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Nutrition Essentials

Nutrition Essentials

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

Vegetarianism is not new. For thousands of years many cultures have lived well on vegetarian/vegan diets. The worldwide trend today is toward vegetarian living, and the advantages of a vegetarian/vegan diet are now widely recognised and known to contribute to improved health.

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/vegan diet closely follows these guidelines, easily supplying all the nutrients we require.

Variety and wholefoods are the key to any nutritionally adequate diet.

Choose a variety of foods, mostly whole foods which have more nutritional value than highly processed options. Variety is the key to any well balanced diet, supplying all the nutrients necessary for good health.

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

Vegetarian Nutrition

For good health, the human body needs:

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

Remember to drink 6-8 glasses of water per day and take regular exercise. Most vitamins and minerals are easily provided by a plant-based diet.  The combination of foods can affect absorption of some nutrients, some of which can be more difficult to absorb in a vegetarian/vegan diet, so try to follow the guidelines below:

  • Non-haem iron absorption from plant sources is less readily absorbed than haem iron from animal sources. Vitamin C helps iron absorption so include a source of vitamin C with meals, such as fresh fruit, veggies or juice. Caffeine inhibits iron absorbtion so avoid tea, coffee and cola at meal times.
  • Avoid high calcium foods with zinc rich meals.
  • Ensure a daily supply of B12.  Reliable vegan sources include Marmite and B12 fortified plant milks.  B12 is best taken in small regular amounts.
  • Vitamin D can be provided by sensible daily sun exposure on skin.

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 silverbeet, spinach and broccoli are especially high in nutrients.
  • Dark yellow and orange vegetables such as carrots, squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkin are high in beta-carotene.
  • Choose whole fruit over fruit juices to get the full benefit.
  • Eat a rainbow – regularly include fruit and vegetables from the green, red, yellow/orange, purple and white groups.

Grains (breads, cereals, rice, etc)

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

Protein (nuts, legumes, meat substitutes)

  • These are good sources of protein, iron, calcium, zinc and B vitamins.
  • There are a huge variety of legumes available, including chickpeas (including hummus), beans, peas, lentils, tofu, tempeh.
  • Nuts and seeds, including peanut butter

Fats

  • Healthy fats include olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil (though it is saturated fat), flax seed oil and nut oils.
  • Omega 3 is a very important fatty acid.  Good plant sources include flaxseed (linseed), walnuts, chia seeds and pumkin seeds.

The Healthy Food Plate

The Food Plate has taken the place of the previously used food pyramid.  It shows the ideal proportions of a well-balanced meal.

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.

Soy 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 plant foods that contain all 22 of the amino acids (ie are a “whole protein”), and they are now recognised world wide as an important protein substitute. Soy beans are also remarkably versatile being made into soy milk, textured vegetable protein (TVP), tofu, soy flour and tempeh. Tofu is bland and easily takes on the flavour of a dish. Some soy milks and tofu products are also fortified with B12 and calcium (check the labels).

Nutrition – Overview (PDF)