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Vegetarian and vegan diets

In the last 10 years the number of vegetarians and vegans living in the UK has doubled, bringing the number up to 3 million.

Different types of vegetarian

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians follow the standard vegetarian diet, which avoids all meat, poultry and fish, as well as meat-derived products such as gelatine, but includes dairy products and eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but avoid eggs, meat, fish, poultry and meat-derived products.
  • Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but avoid dairy products, all meat, fish, poultry and meat-derived products.
  • Vegans do not include eggs, dairy, honey, meat, fish, poultry, meat-derived products or any other animal products in their diet.

Healthy eating

Following a healthy, balanced diet, which includes carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals – plus taking regular exercise – will help you to maintain good health.

Your average day’s diet should include the following food groups:

  • Fruit and vegetables – aim to eat at least five portions a day, where one portion weighs approximately 80g. Try to choose a wide variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables, which will provide a balance of different nutrients.
  • Bread, cereal and potatoes – all provide carbohydrate for sustained energy, as well as B vitamins and fibre. One third of your food intake should be made up of these foods. Aim to eat at least one food from this group at each meal.
  • Dairy products or alternatives – for protein and calcium. At least three portions should be eaten each day, where one portion is a 200ml glass of milk, a 150g pot of yogurt or a 30g piece of cheese. Vegan alternatives include rice milk, dried figs, nuts, green vegetables and soya products, such as tofu.
  • Meat, fish and egg alternatives – for protein, B vitamins and essential fats. Alternatives include mycoprotein, such as Quorn™, tofu, nuts, beans and lentils. You should aim for two portions each day.
  • Fatty and sugary foods, such as cakes and confectionery, should be limited to an occasional treat.

A vegetarian or vegan diet can be healthy and balanced if planned well. However, as some food groups are completely excluded, alternatives may be needed. Special attention should be paid to essential amino acids, Omega 3 fats, calcium and iron, when following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

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Essential amino acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which is needed for the body to grow and to repair itself. There are 20 amino acids in total, nine of which are essential, which means they must be obtained from food as they cannot be made in the body.

Animal products contain all of the nine essential amino acids, whereas plant products are deficient in some. For lacto-ovo vegetarians the essential amino acids can be obtained from dairy products and eggs. Vegan, lacto-vegetarian and ovo-vegetarian sources include, lentils, beans, soya, nuts, seeds and grains, such as wheat, barley, oats, rice and quinoa. In order to gain all the essential amino acids from plant products you should eat a variety of foods which have proteins from plants, for example:

  • Beans on toast
  • Vegetable and chickpea couscous
  • Rice with peas or sweet corn

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Omega 3 fats

Fats in general are required for the efficient functioning of the nervous system and the essential fatty acids (EFA 's) are particularly important for this function. Omega 3 fats are EFAs and the primary source of these is oily fish. Vegetarians and vegans can obtain EFAs from linseed oil, rapeseed oil and soya oil. Other sources include walnuts, green leafy vegetables, wholegrain cereals, pumpkin seeds and vegetarian supplements derived from algae. The body cannot use omega 3 derived from plants as efficiently as that obtained from fish sources. Therefore to meet your body’s needs these foods should be included daily in your diet.


Calcium is essential for bone health and the richest source is dairy products. Suitable alternatives for vegans and ovo-vegetarians include soya products, dried figs, leafy green vegetables, nuts (especially almonds), seeds and seed pastes such as tahini, and edible seaweed.

Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium but it is not found in food derived from plants. The majority of vitamin D is made in the body through the action of sunlight on the skin. Foods containing vitamin D, which are suitable for vegetarians, include eggs, as well as fortified breakfast cereals, most of which are also suitable for vegans and ovo-vegetarians.


Iron is vital for the maintenance of healthy red blood cells and the richest source is red meat. Vegetarian sources include eggs (not suitable for vegans or lacto-vegetarians), leafy green vegetables, wholemeal bread, molasses, dried fruit (especially apricots), lentils, pulses and fortified breakfast cereals. Iron from vegetable sources is not as easily absorbed as that from animal sources. However, if eaten with food that is rich in vitamin C, it will enhance your body’s absorption of iron. So, for example, drink fruit juice with breakfast cereal, or squeeze fresh lemon juice over leafy green vegetables and salads.

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The vegan and vegetarian family


Children need more calories per kilogram of body weight than adults so it is very important that they receive enough energy-rich food, to ensure they grow properly.

According to advisors to the Department of Health: ‘A vegetarian diet is suitable for all children and can provide all the nutrients needed for normal growth and development’.

Nutrition experts have also stated: ‘Children raised on vegan diets display growth and development within acceptable limits though they are more likely to be lighter and leaner’.

High energy foods, such as cereal bars and nut butters, are a very useful vegetarian and vegan source of fat, calories and protein for children. They can help them gain the nutrients they need for efficient growth. Vegetarian and vegan diets are generally higher in fibre, which is a healthy aspect of a diet. However, too much fibre will provide a lot of bulk, which can fill young children up, reducing their overall appetite so that they don’t eat enough food to meet their energy requirements. Useful sources of lower fibre, carbohydrate-rich foods include rice, pasta, bananas and potatoes.

Calcium is particularly important for children to ensure proper bone development. Vegetarian children under the age of five should be given whole milk products to ensure they get enough fat, energy and calcium. For children following a vegan diet, providing calcium is a little more difficult due to the exclusion of dairy products. However, there are alternatives, such as calcium-fortified soya milk, which is equally high in calcium as dairy milk. Most dairy products are also high in energy-giving fats and children who do not have them in their diet need to be given other energy-rich foods to compensate.


Teenagers have greater energy requirements than adults because they are still growing and are generally more active. At this age it is vital for them to obtain the right amount of calcium as the majority of bone mass is laid down at this time. Iron is essential for both boys and girls but requirements for girls increase at the time menstruation begins.

Three portions of calcium-rich food should be eaten by teenagers every day. Food containing iron should also be eaten daily with food rich in vitamin C, to aid its absorption.

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How can Waitrose help?

At Waitrose, we try to offer as wide a choice of food as possible for everyone and are trying to broaden our range of vegetarian and vegan products. We currently have a vegetarian range of snack foods including dips and pâtés, all of which are clearly identified as vegetarian on the label. Where any other foods are not obviously vegetarian they are labelled with a vegetarian logo.

For more information

The Waitrose Nutrition Advice Service offers guidance on diet and healthy eating. It can supply a list of all our own-label foods that are suitable for vegetarians or vegans. Please request a list in branch or contact us:

Nutrition Advice Service

Waitrose Limited
Doncastle Road
RG12 8YA
Tel: 0800 188884

The Vegetarian Society (This link will open a new window)

The Vegan Society (This link will open a new window)

Committee of Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) 1994b
O'Connell 1998; Sanders 1992

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