Vegetarianism Individuals adopt a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons including cultural, ethical or religious beliefs; economic reasons; taste preferences; and/or for certain health benefits.
Different types of vegetarian diets that exist:
Vegan includes the consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), grains, nuts and seeds. All meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs and other animal products are excluded in this diet, including products with casein, whey, rennet, or gelatine, animal fats (eg lard and suet) and generally also honey and yeast.
Lacto Vegetarian includes the consumption of vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, and dairy products. All meat, fish and poultry and eggs are excluded in this diet.
Lacto-ovo Vegetarian includes the consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, eggs and dairy products. Meat, fish, and poultry are excluded in this diet.
The benefits of a vegetarian diet:
A vegetarian eating pattern is most often lower in substances that are associated with an increased risk of cancer, e.g. saturated fats, and higher in fruit and vegetables which are high in nutrients and dietary components that reduce the risk of cancer. Although more studies are required to understand the risks and benefits of a vegetarian eating pattern and its link with cancer, there are some studies that have shown a significant reduction of cancer risk when following a vegetarian diet.
Food choices, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and soy, that comprise vegetarian diets may modify several risk factors that are associated with cardiovascular disease including blood pressure, body mass index and lipid levels (blood cholesterol levels). This diet, in combination with other lifestyle factors, such as regular physical activity, may play a protective role in risk for cardiovascular disease.
Decreased body weight (observed in vegetarians when compared to non-vegetarians), together with the potential metabolic effects (such as improved insulin resistance) of several food components, notably whole grains, soy, vegetables, legumes, and reduced consumption of other foods such as processed red meats may contribute to the reduced risk of Diabetes Mellitus 2 in individuals who follow a vegetarian eating pattern.
Risks of vegan and vegetarian diets
Individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet may develop certain deficiencies if important nutrients derived from animal products, such as iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin B12, and Omega-3 fatty acids, are omitted.
|Protein Important for growth and repair of all body cells, formation of enzymes and hormones, normal functioning of muscles and nerves and immune protection||Legumes (eg. beans, lentils, chickpeas), soy foods (eg. tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yoghurt), textured vegetable protein (TVP), eggs, nuts and seeds, wholegrains (eg. quinoa, amaranth grain, brown rice) |
Vegetarian may include: dairy foods (eg milk, yoghurt and cheese)
|Iron Important for oxygen transport around the body||Legumes, iron-fortified foods (eg. breads and cereals), tofu and tempeh, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, wholegrains (eg. quinoa, amaranth grain, brown rice, rolled oats) |
Vegetarian may include: eggs
|Calcium Important for strong bones and teeth, proper nerve and muscle function and blood clotting||Calcium-fortified foods (eg. soy, nut, oat and rice milks and fruit juices), almonds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, unhulled tahini (sesame seed paste), amaranth grain, dried apricots, figs, soybeans, calcium set-tofu, Asian greens, kale, collard greens, broccoli |
Vegetarian may include: Dairy foods
|Zinc Found in every part of our body and has a wide range of functions. It is important for growth and development, wound healing, healthy skin and a strong immune system||Legumes, wholegrains (eg. quinoa, amaranth grain, brown rice wheatgerm, rolled oats), nuts, seeds, and soy products (eg. tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yoghurt), zinc-fortified breakfast cereal |
Vegetarian may include: Eggs, cheese, cow’s milk
|Legumes, wholegrains (eg. quinoa, amaranth grain, brown rice wheatgerm, rolled oats), nuts, seeds, and soy products (eg. tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yoghurt), zinc-fortified breakfast cereal Vegetarian may include: Eggs, cheese, cow’s milk||Vitamin D mushrooms, vitamin D-fortified foods (milk-free margarine and some plant-derived milks). Vitamin D is also obtainable by the action of sunlight on bare skin |
Vegetarian may include: Eggs
When planning an eating plan for such an individual, an individualised approach is necessary to ensure that the requirements are met for all these nutrients through suitable alternatives to replace animal products.
If a vegetarian diet is planned correctly, it can be beneficial and may provide valuable nutrients to help reduce the risk of various diseases. To meet all the nutritional requirements through a vegan diet is more challenging than through a vegetarian diet due to the extensive restriction of animal products. The following sample menu shows a balanced vegan diet.
Suggested menu (adopted from DAA, Dietetic Association of Australia)
• fresh fruit/canned fruit/fruit juice • wholegrain cereal and soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamin B12 • wholemeal or wholegrain toast (milk free) with milk free margarine • peanut butter/jam/tahini/hummus • soy milk fortified with calcium and Vitamin B12/tea/coffee optional hot breakfast: baked beans, grilled tomato, mushrooms
• fresh fruit or scone/slice/muffin made with NO milk, eggs, honey or other animal products or dried fruit, nuts and or seeds • soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamin B12/tea/coffee
• legumes, e.g. cooked dried beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils or tofu/tempeh/commercial vegetarian patties/sausages etc. • brown rice/wholemeal pasta/quinoa or other grain • vegetables or salads • fresh fruit/canned fruit with added nuts/seeds and soy yoghurt /soy ice-cream/custard made with soy milk • soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamin B12/tea/coffee Afternoon tea • as morning tea
• vegetable soup (add legumes) or wholemeal or wholegrain sandwich topped with peanut butter/beans in tomato • sauce/soy cheese or salad with milk free dressing and a protein source, e.g. dried beans, lentils, chick peas, tofu, tempeh • milk free bread and milk free margarine • fresh fruit/canned fruit and soy yoghurt /soy ice-cream/custard or milk pudding made with soy milk • dried fruit and nuts • soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamin B12/tea/coffee
After dinner tea
• as morning tea
NB: Additional fluid may be necessary to meet individual requirements
Thank you to Melissa Ludick for this contribution. Melissa is a dietitian at FEMINA HEALTH.