Nutrients in a vegetarian diet

Vegetarians and vegans can source nutrients from a variety of sources.

Vegetarians and vegans

Fat

The main source of fat in a vegetarian or vegan diet is likely to be from dairy products, so it is important for vegetarians not to consume too much saturated fat. They should try to choose unsaturated sources of fat, such as avocado.

Protein

Dairy products and eggs are a valuable source of protein.

Vegans may need to consider soya or quinoa because they are two plant sources of protein.

They should also try to ensure that plant foods are eaten in combination, in order to achieve protein complementation. This is when two low biological value (LBV) foods are eaten together to make a high biological value (HBV) meal, such as beans on toast. This ensures that all of the indispensable amino acids are provided in a single meal.

Iron

Plant sources of iron – green leafy vegetables, cereals, nuts and pulses – provide non-haem iron. This is harder to absorb than haem iron, which is found in animal sources such as meat.

It is therefore important that vegetarians consume foods high in vitamin C to help with the absorption of iron. They should avoid tea as it contains tannins – these make it more difficult for our body to absorb iron.

Calcium

Dairy products are a good source of calcium. Vegans should ensure their calcium needs are achieved by including fortified foods such as white bread and breakfast cereals.

Vitamin D

Eggs and dairy products are good sources of vitamin D.

Vegans should try to include fortified cereals and fortified spreads such as margarine in their diet.

Exposure to sunlight is essential to help vitamin D synthesis in the skin.

Vitamin B12

This vitamin is mainly found in animal products. It can, however, be obtained from milk, dairy products and eggs.

Fortified foods such as cereal are often a good source of vitamin B12.

Vegetarians and vegans are often advised to take a supplement of vitamin B12.