a range of vegetarian foods

What do vegetarians eat?

Have you decided to go vegetarian, and are wondering what you’ll eat? Catering to a friend, loved one or colleague who follows a vegetarian diet? Or perhaps you’re just curious? Don’t worry – we’ve got all the facts.

First, let’s categorise the different types of vegetarian:

The ‘classic’ vegetarian (Lacto-ovo vegetarian)

  • Eats no meat or fish
  • Eats dairy products e.g. cheese and milk
  • Eats eggs

Lacto vegetarian

  • Eats no meat or fish
  • Eats dairy products e.g. cheese and milk

Ovo vegetarian

  • Eats no meat or fish
  • Eats eggs

Pescetarian

  • Eat no meat, but eats fish
  • Eats dairy products e.g. cheese and milk
  • Eats eggs

Flexitarian

  • Eats meat or fish sometimes
  • Eats dairy products e.g. cheese and milk
  • Eats eggs

The vegetarian diet can technically consist of anything you like, so long as it doesn’t contain meat or fish, or any by-products of meat or fish.

Of course, being vegetarian doesn’t automatically mean it’s healthy. For instance, a bag of crisps, a cookie and a frozen cheese pizza for dinner may be vegetarian, but obviously that’d be far from healthy.

Like any good diet, the classic vegetarian diet should include lots of vegetables and fruit, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds and grains.

Essential nutrients for vegetarians

There are certain nutrients that meat-eaters get freely from their diets which a vegetarian might need to make sure they obtain. This isn’t difficult, but you’ll need to be aware of what could be lacking in the vegetarian diet, and where to get it from.

Iron

Found in abundance in meat and seafood, iron is essential for energy production and immunity. Vegetarians can easily get their daily quota of iron (that’s 8.7mg per day for men, 14.8mg for women under 50, and 8.7mg for women over 50) by eating beans, nuts, dried fruit, brown rice and dark green leafy vegetables. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with iron – just watch the sugar content.

Protein

Dairy products like cheese and milk contain protein, so lacto-ovo and lacto vegetarians will easily meet their quota. In the UK, the recommended daily intake of protein is 0.75g per every kilogram you weigh, so a 60kg person would require around 45g protein each day.

Lacto-ovo and ovo vegetarians can get protein from eggs. There is around a quarter of your daily protein in one boiled egg.

Beyond these, protein can be found in brown rice, nuts, seeds, quinoa, seitan (wheat gluten), tofu, chickpeas and other beans, soya milk, chia seeds and oats. These are mostly incomplete proteins on their own, but combining two plant proteins from different plant species makes it a complete protein. For instance, oats + nuts = complete protein.

Vitamin B12

This vitamin has a variety of vital functions within the body, from helping to release energy from food to keeping your nervous system healthy.

It’s found in abundance in dairy products like milk and cheese, and in eggs. Plant sources of vitamin B12 more difficult to come by, but it can be found in soya products, fortified breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids help fight inflammation in the body, and help keep our hearts, brains, guts, joints and eyes in good condition.

The three main omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Your body can’t make them so you must get them from the food you eat.

The most common source of omega-3 is oily fish. However, vegetarians need not worry. All three can be found in plant sources, too. Linseeds contain EPA, while algae such as spirulina and chlorella contain DHA and ALA.

Why not add flaxseed, spirulina and chlorella to a fruit smoothie to get your omega-3 in one go?

Last updated: 30 April 2020

Sources

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/iron/

https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-b/
DietsFood & DrinkVegetarian