Vegetarian diets

A vegetarian diet can be healthy as many plant foods are low in saturated fat and high in dietary fibre. However, a healthy vegetarian diet requires careful planning to make sure it is well balanced and includes a wide variety of foods to meet nutritional needs.

A vegetarian diet is based on plant foods. There are different types of vegetarian diets including:

  • Vegan – only plant foods are included
  • Lacto – dairy foods are included
  • Ovo-lacto – dairy foods and eggs are included.

Without careful planning a vegetarian may be lacking in:

  • Protein
  • Iron (see Anaemia)
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin B12 (especially vegan diets)
  • Calcium (especially vegan diets)
  • Omega-3.

It is important that animal foods taken from the diet are replaced with other foods that provide similar nutrients.

Each day try to include:

  • Eggs, dried beans, lentils, nuts or seeds
  • High-fibre breads and cereals
  • Dairy foods or calcium enriched soy foods
  • A wide variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Small amounts of unsaturated fats
  • Foods fortified with vitamin B12 if excluding dairy and eggs
  • Flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts and omega-3 fortified foods such as some types of bread.

Eat less foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar such as:

These foods are also lower in essential nutrients.

Because children have different nutritional needs to adults, care must be taken when planning a vegetarian diet for this group. Parents and carers should seek the advice of an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) if providing a vegetarian diet to children. An APD will ensure the diet meets the extra needs for growth and development.

An Accredited Practising Dietitian can provide expert nutrition and dietary advice on how to best meet nutritional needs while following a vegetarian diet.