Vegetarian and vegan diets

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, the important thing to remember is that you need to eat a balanced diet to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs.

What vegetarians eat

There are different types of vegetarians but in general they do not  eat any meat, fish, seafood or animal by-products such as gelatine, but the majority of vegetarians do eat some animal products, mainly milk, cheese (made with vegetarian rennet) and eggs.

Some people eat a mostly vegetarian diet, but also eat fish.

What vegans eat

Vegans don’t eat any foods of animal origin. This includes meat, fish and dairy foods, and also honey.

If you’re a vegan, you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein and iron, but it can also be difficult to get enough vitamin B12. Good sources of this vitamin include:

  • yeast extract
  • fortified bread
  • fortified breakfast cereals

Healthy eating for vegetarians and vegans

The main healthy eating messages are the same for everybody. As part of a healthy balanced diet, you should:

  • eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
  • base meals on starchy foods such as pasta, rice, cereals and pulses such as beans, peas or lentils
  • try to cut down on food that is high in saturated fat and have foods that are rich in unsaturated fat instead
  • try to grill, bake, poach, boil, steam, dry-fry or microwave instead of frying or roasting in oil
  • eat some protein foods such as dairy products, eggs or pulses
  • cut down on sugar
  • watch how much salt you eat
  • drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day
  • may need to consider fortified foods and or supplements for certain nutrients for example Vitamin B12

Getting enough protein

It’s important to make sure you’re getting enough protein. You should try to include a mixture of foods that have lots of protein every day. These include:

  • pulses
  • nuts and seeds
  • eggs
  • soya and soya products such as tofu
  • mycoprotein (sold as Quorn)
  • wheat proteins such as cereals, bread, rice and maize
  • milk and dairy products

Getting enough iron

Although meat is the best source of iron, it can also be found in:

  • pulses
  • green vegetables such as watercress, broccoli, spring greens and okra
  • bread
  • fortified breakfast cereals

Remember that it’s easier to absorb iron from food if you eat it with foods that contain vitamin C, so have some fruit or vegetables, or a glass of fruit juice with your meal.

Cutting down on tea and coffee could help to improve iron levels in the body.

Getting enough selenium

It’s important to make sure you’re getting enough selenium because your immune system needs it to function properly.

Meat, fish and nuts are the best sources of selenium, so if you’re a strict vegetarian, it’s important to make sure you’re eating enough nuts. Brazil nuts are a particularly good source, so try to eat a couple every day.

Bread and eggs also provide some selenium.

If you eat a mostly vegetarian diet but also eat fish, you should be getting enough selenium.

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