Nutritional and dietary needs of vegetarians

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Vegetarians

Between 3 and 7% of the UK population are vegetarian. 

Pesco-vegetarian- all red meat and poultry are excluded but fish and other animal products are consumed.

Lacto-ovo- all meat, fish and poultry are excluded but milk, milk products and eggs are consumed. Most UK vegetarians follow this diet.

Lacto-vegetarian- all meat, fish, poultry and eggs are excluded but milk and milk products are consumed.

Fruitarian- all foods of animal origin as well as pulses and cereals are excluded. The diet mainly consists of raw and dried fruits, nuts, honey and olive oil.

Vegan- all foods of animal origin are excluded. The diet mainly consistes of grains, vegetables, vegetable oils, cereals, pulses such as beans and lentils, nuts, fruit and seeds.

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Nutritional requirements

Protein from animal sources is of high biological value and contains all of the amino acids needed by the body. A vegetarian diet that includes milk or eggs will contain sufficient HBV protein.

Protein from plant sources with the exception of soya has a LBV.

Vegans need to ensure they consume adequate quantities of calcium, iron, vitamin D, iodine and B12, as these nutrients are more difficult to obtain from plant sources. It is essential that vegans include a source of B12, usually by taking a supplement.

There may be a problem with adequate intakes of vitamin D among vegetarians particularly if milk and milk products are excluded.

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Nutritional requirements

Great care is needed if babies are to be weaned on to a vegan diet.

Soy-based infant formula can be given on the advice of a GP and children under 2 should take vitamin supplements containing A, C and D.

Following a vegetarian diet is becoming more common amongst adolescents. Care is needed to ensure protein and energy requirements are met due to rapid growth and development.

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Dietary requirements

Calcium is present in milk, cheese and dairy products so vegetarians who consume milk and milk products are likely to have adequate intakes.

The availability of calcium from some plant sources may be reduced by fibre, phytate or oxalate present in food. These make the calcum insoluble and unable to be absorbed by the body. Vegans need to consider calcium from almonds, sesame seeds, pulses, tempeh and vegan cheese made from soya flour.

Vegans need to ensure they take vitamin B12 either as a supplement, in fortified foods such as yeast extract, fortified soya milk or fortified breakfast cereal.

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Dietary requirements

Zinc is found in a variety of plant and animal sources such as meat, poultry, dairy products, bread and other cereal products. Care needs to be taken with bread and cereal products as many of these foods are also high in phytate, which is an inhibitor of zinc absorption.

Female vegetarians need to take care that they consume sufficient quantities of iron. Haem iron is easily sourced from red meat and offal. Non- haem iron is obtained from eggs, cereal foods, green veg, nuts and pulses.

Vit D is found naturally in only a few foods, all of animal origin- meat, fish, milk, eggs. Breakfast cereals, yoghurts and all margarines are fortified with vit D and can be consumed by vegans and vegetarians.

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