Vegetarian eating has been around over 200 years. In many countries (such as India) and for several religions (Buddhist, Muslim) vegetarian is the main eating pattern.
Types of Vegetarians
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian - eats milk, cheese and eggs as well as a base diet of cereal, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruit and vegetables.
- Lacto vegetarian - as above, but doesn't eat eggs.
- Vegan/total vegetarian - excludes all milk, cheese, and eggs. Protein sources come from plants like soya beans (tofu) and nuts.
- Semi-vegetarian - may eat red meat some of the time, or
eat white meats like fish, chicken and shellfish, as well as the
base diet of cereal, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruit and
If you decide to become a vegetarian, it's not simply a matter of removing meat from your diet. Too often the meat portion is replaced by high-fat dairy foods such as cheese or quiches (high in saturated fat). A well planned and balanced vegetarian diet can meet all of your needs, but you have to do your homework!
Healthy Eating Guidelines for Vegetarians
1. Get enough energy - have more frequent, smaller meals and larger snacks with energy dense foods like nuts, peanut butter or other nut spreads.
2. Eat enough carbohydrate - especially if you're active. Eat grains (like rice, bread and pasta) dried beans, starchy vegetables (potato, kumara) and fruit.
3. Eat enough essential fats - it's easy to get omega-6's as these come from nuts and seeds, but omega-3's are found in abundance in our fishy foods. Try walnuts, flaxseed and soyabeans for plant sources of omega-3's.
4. Eat enough foods that are a good source of vitamins and minerals.
5. Eat enough protein - plant proteins are not as easily
digested and processed by the body compared to animal proteins.
They also aren't considered 'complete' proteins. There are 8
essential amino acids that the body uses as building blocks for
it's cells and muscles. Animal foods contain these 8 essential
amino acids, so lacto/ovo and semi vegetarians who eat low fat
dairy generally find it easier to meet their protein requirements
than strict vegans. If you are vegan, make sure you eat a wide
variety of foods each day, including something from ALL of the
vegetarian food groups - see the table below.
Top Foods for Vegetarians
Dried or canned beans and peas
- Good source of protein
- Provide carbohydrate
- Contain fibre
- Low in saturated fat
- Provide vitamins and minerals Nuts and Seeds
- Provide protein
- Provide mainly unsaturated fat (except for coconut)
- Provide vitamin E and B vitamins
- High in fibre
- Some can provide omega-3 (walnuts)
- High in carbohydrates
- Low in sugar
- Wholegrain forms provide B vitamins
- Provide some, but not all of the essential amino
- Provide fibre
- Provide many antioxidants (the darker the colour the higher the level )
- Provide a range of vitamins
- Naturally low in fat Fruit
- Provides antioxidants
- High in vitamins (especially C and folate)
- High fibre
- Some provide unsaturated fat (olives/avocadoes)
Dairy/Eggs/Fortified soya milk
- Provide protein
- Provide calcium, minerals for bone growth and strength
- B12 - essential for energy and development of red blood cells. Choose a fortified soya milk, or consider a supplement if you are a vegan.