Experts agree that a well-planned vegetarian diet can be healthful and nutritious but vegetarians need to pay particular attention to protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12 in their diets, according to the nation's nutrition advice, MyPlate. Millions of vegetarians turn to milk for many of these key nutrients – including protein, calcium and vitamin B12.
About 5 percent of U.S. adults call themselves vegetarians, and while they've cut out meat in their diets, milk remains an important part of their eating plan. In fact, along with a good source of high-quality protein (milk has even more protein than an egg), milk is also the top source of calcium in our diets. The good news is vegetarians drink about 30% more milk than non-vegetarians, and get an extra 150mg calcium in their diets, on average.1 Overall, milk provides more than one third of the calcium and more than half of the vitamin D in America's diet.2
"There's really just no substitute for milk – especially in a vegetarian diet," says Carolyn O'Neil, MS, RD, co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous! "Milk is simple and nutritious. I especially like that I know exactly what I'm getting; drinks like fortified milk imitators have a long list of added ingredients -- plus, it delivers more nutrition per penny than just about any other drink."
While vegetarians may turn to some of the beverages manufactured to mimic milk's nutrition, they often cost nearly twice as much as milk. Beyond the impact on the budget, research suggests substituting milk with other calcium sources like a fortified soy drink and fortified orange juice can lead to gaps in calcium – along with other key nutrients like protein, phosphorus and B vitamins.3
The Breakfast Project
Vegetarian or non-vegetarian, research suggests that starting that the day with breakfast can help you get important nutrients you need. And, including milk at breakfast can help you get off to the right start, with nine essential nutrients – including protein, calcium and vitamin B12 - three of the nutrients experts suggests vegetarians should pay particular attention to in their diets. For new ideas, creative vegetarian recipes and inspiration from the National Milk Mustache "got milk?" campaign or to learn more about milk and the vegetarian diet, visit TheBreakfastProject.com.
1 Farmer, et al. A Vegetarian Dietary Pattern as a Nutrient-Dense Approach to Weight Management: An Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004. JADA. 2011.
2 Fulgoni, et al. Food sources of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and potassium in the U.S. FASEB. 2010
3 Fulgoni, et al. Nutrients from dairy foods are difficult to replace in diets of Americans: food pattern modeling and an analyses of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2006. Nutrition Research. 2011