Vegetarian diets

People choose to follow a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons – animal welfare, health concerns, religious beliefs and concern about the environment. Others choose to include tasty vegetarian meals in their diet while still following a non-vegetarian diet. If you follow a vegetarian diet exclusively it’s important to plan your meals carefully to ensure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs.

Types

When people think of a vegetarian diet they think of excluding meat, fish and poultry. However there are some vegetarian diets which are stricter than others.

Lacto-vegetarian

Eat dairy foods but exclude meat, fish, poultry and eggs, as well as foods that contain them.

raw vegetables on a chopping boardLacto-ovo vegetarian

Eat dairy and eggs but exclude meat, fish and poultry from their diets.

Ovo-vegetarian

Eat eggs but avoid dairy, meat, fish and poultry.

Vegan

Avoid all animal products and by-products e.g. honey, fur, wool and leather.

Are vegetarian diets healthy?

Vegetarian diets are usually lower in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than nonvegetarian diets. Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

Balanced diet

No matter what type of vegetarian diet you are following, the national healthy eating recommendations (The Food Pyramid (ROI); The Eatwell Plate (NI)) still apply to you. This includes:

  • eating plenty of fruit and vegetables,
  • plenty of starchy foods such as bread, cereals, potatoes (choose whole grain where possible or use fortified cereal products)
  • moderate amounts of alternatives to meat and fish (e.g. quorn, kidney beans)
  • some dairy foods or alternatives (e.g. fortified soya milk and yoghurts). Choose low fat varieties
  • keep your intake of sweets and fatty foods to a minimum. e.g. chocolate, biscuits, etc. These foods are low in nutrients and high in calories

Essential nutrients

When cutting out animal products there are some specific nutrients you need to consider:

Nutrient

Sources

Additional

Protein

Dairy foods, eggs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, quorn, soya, nuts

Two servings per day

One serving is:

  • 2 eggs
  • 100g / 4 oz soya or tofu
  • 125g / 5 oz hummus
  • 6 dessertspoons of peas, beans or lentils
  • 40g / 1.5 oz unsalted nuts or peanut butter or seeds

Iron

Dried beans and peas, lentils, fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit

To help you absorb iron, eat some vitamin-C rich foods at the same time e.g. strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, orange juice

Vitamin B12

Dairy, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, soya milk, soya yoghurts and yeast extract

 

Calcium

Milk, yoghurt, cheese, calcium enriched soya based dairy alternatives, dark green vegetables, nuts, beans, peas, lentils, tofu and dried fruit

Three servings per day

One serving is:

  • 1 large glass of milk or calcium enriched soya milk
  • 125ml yoghurt/calcium enriched soya yoghurt
  • 25g/1oz cheese/calcium enriched soya alternative

Omega 3 fats

Canola oil, walnuts, soya oil, ground flaxseeds and soya beans.

You may wish to consider a supplement. It is best to discuss this with your GP or Dietitian.

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