Legume-based foods are sources of protein for those on a vegetarian diet.

Types of Vegetarian Diets

A vegetarian diet usually refers to the exclusion of animal meat, and in some cases, eggs and dairy products as well. The main types of vegetarian diets are:

  • Semi-vegetarian diet. This is not strictly vegetarian, certain types of meat are excluded (usually red), but fish and sometimes chicken is acceptable.
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. This excludes all animal meat but includes dairy products and eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarian diet. This excludes all animal meat and eggs but includes dairy products.
  • Vegan diet. This excludes all animal meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Vegetarian Diet

Well-designed vegetarian diets can be healthier as they are lower in saturated fat, cholesterol and higher in complex carbohydrates and fibre than the usual diet. As a result, the vegetarian population usually shows lower rates of coronary heart diseases. However, in order to maintain adequate nutrition and avoid nutritional deficiencies, vegetarians, especially vegans, should select their diets carefully. Poorly planned vegetarian diets can lead to iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies, as well as insufficient calories and protein.

How to Get Enough Protein as a Vegetarian

Compared to animal protein, plant protein is less easily utilised by the body as it does not contain all the essential amino acids that would make it usable.

To overcome this problem, choose two or more plant groups at each meal. By combining them, you would be able to get all the amino acids that you would need.

For example:

  • Use brown rice and beancurd to combine grains and legumes (beans)
  • Use peanut butter and wholegrain bread to combine nuts and grains

How to Ensure Adequate Nutrient Intake

All vegetarians should include a wide variety of plant foods in their diets and meal plans. Reliance on one plant food source can create a great nutrient deficiency risk. Most vitamins and minerals are sufficient when the diet consists of:

  • Wholegrain Products such as wholewheat bread, brown rice and some cereals are good sources of carbohydrate, thiamine, vitamins and minerals.
  • Legume-based foods such as dried beans, peas and lentils are rich in protein, vitamins, iron and calcium. Soya products may also be a good substitute.
  • Nuts and Seeds contribute essential fatty acids, protein, B vitamins, iron and calcium.
  • Fruits and Vegetables especially dark green leafy vegetables, help supply adequate vitamin C, iron, calcium and riboflavin which may be lacking in eggs and dairy products. Fruits, especially citrus ones, are good sources of vitamin C which can enhance the absorption of iron from plant source when eaten together.

Vitamin B12 for Vegetarians

Vitamin B12 is important for the production of red blood cells and a deficiency can result in anaemia.

Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as liver, meat, fish and poultry. Plant foods do not have this vitamin, but eggs and milk are good sources and should be included in the diet if appropriate. A vegan should consume fortified products or take vitamin B12 supplements to prevent risk of Vit B12 deficiency.

Here are some ways to achieve a balanced diet: ​​

  • Include a wide variety of foods and ensure that your energy intake is adequate.
  • For more energy, add energy-rich foods such as nuts and seeds. You can also include servings of wholegrain products and cereals, legumes such as black beans, fruit and vegetables for more energy.
  • Dark green vegetables such as spinach and dried fruits like apricots and raisins are good sources of iron. Include at least one to two servings of dark green leafy vegetables daily.
  • To enhance iron absorption, try to include a high vitamin C food (a vegetable or fruit / fresh fruit juice) at the same meal.
  • Try to eat fresh raw vegetables more often as they retain more nutrients. But if you prefer them cooked, cook vegetables lightly in as little water as possible to prevent nutrient lost.

Planning An Adequate Vegetarian Diet

When planning your diet, try to include a variety of foods from each of the food groups below for healthy eating (amounts shown = 1 serving):

Dairy Products 
2 servings daily

Grains & Cereals
5 servings daily (wholegrain products preferred)

Milk
Cheese
Yogurt

1 cup
1 slice
1/2 cup

Bread
Rice
Cereal
Noodles
Beehoon

1 cup
1/2 cup
5 tbsp 
1/2 cup
1/2 cup

Legumes, Nuts & Seeds
2 servings daily
4 servings for vegans
(ovo-vegetarians - add 2 eggs)

Vegetables

2 servings of fruits + 4 servings of vegetables (1 serving of dark green variety) daily

Beans
Nuts (any kind)
Seeds (any kind)
Beancurd
Soy Milk (fortified)

7 tbsp
2 tbsp
2 tbsp
2 tbsp 
2 tbsp

Broccoli
Orange
Spinach
Grapefruit
Tomato
Cantaloupe
Carrot
Banana

1/2 cup
1 small
1/2 cup
1/2 small
1 medium
1 medium
1/2 cup
1 small

Download the HealthHub app on Google Play or Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.


Read these next: