Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

  • Vegetarian diets do not include meat, poultry or seafood. Some vegetarian diets include dairy foods and/or eggs. A vegan diet does not include any foods of animal origin. [1,2]
  • A well planned and balanced vegetarian diet can easily meet all of your nutrition requirements. A vegan diet is particularly restrictive, so it is important you see a Registered Nutritionist/Dietitian or Accredited Practicing Dietitian to ensure your diet is nutritionally adequate.
  • Pregnant, breastfeeding women or women planning a pregnancy and children have increased nutrient requirements, so careful dietary planning with the help of a dietitian is recommended.

Plant-based protein

  • It is a myth that vegetarian diets are low in protein. It is very easy to get enough protein without eating animal products. [1]
  • Green gram, cow pea, lentils, soy milk, tofu, beans, chickpeas, nuts and seeds are good sources of plant-based protein. If you eat eggs and dairy products, this will contribute a significant amount of protein as well. [2,3]
  • It is best to minimise your intake of vegetarian products that mimic animal foods. E.g. vegetarian sausages, fake bacon and plant-based mince meats. These foods are usually highly processed and often contain a lot of sodium and saturated fats, which is bad for your health. [2]

Nutrients to keep in mind [1,3]

When removing animal foods from your diet, the animal rich nutrient foods should be replaced with plant-based wholefood alternatives. Some important nutrients to keep in mind are:

Iron – Transports oxygen around your body. It is found in legumes and pulses such as lentils, chickpea, cowpea, green gram, soya, tofu, fortified grain products [e.g. fortified cereals, bread], nuts and seeds, gotukola, sarana, murunga leaves, thampala, kathurumurunga. To boost iron absorption, these foods should be consumed with a source of Vitamin C (e.g. lime, tomato, capsicum, bell peppers, oranges, strawberries etc.)

Calcium – Supports strong bones and teeth. Ensure your non-dairy alternatives are fortified with at least 1000mg of calcium per 100ml. If you’re vegan consume green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy, kale, cabbage, okra, pulses, sesame seeds, tahini, kola kanda, kurakkan  kanda (made with red millet).

Vitamin B12 – Plays a key role in proper functioning of your blood and nervous system. It is only found naturally in animal foods. If eggs and dairy are consumed then these have a good amount of B12. If no eggs and dairy are consumed in your diet, you must consume foods fortified with B12 or a supplement as advised by your doctor or dietitian.

Omega-3 fatty acids – Supports a healthy heart and brain. Include foods like walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, green leafy vegetables regularly.

Zinc – Important for wound healing. It is found in tofu, nuts, seeds, milk, legumes and wholegrains.

References

  1. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109(7):1266-1282.
  2. Craig W. Nutrition Concerns and Health Effects of Vegetarian Diets. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 2010;25(6):613-620.
  3. Weikert C, Trefflich I, Menzel J, Obeid R, Longree A, Dierkes J et al. Vitamin and Mineral Status in a Vegan Diet. Deutsches Ärzteblatt international. 2020;.
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