Nutrition Tips for Vegetarians

LAST UPDATED: October 06, 2017
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Vegetarian nutrition

A vegetarian diet is a meal plan made up of foods that come mostly from plants (vegetables and fruits), legumes (beans), lentils, nuts, and seeds. Different types of vegetarian diets may also include eggs, milk, fish, and/or chicken products.

When following a vegetarian diet, include a variety of foods and in the right amounts to ensure you meet all of your nutrition requirements.

Eating a well-planned vegetarian diet may help you:

  • Control your weight
  • Reduce your risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and Type 2 diabetes
  • Lower your blood pressure
Teens, pregnant women, athletes, and strict vegans should work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) to make sure they are getting enough protein, iron, vitamin B-12, and other key nutrients.

Dietary tips for vegetarians

  • Replace meat with protein sources which are naturally low in fat (beans, lentils, tofu) instead of relying heavily on high-fat cheese
  • Choose fortified vegetarian products (cereals, breads, soy or almond milk, and fruit juice)
  • Look for low-sodium vegetarian products like “veggie crumbles,” “veggie burgers,” and soy- based sausage patties that are lower in sodium (salt)
  • Use fresh or dried herbs and low-sodium vegetable broth to add flavor to your meals
  • Talk to your healthcare provider before you decide to take a supplement (vitamin, mineral, or protein supplement)

For more tips, check out the USDA’s 10 Tips For Vegetarians.

Be sure to get the nutrients you need

When following a vegetarian diet, make sure you get all of the following nutrients:

Protein—essential for growth and tissue maintenance

Good sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans include:

  • Beans, legumes, and lentils
  • Soy foods (tofu, tempeh, soy-milk, veggie burgers)
  • Nuts, nut butters, seeds
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians can use milk products and eggs

Iron—Functions as a carrier of oxygen in the blood

Vegetarian sources of iron include:

  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals and whole-grain breads
  • Spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, kale, broccoli
  • Kidney beans, black-eyed peas
  • Dried fruit, such as prunes, raisins, and apricots

Vitamin B-12—necessary for protein synthesis and aids in energy metabolism

Only found in animal products and some fortified foods. Vegetarian sources include:

  • Milk products
  • Eggs
  • Foods that have B-12 added to them (fortified), such as cereal, soy milk, veggie burgers, and nutritional yeast

Calcium—builds and strengthens bones and teeth

Dairy products have the highest amount of calcium. Good sources of calcium include:

  • Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Fortified foods (cereal, orange juice, tofu, almond milk, soy milk, or rice milk)
  • Sardines and canned salmon with bones
  • Dark green vegetables (collard greens, turnip greens, kale, bok choy, broccoli)

Zinc—Supports a healthy immune system

The best sources of zinc come from animal foods, but good vegetarian sources include:

  • Beans (white beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas)
  • Zinc-fortified breakfast cereals
  • Wheat germ, yeast, nuts
Include a good source of vitamin C (citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, and bell-peppers) at every meal to enhance iron absorption.

Sample vegetarian meal plans

1800 calorie sample lacto-ovo vegetarian meal plan
Menu Item
Breakfast 1 whole-wheat mini-bagel
2 scrambled eggs
1 fresh orange
1 cup fortified cows’ milk
Morning Snack 6 oz. low-fat Greek yogurt
Fresh banana
Lunch 1 veggie burger on a whole wheat bun
2 cups of leafy green salad topped with ½ cup cherry tomatoes
½ cup chopped cucumbers
2 tbsp. vinaigrette dressing
6 oz. calcium fortified orange juice
Mid-afternoon Snack 15 baby carrots
1 string-cheese
Dinner 1 cup Tofu/veggie stir-fry
½ cup brown rice
1 cup diced fresh fruit
2200 calorie sample vegan meal plan
Menu Item
Breakfast 1 cup cooked oatmeal
1 oz. almonds
¼ cup raisins
1.5 cups fortified soy-milk
2 vegan sausage patties
¾ cup blueberries
2 tbsp. toasted wheat germ
Morning Snack 1 cup baby carrots
2 tbsp. hummus
Lunch 1 large bean burrito
2 cups leafy greens topped with 
½ cup cherry tomatoes
½ cup chopped cucumbers
2 tbsp. low-fat vinaigrette dressing
6 oz. calcium fortified orange juice
Mid-afternoon Snack 1 fresh apple
1 tbsp. all-natural peanut butter
Dinner 1 cup Tofu/veggie stir-fry
½ cup brown rice
1 cup collard greens
1 cup fresh pineapple
1 cup fortified soy-milk

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