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Nutrition and Hydration Week (N&H Week) 2016 – Vegetarian diets

shutterstock_182616134For each day of Nutrition and Hydration Week 2016, our in-house Dietitian Ruth Smith will be offering up a daily healthy tip. Today in the final of this five part series, she looks at vegetarian diets.

Vegetarian diets:

People follow vegetarian diets for a variety of reasons.  In recent years, there has been more and more research promoting the benefits of diets rich in plant based foods.  If you do choose to follow a vegetarian diet, plan your diet to ensure you’re getting all the required nutrients.

Types of vegetarian diets

Vegetarians typically don’t eat meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. However different types of vegetarian diets exist:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians – eat dairy foods and eggs but not meat, poultry or seafood
  • Ovo-vegetarians – include eggs but avoid all other animal foods, including dairy
  • Lacto-vegetarians – eat dairy foods but exclude eggs, meat, poultry and seafood
  • Vegans – don’t eat any animal products at all, including honey.

Variations include:

  • Pescetarians – eat fish and/or shellfish
  • Semi-vegetarians (or flexitarians) – occasionally eat meat or poultry.

Eating for optimum health

The government’s eatwell plate still applies to vegetarians. This includes eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and starchy foods such as bread, cereals and potatoes; moderate amounts of meat/fish alternatives; some dairy foods or alternatives; and a small amount of food high in fat and/or sugar.

Well planned vegetarian diets can be nutritious and healthy. They are associated with lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers and lower cholesterol levels.  This could be because such diets are lower in saturated fat, contain fewer calories and more fibre and phytonutrients/phytochemicals (these can have protective properties) than non-vegetarian diets.

However, there are some specific nutrients you need to consider, including:


Vegetarian sources of protein include:

  • beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • soya and soya products e.g. soya dairy alternatives, tofu, soya nuts and soya mince
  • seeds
  • nuts and nut butters (e.g. peanut butter)
  • grains such as wheat (found in cereals, pasta and bread), rice and maize.

If you eat them:

  • eggs
  • milk and dairy products (yoghurts and cheese)
  • mycoprotein a high-protein vegetarian meat alternative (has added egg).

Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. Some amino acids are essential as the body can’t make them itself. Animal proteins contain the complete mix of essential amino acids. Soya, quinoa and hemp are plant foods containing all the essential amino acids.

Most other plant proteins provide some, with each plant providing a different combination. So, as long as you’re eating a mixture of different plant proteins you’ll be getting all the essential amino acids your body needs.

If you eat dairy foods, don’t over rely on cheese for protein or you may end up having too much unhealthy saturated fat in your diet.


Red meat is the most easily absorbed source of iron, but various plant foods also contribute:

  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • dried fruit
  • beans/lentils
  • leafy green vegetables
  • sesame seeds
  • nuts
  • wholemeal bread.

To help your body absorb iron from plant foods, include a source of vitamin C with your meal (e.g. vegetables, fruit or a glass of fruit juice).

For more information please see:

Disclaimer: This information is provided to promote healthy eating in the workplace for healthy individuals.  It is not intended for the use of anyone who is pregnant or has a medical condition.  For individual advice, please see your GP for referral to a Registered Dietitian (RD).

Posted in: Dietitian - Ruth Smith, News

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