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:
- Iron (see Anaemia)
- Vitamin B12 (especially vegan diets)
- Calcium (especially vegan diets)
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:
- Snack foods
- Cakes and biscuits
- Takeaway foods
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.