Vegetarians form a large group of the population. For those vegetarians who take milk and eggs, a healthy diet is the same as for anyone else but for those who do not take dairy and eggs, diet needs to be carefully assessed.
A healthy diet comprises of plenty of fruit and vegetables and starchy foods along with dairy products, non-dairy sources of protein such as eggs and beans and a small amount of fat containing foods.
The “eat-well” plate eating plan helps in choosing healthy options of food and suggests the proportions of these foods. According to the eat-well plate recommendations:-
Those vegetarians who do not take eggs need to rely on legumes and pulses for proteins. These are low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Nuts and seeds are also a source of protein and other nutrients.
Other meat alternatives for vegetarians include tofu, mycoprotein (such as Quorn), textured vegetable protein and tempeh. A variety of proteins are suggested to obtain the right mixture of amino acids, which are used to build and repair the body’s cells.
Vegetarian diets in special conditions like pregnancy need to be planned to include all essential nutrients. Children on a vegetarian diet also need to be assessed for a balanced and healthy diet providing them with nutrients essential for growth and development.
Contrary to popular belief, most vegetarians have enough protein and calcium in their diet. They may fall short of iron requirements compared to meat eaters however. Good sources of iron include pulses, dry fruits, eggs, dark-green vegetables such as watercress, broccoli, spring greens and fortified cereals (with added iron).
Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease. For non-vegetarians, these may be obtained from oily fish. In vegetarians, these are obtained from linseed (flaxseed) oil, walnut oil, rapeseed oil and soya bean oil and omega-3 fortified egg.
For vegans, diet contains only plants, such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits. Vegans do not take foods that come from animals, including dairy products. A healthy vegan diet thus needs to include:-