume between 50 and 100 percent more vitamin E than omnivores.)

So if someone wants to know more about the practical and nutritional aspects of planning vegetarian or vegan diets, this is not the fact sheet I’m going to give them. But if there are any lingering questions about whether vegan diets can be safe, this should put them to rest. You can definitely meet all of your nutrient needs without any animal foods. The USDA says so.

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6 Responses to Why I Love the USDA’s New Tip Sheet for Vegetarians

  1. Sally September 28, 2009 at 2:49 pm #

    Awesome!! I hadn't seen the tip sheet before. Go USDA! Have you seen http://www.vegstarterpack.com? That's one of my fave veg tips sites.

  2. SHIFTvegan September 29, 2009 at 7:12 am #

    Thanks for sharing… I agree that it is over simplified, but then again we are having a national debate on health care that does not include being healthy!!!
    Keeping things simple, and being from a "bon-a-fide" source some can make for a useful tool. I have shared vegan outreach materials with school lunch leaders who balked, but since this is from USDA perhaps they will take it in stride, and add a vegan lunch option to the menu!!!

  3. Sarah September 30, 2009 at 7:56 pm #

    I hadn't seen this, so thanks for your post!

    On a completely unrelated note- I noticed that you are an MPH. My fiance is applying to several MPH programs this winter, but he is having a little trouble with exactly what he wants the course of his career to be. He has a BS in Microbiology and currently works in a molecular genetics lab at Mayo Clinic, but is extremely interested in nutrition as well. He's just afraid to hop onto the RD track because he isn't sure about working in a clinical setting…he enjoys both lab and field work, but his heart is in research. On the other hand, he is worried about being stuck in a single position forever if he becomes an MPH. Is there any possibility you wouldn't mind him emailing you to ask a couple of questions, since you have both the degrees he's considering?

    Forgive me for writing such an extended question in a comment; I looked everywhere and couldn't find any other way to contact you.


  4. Jackie October 1, 2009 at 2:47 am #

    Wonderful! Always nice to see Governments accepting that not everyone eats animal products.

  5. Alanna October 3, 2009 at 1:45 pm #

    This is great! Thanks for posting, as this hadn't crossed my radar yet.

    I also wanted to say that I always enjoy your tweets and blog posts. In fact, your book "The Vegetarian Way" is the first I bought after becoming vegan nearly a decade ago, when I discovered a fascination with nutrition that led me on to grad school to become an RD. So, thank you for all that you do to promote veganism! Your work has been very inspirational for me and many others.

  6. Ginny Messina October 5, 2009 at 3:52 pm #

    Thanks, all for your comments. I looked at vegstarterpack.com. Great site!

    Sarah, I sent you an email? Did you get it?

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