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Read our answers to common questions about staying healthy on a vegetarian or vegan diet, from looking after your bones to healthy eating in pregnancy.
What is a vegetarian?At what age is it safe to become a vegetarian or vegan?
Can babies and children have a vegan diet?
Is it safe to be a vegetarian or vegan during pregnancy?
What are the health benefits of a vegetarian diet?Do vegetarians and vegans need vitamin supplements?
How can I get enough iron?
How can I get enough calcium?How can I get enough vitamin B12?What are good vegetarian and vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids?
What are good sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans?Are Quorn products suitable for vegans?
Do I need a special diet if I exercise?
Is it healthier to eat organic fruit and vegetables?
Vegetarians and vegans don't eat any red meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea (such as crab or lobster), or animal by-products (such as gelatine).
Vegetarians eat a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables, dairy products and eggs. Vegetarians who also don't eat eggs and dairy products are called vegans.
As long as they get all the nutrients they need, children can be brought up healthily on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
If you're bringing up your child on a diet without meat or fish (vegetarian) or without any food from animals (vegan), they will need to have a good source of protein. Good sources include eggs, dairy products such as milk and cheese, soya products, pulses and beans, nuts and seeds. Don't give whole nuts to children under five, as they could choke. They can be used if finely ground. Alternatively, you can use a smooth nut butter.
Babies from birth to one year of age who are being breastfed should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D, to make sure they get enough.
Babies who are fed infant formula should not be given a vitamin D supplement until they are receiving less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, because infant formula is fortified with vitamin D.
Vitamin supplements containing vitamins A and C are recommended for infants aged six months to five years old, unless they are getting more than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day.
Vitamin drops are especially important for vegetarian and vegan children between six months and five years old. They may also need a vitamin B12 supplement. If your child is older than this, speak to your doctor or a dietitian to see whether vitamin supplements should be included in their diet.
Read more about vegetarian and vegan diets for children .
If you're breastfeeding and on a vegan diet, you may need extra vitamin B12.
Take care when feeding children a vegan diet. Young children need a good variety of foods to provide the energy and vitamins they need for growth.
A vegan diet can be bulky and high in fibre. This can mean that children get full up before they've eaten enough calories and nutrients. Because of this, they may need extra supplements. Ask a dietitian or doctor for advice before you start introducing your child to solids.
Read more about vegetarian and vegan diets for children.
A varied and balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can provide enough nutrients for you and your baby during pregnancy. However, you might find it hard to get enough iron, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Talk to your doctor or midwife about how to get enough of these important nutrients. All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D, particularly during the winter months (October until the end of March). It is also recommended that women should take a folic acid supplement while they are trying to conceive and should continue taking it for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. For information, see Vitamins and nutrition in pregnancy .
Read more about having a healthy diet during pregnancy.
A vegetarian diet can be very healthy, but your diet won't automatically be healthier if you cut out meat. Like everyone, vegetarians need to make sure they:
If you're having foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar, have these less often and in small amounts.
With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegetarian and vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs to be healthy without the need for supplements.
However, if your diet is not planned properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients. Vegetarians need to make sure they get enough iron and vitamin B12, and vegans enough calcium, iron and vitamin B12. Women are thought to be at particular risk of iron deficiency, including those on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
There are some groups of the population who are advised to take vitamin supplements, regardless of whether they follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. For more information, see:
Although meat is the best source of iron, other good sources of iron include:
The amount of iron that adults need is about 8.7mg a day for men and about 14.8mg a day for women. As long as you remember to regularly include the above foods in your diet, you should be getting enough iron.
Calcium helps to maintain strong bones. Non-vegans get most of their calcium from dairy foods, so it's important for vegans to get calcium from other foods.
Good sources of calcium for vegans are:
Adults need about 700mg of calcium a day, so it's important that vegans regularly include plenty of these foods in their diet.
The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Fortified margarine and fat spreads, fortified breakfast cereals and egg yolks contain vitamin D. The body also makes its own vitamin D when exposed to sunshine. Bones get stronger when you use them and the best way to do this is through regular exercise.
Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in foods from animal sources, so sources for vegans are limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed. If you eat dairy products and eggs, you probably get enough.
Vegan sources of vitamin B12 include:
Adults need about 1.5 micrograms of vitamin B12 a day. Check the labels of fortified foods to see how much vitamin B12 they contain.
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids suitable for vegetarians and vegans include:
Omega-3 enriched eggs are also a good source if you are a vegetarian and include eggs in your diet.
Evidence suggests that the type of omega-3 fatty acids found in these foods may not have the same benefits for reducing the risk of heart disease as those found in oily fish.
However, if you follow a vegetarian diet, you can look after your heart by eating at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, cutting down on food that is high in saturated fat, and watching how much salt you eat.
Most vegetarians have enough protein in their diet. Good sources of protein for vegetarians include:
A variety of protein from different sources is necessary to get the right mixture of amino acids, which are used to build and repair the body's cells.
Not always. Since most Quorn products contain a small amount of egg white and most also contain milk ingredients, they are not all suitable for vegans.
However, some vegan products are available in the Quorn range. Their suitability for vegans is clearly marked on the packaging.
You don't need a special diet for exercising if you're a vegetarian or vegan. The advice for vegetarians who exercise is the same as the advice for non-vegetarians who exercise regularly.
Most vegetarians have enough protein in their diet for the body to grow and repair itself. If you exercise regularly, make sure you eat plenty of complex carbohydrates such as rice and pasta for energy, and drink enough fluids when exercising harder.
Read about food for sport and exercise.
Vitamin and mineral levels in food vary, depending on the soil the plants were grown in, when they were picked and how they were stored. There's no scientific evidence that organic food is healthier. Eating organic is a personal choice and many people eat organic for environmental reasons. It's important to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, whether they're organic or not.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.