No matter which category of vegetarian you fall into, it is important to choose a variety of foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. Using the MyPlate tips for vegetarians can help you make sure you are meeting your nutritional needs each day.
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
- Beans including soybeans, chickpeas and black beans
- Almonds and almond butter
Vegetarians should consume a variety of iron sources to meet daily requirements. Consuming a good source of vitamin C (citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes) at each meal increases iron absorption.
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Some dark leafy greens including spinach and chard
Protein is found in most 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
B12 is found in all foods of animal origin, including eggs and dairy products. An adequate intake of vitamin B12 generally is not a concern for vegetarians who eat some dairy products or eggs. Vegans, however, need to supplement their diet by choosing foods fortified with vitamin B12 or by taking a vitamin B12 (cobalamin) supplement.
Vegetarian sources of B12 include:
- Vitamin B12-fortified foods including nutritional yeast, soy milk, meat analogs and ready-to-eat cereals (be sure to check the label).
- Dairy products
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:
- Vitamin D-fortified soy milk, cow's milk, orange juice and ready-to-eat cereals
Information provided by Vegetarian Nutrition, a dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.