A balanced diet for vegetarians

  • By
    Kerry Torrens - Nutritional therapist

If you’re a vegetarian, or are tempted to cut back on the meat, make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need with our guide for a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet...

A balanced diet for vegetarians

Vegetarians enjoy a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit with some also choosing to include dairy products and eggs. Studies suggest that a plant-based diet like this can be a healthier way to eat with fewer reported cases of obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes.  Typically, a varied vegetarian diet contains less saturated fat and more folate, fibre and antioxidants, plus as a vegetarian you’re more likely to exceed the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables. 

Reference Intake (RI) (the new term for Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs))

The RIs are benchmarks for the amount of energy (kilocalories), fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugar, protein and salt that an average adult should consume each day. The RIs for fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt are maximum daily amounts. Don’t forget that we are all different with varying needs for energy and nutrients so this information is for guidance only: 


Reference Intake (RI)

Energy (kcal)2000
Protein (g)50
Carbohydrates (g)260
Sugar (g)90
Fat (g)70
Saturates (g)20
Fibre (g)24
Salt (g)6

 

Perfect Portionsportions

Numbers and figures are all very well but how does this relate to you? Personalise your portions with our handy guide to finding the right serving size:

 

FoodsPortion size
Carbs like cereal/rice/pasta/potatoYour clenched fist                              
Proteins like meat/poultry/fishPalm of your hand
Savouries like popcorn/crisps2 of your cupped hands
Bakes like brownies/flapjacks2 of your fingers
Butter & spreadsThe tip of your thumb

 

BreakfastGet up and go breakfast muffins

A protein-based breakfast makes for an ideal choice because it's a filling and sustaining way to start the day and needn't take any longer to prepare than toast or cereal. For example, while your bread is toasting scramble some eggs for a nutritious toast topper and on days when you have a little more time, enjoy our version of a vegetarian kedgeree.

Eggs provide a good balance of quality protein combined with fat, plus the yolks are a useful source of vitamin D, which we need for strong bones and teeth. Protein slows stomach emptying, which means you stay fuller for longer so you'll eat fewer calories during the rest of the day. If you do prefer your breakfast in a bowl, pack your porridge or cereal with a selection of nuts and seeds and finish with a generous dollop of natural yogurt. 

Many people think vegetarians are at risk of being low in the mineral iron but there are plenty of plant foods that are good sources, including breakfast cereals, muesli, wholemeal bread as well as pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Enjoy any one of these with a small glass of vitamin C-rich fruit juice to optimise your body’s iron uptake. For those who avoid dairy, like milk and yogurt, choose an alternative that is fortified with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.

Whatever you do, don't skip breakfast as this sets your blood sugar off on a roller coaster, which means you'll end up choosing the wrong foods later in the day. Remember breakfast makes an important contribution towards your daily intake and plays a key role in maintaining a healthy weight.

Breakfast suggestions
Scrambled omelette toast topper
Spicy tofu kedgeree
Veggie breakfast bakes
Get up and go breakfast muffins
Apple & linseed porridge
Cinnamon buckwheat pancakes with cherries
Creamy yogurt porridge with apricot, ginger & grapefruit topping
Bulghar & spinach fritters with eggs & tomato chutney
Fruit & nut yogurt

 

Mid-morning snackAlmond butter

Make every snack count with nourishing options that supply both the 'pick-me-up' you need while topping up your portions of fruit and veg, or deliver key nutrients like iron or vitamin D. Swap your morning biscuits for toast topped with slices of banana, bake a batch of fruit-packed muffins or blend up a fruit smoothie.

Snack suggestions
Peanut butter & banana on toast
Malted walnut seed loaf
Almond butter
Crunchy baked eggs
Super berry smoothie
Exercise shake
Melon & crunchy bran pots
Nutty blueberry muffins

 

LunchHoumous & avocado sandwich topper

At lunch, aim for a mix of protein from beans, peas, nuts, grains or dairy products, combined with starchy carbs. You need carb-rich foods because without them you're likely to suffer that classic mid-afternoon slump. The key is to choose carbs that produce a steady rise in blood sugar, which means passing on the sugary 'white' foods and going for high fibre whole grains that help you manage those afternoon munchies.

We need some fats in our diet, but it’s important we don’t eat too much and the focus should be on the right type of fat. Fat is not only a source of energy it helps us absorb fat-soluble vitamins including vitamins A, D, E and K. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat but keep in mind that full-fat dairy, as well as some plant foods like coconut and palm oils, are high in these saturates. Heart-friendly mono-unsaturated fats are found in plant foods like avocado, olive and rapeseed oils, whilst nuts and seeds supply the heart-friendly poly-unsaturates, including the omega-3 variety. It’s these unsaturated fats that we should be eating more of, so include a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or two tablespoons of oil, or the equivalent of unsalted nuts, daily.
 

Lunch suggestions
Exotic avocado salad
Tricolore couscous salad
Spicy vegetable fajitas
Hearty mushroom soup
Tortellini with pesto & broccoli
Houmous & avocado sandwich topper
Poached egg with spicy rice
Vegetarian club
Risotto-stuffed tomatoes
Warm mushroom, lentil & goat's cheese salad

 

Mid-afternoon snackSweet potato & pea puffs

For many it's not sugar so much as salty, savoury foods they crave in the afternoon. If this sounds like you forget the crisps and opt instead for a spiced seed mix, savoury popcorn or enjoy low-fat cream cheese on crackers or a crunchy colourful salad.

Snack suggestions
Pear, blue cheese & walnut sandwich topper
Spicy seed mix
Spiced chilli popcorn
Broad bean bruschetta
Sweet potato & pea puffs
Crispy cheese & guacamole tortillas
Dagmar's detox salad
Carrot & houmous roll-ups

 

DinnerSpaghetti with spinach & walnut pesto

Don't curfew carbs - they're low in fat, fibre-rich and help you relax in the evening, plus they’re filling, which means they’ll get you through to breakfast. Combine them with some healthy essential fats, such as the ones you find in nuts, especially walnuts as well as seeds like pumpkin and some protein from tofu, eggs or dairy. During the night your body will use the protein and these healthy fats for regeneration and repair, which is important for maintaining healthy skin and hair. 

Dinner suggestions
Spiced veg with lemony bulghar wheat salad
Spaghetti with spinach & walnut pesto
Mushroom, walnut & tomato baked peppers
Fragrant vegetable & cashew biryani
Chinese noodles with tofu & hazelnuts
Spinach & artichoke filo pie
Veggie bolognese
Tofu & asparagus pad Thai

Do you follow a vegetarian diet? We have lots more vegetarian-friendly recipes, but would love to hear your tips for staying healthy as a vegetarian in the comments below...


 

 

Comments, questions and tips

Sign in or create your My Good Food account to join the discussion.

Comments

Show comments
viviennet's picture

I thought this was a disappointing article - you mentioned that some vegetarians do not eat dairy products or eggs (or if they choose to do so then they should really be free-range eggs, organic milk, cheese made with non-animal rennet etc) and then went on to list loads of recipes that included - wait for it - eggs, cheese and milk! Result - B minus, could do better.

Questions

Tips