Food Sources of 5 Important Nutrients for Vegetarians

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
vegetable salad - Food Sources of 5 Important Nutrients for Vegetarians

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No matter which vegetarian eating style you follow, it is important to choose a variety of foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. This can help you make sure you are meeting your nutritional needs each day. Tweet this

Calcium

Vegetarians should consume a variety of calcium sources in order to meet daily requirements.

Dairy products are a rich source of calcium. If your diet does not include dairy products, calcium can be obtained from plant-based foods, but the amount of calcium that the body can absorb from these foods varies. Here is a list of vegetarian-friendly sources of calcium:

  • Low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Fortified plant-based milks such as soy or almond
  • Fortified ready-to-eat cereals
  • Calcium-fortified juice
  • Calcium-set tofu
  • Some leafy green vegetables including collard greens, turnip greens and kale
  • Broccoli
  • Beans including soybeans, chickpeas and black beans
  • Almonds and almond butter

Iron

Vegetarians should consume a variety of iron sources to meet daily requirements. Consuming a source of vitamin C (like citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes) at each meal helps increase iron absorption.

Sources of iron include:

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Soybeans
  • Some dark leafy greens including spinach and chard
  • Beans
  • Eggs

Protein

Protein is found in plant foods as well as animal foods. Your body will make its own complete protein if a variety of foods and enough calories are eaten during the day.

Vegetarian sources of protein include:

  • Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils
  • Whole grains
  • Soy products
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

Vitamin B12

B12 is found in all foods of animal origin, including eggs and dairy products. An adequate intake of vitamin B12 can be a concern for many vegetarians, especially vegans. For those that follow any vegetarian style of eating, choose foods fortified with vitamin B12 and talk with your healthcare provider about if a vitamin B12 (cobalamin) supplement is right for you.

Vegetarian sources of B12 include:

  • Vitamin B12-fortified foods including fortified nutritional yeast, soy milk, meat substitutes and ready-to-eat cereals (be sure to check the label as not all products on the market are fortified with vitamin B12).
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

Vitamin D

Few foods are naturally high in vitamin D, but many dairy products are fortified with vitamin D in the United States. People who choose not to eat dairy products and who do not receive exposure to sunlight on a regular basis should discuss the need to take a vitamin D supplement with their health care provider.

Vegetarian sources of vitamin D include:

  • Eggs
  • Vitamin D-fortified soy milk, cow's milk, orange juice and ready-to-eat cereals
  • Mushrooms exposed to UV light

Information provided by Vegetarian Nutrition, a dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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