The definition of a vegetarian diet is one that does not include meat, poultry, game, fish or any by-products of animals, such as gelatine.
There are two main types of vegetarian:
There are around 2 million vegetarians in the UK. People choose avoid meat and animal products for a number of reasons including:
Healthy eating on a vegetarian diet is no different to non-vegetarian healthy eating and is based around the following 4 food groups:
By eating a varied diet that includes all the food groups there's no reason why a vegetarian diet should be lacking in any particular nutrients. However, if the diet is not varied enough, it may be more difficult to obtain adequate sources of some nutrients.
The richest source of iron in the diet is found in animal sources such as red meat. However, iron is also found in plant sources such as pulses, green leafy vegetables including broccoli, watercress and spinach, fortified breakfast cereals, eggs and bread.
The iron in these foods is usually more difficult for the body to absorb, but vitamin C can help with absorption. Vitamin C sources in the diet include oranges, kiwi fruits and peppers.
Selenium is mainly found in meat, fish and nuts so it's important for a strict vegetarian to include nuts as part of their diet. Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium. Bread and eggs also contain some selenium.
Vegetarian sources of protein include nuts, seeds, pulses, grains, dairy products such as milk and yogurt, eggs and soya products such as tofu, soya milk and tempeh. Protein is made up of amino acids including 'essential' amino acids which have to be provided by diet, as the body cannot make them. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs all contain these essential amino acids, but plant sources of protein don't. By eating a varied diet including different sources of plant protein a vegetarian can easily obtain enough protein in their diet including these 8 essential amino acids.
If you choose to avoid milk and dairy foods in your diet then sources of calcium include calcium enriched soya, rice or oat drinks.
The richest source of omega 3 oils for vegetarians is flaxseed oil. These provide short chain omega 3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which our bodies can then use to make some of the longer chain fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). It may be difficult to obtain enough omega 3 in your diet and you may want to take a supplement that is suitable for vegetarians. There are also omega 3-enriched eggs available to help you increase your consumption.
B vitamins are found in many nuts, seeds, whole cereals, pulses and green vegetables. Vitamin B12 is the only one of these vitamins that is not present in plant sources. However, you can get it from eggs and dairy products or, if you chose to avoid these, then go for fortified breakfast cereals, soya milk and yeast extracts.
For more information you can the visit The Vegetarian Society website
To help you on your way to a healthier diet we've created a vegetarian menu planner based on healthy eating recommendations of eating around 2000 calories a day with less than 70g of fat, 20g saturated fat and 6g salt. The plan includes a variety of foods and drinks and also make sure you achieve your 5 a day target too!
We label foods that are suitable for vegetarians with the below statement:
We also offer a list of products suitable for vegetarians:
This list is updated monthly and are also available in store or from customer services.
All foods included on our vegetarian list will not contain:
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