Being a vegetarian means not eating meat. While all vegetarians have this in common, there are different ways of being vegetarian. Some vegetarians eat no foods from animals at all, which means no meat, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, or yoghurt. Some others, while not eating meat, also eat fish and/or eggs, milk, cheese, and yoghurt.
You need protein to build and maintain muscles. You can get plenty of protein from eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt, and soy products (tofu), as well as plant foods such as baked beans, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, nuts, peanut butter, and seeds. Eat a variety of these foods every day to get enough protein.
It is important to get enough iron, so your blood can carry oxygen around your body and give you energy. If you don’t eat meat, you need to get the iron from other foods. You can get some iron from dried fruit (e.g. sultanas), nuts, leafy green vegetables, seeds, and dried beans and chickpeas. Some breakfast cereals have iron added to them. Adding Milo ® and Sustagen ® to milk will also help.
To absorb more iron from your vego foods, eat vegetables and fruit high in Vitamin C at the same meal. For example, add capsicums, tomatoes, or broccoli, and/or some strawberries, kiwi fruit or orange to your meal. Avoid drinking tea at meals, as this reduces iron absorption. Yhunger fact sheet ‘Iron out tiredness’ has more information.
Vitamin B 12 is found only in meat and dairy foods. It is needed to produce blood and to keep your nervous system healthy. To get enough Vitamin B12 on a vego diet, eat soy products (soy milk, tofu, and tempeh) that have added Vitamin B12. If you don’t eat soy products, you may need a Vitamin B12 supplement. Speak to your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian to find one that is right for you.
Whatever type of vego diet you eat, you need to get the nutrients that you used to get from meat, fish, eggs and/or milk and cheese from other foods.
You need calcium and Vitamin D to keep your bones healthy and strong. Milk, cheese, and yoghurt are excellent sources of calcium, as are calcium fortified soy milk, almonds, dried figs and apricots, soybeans, and tofu. You may need a supplement if you don’t eat enough of these foods.
You can get Vitamin D from being out in the sun. Some foods may also have added Vitamin D. If you are low in Vitamin D, your doctor may prescribe a supplement.
Zinc helps to heal wounds and strengthens the immune system. Plant sources of zinc include nuts, dried beans and chickpeas, wheat germ and wholegrain breads and cereals.