Vegetarians don't eat any food products made from meat, fish, shellfish, crustacea (such as prawns or crab) or animal by-products (such as gelatine or rennet).

Vegans don't eat any food products that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs.

What vegetarians and vegans eat

A vegetarian and vegan diet consists of:

  • grains, beans and pulses
  • carbohydrates - such as pasta, rice and potatoes
  • nuts and seeds
  • fruit and vegetables

Most vegetarians also eat:

  • dairy products - such as milk and cheese
  • eggs

Vegetarians and vegan diets can be healthy and balanced but you need to ensure you are following the Eatwell Guide in order to get the essential nutrients you need. You can do this by:

  • making sure you're having at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
  • basing meals around potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates - choosing wholegrain varieties where possible
  • including some lower fat and lower sugar dairy alternatives in your diet if you don't eat dairy products
  • eating beans, pulses and other proteins
  • choosing unsaturated oils and spreads in small amounts
  • drinking 6 to 8 glasses of fluid per day to stay hydrated

Who can eat a vegetarian or vegan diet?

A vegetarian or vegan diet can be suitable for everyone. However, you might need to consider specific needs at different life stages – for example, children or if you're pregnant.

Babies and children

If you've decided to raise your child on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you need to ensure they eat a wide variety of foods to give them the energy and vitamins they need to grow.

More about vegetarian and vegan diets for children

During pregnancy

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet during your pregnancy and when breastfeeding, you need to ensure you get enough vitamins and minerals for your child to develop healthily.

More about healthy eating during pregnancy


Calcium has several important functions, including:

  • helping build strong bones and teeth
  • regulating muscle contractions, including heartbeat
  • ensuring blood clots normally

Sources of calcium

Good sources of calcium for vegetarians and vegans include:

  • fortified, unsweetened milk alternatives - such as soya, rice and oat drinks
  • sesame seeds
  • pulses
  • brown and white bread
  • dried fruits - such as raisins, prunes and figs

Vegetarians (but not vegans) can also get calcium from milk, cheese and other dairy foods.

More about calcium


Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body.

A vegetarian or vegan diet can be high in iron, however, your body absorbs iron less well from plant-based foods than from meat.

Sources of iron

Good sources of iron for vegetarians and vegans include:

  • pulses
  • wholegrains
  • breakfast cereals fortified with iron
  • dark-green leafy vegetables - such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens
  • nuts
  • dried fruits - such as raisins, prunes and figs

Vegetarians (but not vegans) can also get iron from eggs.

You need to include foods rich in vitamin C - such as oranges, leafy vegetables, peppers and berries - to help your body absorb the iron in your meals.

More about iron

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids can help maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in oily fish, but can also be found in nuts and seeds.

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids for vegetarians and vegans include:

  • nuts and seeds - such as walnuts and pumpkin seeds
  • vegetable oils - such as rapeseed and linseed oil
  • soya products - such as unsweetened soya milk and tofu
  • green leafy vegetables

Vegetarians (but not vegans) can also get omega-3 fatty acids from eggs enriched with omega-3.


Protein is used by your body to build and repair bone, cartilage and tissue and to make enzymes, hormones and other chemicals your body needs.

Your body needs a variety of protein from different sources to get the right mixture of amino acids (used to build and repair the body's cells).

Sources of protein

Good sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans include:

  • pulses and beans
  • cereals - such as wheat, oats and rice
  • soya products - such as tofu, unsweetened soya drinks and textured soya protein (soya mince)
  • nuts and seeds

Vegetarians (but not vegans) can also get protein from:

  • eggs
  • lower-fat dairy products - such as milk, cheese and yoghurt

More about protein

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in your body. These substances are needed to keep your bones and teeth healthy.

Sources of vitamin D

Most of our vitamin D comes from sunlight on our skin. The best source is summer sunlight during late March/April to the end of September.

Vitamin D is also found in a small number of fortified foods that are suitable for vegetarians and vegans, including:

  • breakfast cereals
  • unsweetened soya drinks
  • soya based yoghurts and spreads

Vegetarians (but not vegans) can also get vitamin D from milk, cheese and other dairy foods.

Vitamin D supplements

Since vitamin D is found in only a small number of foods, it might be difficult to get enough from foods alone. Therefore, everyone, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.

Before doing so, read the label to ensure the vitamin D used in a product is not of animal origin.

More about vitamin D

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is used by your body to make red blood cells and keep your nervous system healthy. It also helps to release energy from the food you eat.

Sources of vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products. If you regularly eat eggs or dairy products, you probably get enough. However, if you only eat a small amount or avoid all animal products, it’s important to have a reliable source of vitamin B12 in your diet.

Vitamin B12 is also found in a small number of fortified foods that are suitable for vegetarian and vegan, including:

  • breakfast cereals
  • yeast extract
  • unsweetened soya-based drinks, yoghurts and spreads

Vitamin B12 supplements

As natural sources of vitamin B12 are limited for vegans, a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.

Adults need approximately 1.5 micrograms a day of vitamin B12.

More about the B vitamins

Last updated:
30 April 2020

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