Vegetarian diets can be very healthy. They can also be unhealthy. When clients tell me they are following a vegetarian diet, I want to know what they are actually eating.

I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 14 years. I think I was trying to save the planet and make life hard for my mother. I succeeded in the latter, but don’t think I affected the planet very much. In retrospect, my version of vegetarianism was not particularly healthy. I did not make it a point to eat a lot of vegetables. Instead I ate a lot of pizza, pasta, sugary treats, and cheese.

Healthy Vegetarian Diets

Vegetarian diets can certainly be healthy. If your version of vegetarianism focuses on lots of fruits and vegetables and healthy beans and legumes it can yield a multitude of health benefits that most American diets do not provide.

Health Benefits of Vegetarian Diets  

Here are some of the health benefits associated with vegetarianism:

  • It may help with weight loss.
  • It may help you maintain a healthy heart.
  • It may offer protection against type 2 diabetes.
  • It may lessen your risk of developing certain cancers.

Here’s a healthy, hearty soup for colder weather.

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup with Porcini Mushrooms

Split pea soup often gets its hearty flavor from a ham hock or some smoked sausage. In this vegetarian version, savory dried porcini mushrooms delivers a meaty flavor without any meat. This replacement also eliminates the saturated fat and added sodium.

Ingredients (makes 6 servings)

  • 1 package (¼ ounce) dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1½ cups boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, such as olive or canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups (1 pound) split peas
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 6 cups water


1. In a small heatproof bowl, combine the dried mushrooms and the boiling water, and let stand for 20 minutes or until softened. Reserving the soaking liquid, scoop out the dried mushrooms. Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or a paper towel-lined sieve.

2. In a nonstick Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring often, until the onion is golden brown and tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the carrots and cook until tender, about seven minutes. Stir in the split peas, tomato paste, salt, pepper, sage, mushrooms, and their soaking liquid. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the split peas are tender, about 45 minutes.

4. Working in batches, transfer the split peas to a food processor and process until smooth. (Or, if you have a hand blender, puree the soup in the pan.) Return to the saucepan and heat gently over very low heat.

Nutrition (per serving)

274 calories

3.2g fat

18g dietary fiber

46g carbohydrate

17g protein

Good source of: beta carotene, fiber, folate, lutein, thiamin, potassium.

A Variation: Chunky Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

Follow the directions for Vegetarian Split Pea Soup, but

  • Substitute one large peeled and sliced sweet potato for the carrots.
  • Increase the water to seven cups.
  • Once the soup has been pureed, stir in one cup cooked brown rice, 1½ cups thawed frozen peas, ½ cup minced red onion and ¼ cup chopped fresh basil.

Click here to read full article suitable for vegetarian diets.