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Nutrition Essentials

Nutrition Essentials

A balanced vegetarian/vegan diet can supply all the nutrients needed for good health.

Vegetarian eating is not new. For thousands of years many cultures have lived on vegetarian diets. The worldwide trend today is toward vegetarian living, and the advantages of a vegetarian diet are more widely recognised and contribute to improved health in many instances.

The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation recommends that the largest proportion of our diet should consist of fruits, vegetables and grains. A moderate amount of protein foods should be eaten, and oils and sugars form only a small part of our diet. A well balanced vegetarian diet closely follows these guidelines, easily supplying all the nutrients we require.

Variety is the key to any nutritionally adequate diet.

You should choose a variety of foods. Variety is the key to a well balanced vegetarian diet – supplying all the nutrients necessary for good health and quality living.

Membership to the NZ Vegetarian Society entitles you to access to free comprehensive nutrition information, both in your introduction pack and for ongoing tips and advice.

Vegetarian Nutrition

For healthy growth and activity the human body needs:

Carbohydrates — Protein — Fats — Vitamins — Minerals — Fibre — Water

The key to good nutrition is to have balance and variety in your diet. Don’t forget that everybody should drink 6-8 glasses of water per day and take regular exercise. Most vitamins and minerals are easily provided by a plant-based diet. You can increase the absorption by:

  • Iron absorption from plant sources is less readily absorbed than haem iron from animal sources. Iron absorption is enhanced by vitamin C, so include a source of vitamin C with meals. Caffeine inhibits iron absorbtion so avoid tea, coffee and cola at meal times.
  • Zinc absorption is improved by the fermentation used to make bread or tempeh, but variety also helps.

Eat a variety of foods from the four major food groups every day.

Vegetables & Fruit (5 +servings per day)

  • Packed with nutrients, fruit and vegetables provide vitamin C, beta-carotene, riboflavin, iron, calcium, fibre and more.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as silver beet, spinach, broccoli are especially high in nutrients.
  • Dark yellow and orange vegetables such as carrots, squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkin are extra high in beta-carotene.
  • Choose whole fruit over fruit juices to get the full benefit.

Grains (Breads, cereals, rice, etc)

  • Includes bread, rice, pasta, hot or cold cereal, corn, millet, barley, cracked wheat and tacos.
  • Wholegrains are rich in fibre and energy, as well as protein, B vitamins and zinc.

Protein (nuts, legumes, meat substitutes)

  • Includes chickpeas, beans, peas, lentils, tofu, tempeh.
  • Good sources of protein, iron, calcium, zinc and B vitamins.


  • Healthy fats include,olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil (though it is saturated fat), flax seed oil (high in omega 3) and nut oils.

The Healthy Food Pyramid

The large base of the healthy food pyramid shows that a major proportion of our daily diet should include whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These foods are the base of a healthy diet. Other foods are somewhat like trimmings, to be eaten in moderation.

Eat less: sugar, butter, margarine, oil, salt.

Eat moderately: legumes, nuts, seeds, plant milks & yoghurts.

Eat most: vegetables, fruit, grains, bread.

A word about soy foods

Evidence has been mounting that soy foods may have a role in preventing heart disease and cancer, and significantly reduce blood cholesterol levels. Over 25 clinical studies have demonstrated that by replacing animal protein with soy protein, or even adding soy protein to your diet, you can significantly lower the level of cholesterol in your blood.

Soya beans are very high in protein, are rich in lecithin, vitamins B and E, iron, trace elements and minerals, are also one of the few foods that contain all 22 of the health giving amino acids, and they are now recognised world wide as an important protein substitute. Soya beans are also remarkably versatile being made into soy milk, textured vegetable protein (TVP), bean curd or tofu, soya flour, and tempeh. Tofu is bland, so it takes on the flavour of the dish e.g. soy sauce or tomato etc. Some soy milks and tofu products are also fortified with B12 and calcium (check the labels).

Nutrition – Overview (PDF)