A vegetarian diet is a diet based on plant foods, with some restrictions on animal foods. Families choose to follow vegetarian diets for various reasons. It may be for religious, humanitarian, health or environmental reasons.
People follow different types of vegetarian diets depending on which foods are restricted.
Ovo-lacto vegetarians eat plant foods, eggs (ovo), dairy (lacto) foods, and honey but avoid meat, chicken, and fish.
Lacto-vegetarians eat plant foods and dairy foods but avoid eggs, meat, chicken and fish.
Vegan or total vegetarians avoid all animal foods. The diet includes grains, cereals, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits and vegetables. People following a vegetarian diet also do not use leather, honey, soaps, cosmetics or shampoo made from animal ingredients or tested on animals.
Semi-vegetarians eat eggs and dairy foods as well as occasionally meat, chicken or fish.
Fruitarians’ diet is based only on fruit and nuts. This way of eating is not recommended, especially for children and young adults as it is lacking in many nutrients needed for growth and development.
A macrobiotic diet is based on whole grains, vegetables, beans, seaweed and fermented soy products.
It is not too hard for people following a vegetarian diet to get most of their required vitamins from plant foods. However, if you are vegetarian, you need to do some planning to make sure you get enough iron. For people following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, Vitamin B12 and calcium need special attention as well.
Non meat sources of iron include:
- Legumes such as baked beans, chick peas, kidney beans, lentils.
- Iron-fortified breakfast cereals – check the label.
- Wholemeal breads, pasta and rice.
- Green leafy vegetables.
- Tofu and other fermented soy products.
- Dried fruit.
To help your body absorb more iron from plant foods try combining food and drinks rich in Vitamin C with plant foods rich in iron. Examples of foods and drinks rich in Vitamin C include oranges, orange juice, strawberries, kiwi fruit, capsicum and tomatoes.
Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods. People following a vegetarian diet will need to take a supplement of Vitamin B12 or include foods that are supplemented with Vitamin B12, such as some soy drinks (check the label).
If you include dairy foods in your vegetarian diet, getting enough calcium should be easy. Eat or drink three serves of dairy foods every day. For vegans, a calcium supplement or three serves of calcium-fortified soy products is an easy way to get enough calcium.
It is easier to cook for the family if everyone is following a vegetarian diet. You don’t want to cook two different meals, but just leaving out the meat from the family meal is not a good idea either. However, if you have just one vegetarian in the family, instead of cooking two meals, you can:
- Substitute marinated tofu instead of meat in stir fries.
- Add cooked or canned lentils or mashed kidney beans to a tomato based sauce for pasta.
- Try commercial vegetarian sausages or burgers when having a grill, roast or BBQ.
- Make kebabs with cubes of firm tofu.
How can vegetarians get enough nutrition
With the right dietary knowledge, ovo-lacto vegetarians (i.e. vegetarians who eat honey, eggs and dairy, but exclude animal flesh and fish products) can obtain adequate nutrients needed for growth and repair. On the other hand, vegans and vegetarians who exclude eggs and dairy foods may find it difficult to meet their nutrient requirements. Seeing a New Zealand Registered Dietitian is recommended if you wish to follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet.
Does being vegetarian help lose weight?
Undergoing a vegetarian diet does not necessarily help with weight loss. The best way to control your weight is to balance the foods you eat with regular, moderate and intensive physical activity.
How do I get enough protein?
Good vegetarian sources of protein include:
- Dairy foods – milk, yogurt, cheese
- Legumes – especially soy based foods such as soy beverages, tofu and soy beans
*Note that soy sauce has virtually no protein.
How can I find out more about Nestlé’s products suitable for vegetarians?
Our Consumer Services team can give you more information on which Nestlé products are suitable for Vegetarians. Call 0800830840