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Nutrition Risk Factors of a Adult Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian Diet

By Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.

All types of vegetarian diets including lacto-ovo vegetarian diets are nutritionally adequate when properly planned, according to the American Dietetic Association. It also notes that vegetarian diets may provide health benefits including the prevention of certain diseases. However, if your lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is not carefully planned to ensure all nutrient requirements are met, you may be at risk for nutrient deficiencies.


Lacto-ovo vegetarians typically consume eggs and dairy products in addition to plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products. Key nutrients for vegetarians include omega-3 fatty acids, protein, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium and vitamins B-12 and D. Although these nutrients are important for vegetarians, lacto-ovo vegetarians who consume plenty of dairy products and eggs generally get adequate amounts of protein, calcium, iodine and vitamins B-12 and D.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Although some plant-based foods, such as canola oil and soybeans, contain omega-3 fatty acid ALA, they do not provide omega-3s DHA or EPA. Most studies that showed favorable effects of omega-3 on heart health or cognitive development of infants and children used DHA, EPA or both. The American Dietetic Association notes that DHA in breast milk is present in lower amounts in nursing women who follow a vegan or lacto-ovo vegetarian diet compared with non-vegetarian nursing moms. Common sources of DHA and EPA are found in fish and fish oils, DHA fortified foods or macroalgae-derived DHA supplements. Most obstetricians encourage pregnant and nursing women to take prenatal vitamin supplements that contain the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.


Iron-deficiency anemia is a concern in poorly planned vegetarian diets. Heme iron, the type of iron that is best absorbed by the human body, is found in animal-based foods such red meats, oysters and clams. Although nonheme iron is in plant-based foods, such as legumes and fortified whole grains, it is poorly absorbed compared with heme iron sources. The American Dietetic Association reports that iron intake recommendations for vegetarians are 1.8 times higher than for nonvegetarians. The Foods lacto-ovo vegetarians commonly eat, such as dietary calcium, phytates in legumes and whole grains and soybeans may inhibit nonheme iron absorption in the body. Taking a multivitamin supplement containing iron may help prevent your risk for developing iron-deficiency anemia.


Lacto-ovo vegetarians have an increased risk for zinc deficiency because meats are a main source of zinc. Beans and grains usually have compounds that can inhibit zinc absorption in the body, and vegetarians may require up to 50 percent more zinc than non-vegetarians. The Office of Dietary Supplements notes that exclusively breast-fed infants over 6 months of age are at risk for zinc deficiency if they don’t consume pureed meats, as breast milk doesn’t provide enough zinc for infants over 6 months old. Sources of zinc for lacto-ovo vegetarians include some multivitamin supplements and fortified baby yogurts.

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