What you need to know about a healthy vegetarian eating plan


A well-planned vegetarian eating plan can be healthy and delicious! From hearty lentil soup to savoury veggie burgers, there are many exciting food choices. The key to being a healthy vegetarian is making sure you get all the nutrients you need. If you are vegetarian or would like to become vegetarian, read on to find out about putting together a healthy eating plan for you.


Exciting meal options 

There are different types of vegetarian eating plans. One of the most common is the lacto-ovo vegetarian plan. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry and fish, but do eat milk products and eggs. A lacto-ovo eating plan includes:

Vegetarians who also eat fish and seafood are called pescetarians or pesco-vegetarians.

A vegetarian eating plan can work for everyone

People at any age or stage – from babies to older adults – can follow a vegetarian eating plan. The important thing is to make sure you get all the nutrients you need for good health; and if your child is vegetarian, to make sure they get the nutrients they need to grow and develop well.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, make sure to include sources of vitamin B12, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Speak to your doctor, dietitian or healthcare provider about a prenatal supplement.

If you’re over the age of 50, you will need a little more calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. You may also want to talk to your doctor, dietitian or healthcare provider about supplements.

Not matter your age, make sure to follow Canada’s Food Guide and speak to your doctor, child’s paediatrician, healthcare provider or Registered Dietitian about a vegetarian eating plan that will work for you. You can also call or email a Registered Dietitian at EatRight Ontario who can help you get started with information about vegetarian food sources and meal planning.

A well-planned vegetarian eating pattern is a healthy choice

There are many health benefits to vegetarian diets. A well-planned, healthy vegetarian eating plan will be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and higher in fibre and vitamins such as vitamins C and E.

Studies have also shown that a well-planned vegetarian eating plan can help protect against:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Some cancers and
  • High cholesterol.

Plan well

A vegetarian eating plan can provide all the nutrients you need but this does require some planning.   Being a vegetarian does not guarantee good health. If you eat mostly breads, fried foods, cheese, white pasta and sweets and very little vegetables and protein, you may be missing important nutrients. And with any eating plan, sweet, fatty or salty foods, such as chips and baked goods, should be limited.

The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is choosing a wide variety of foods from Canada’s Food Guide. Here is an example of what a well-planned day can look like:



Foods you may choose


Oatmeal, skim milk, banana, walnuts


Vegetables, hummus (chickpea spread)


Tofu and vegetable stir-fry, quinoa, apple, water


Low-fat yogurt, fruit


Black bean burrito, salad, water


Dried fruit, unsalted almonds, skim milk

Before starting a vegetarian eating plan make sure to speak to your doctor, healthcare provider or Registered Dietitian. You can also call or email an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian who can provide you with information and handouts on the nutrients you need for good health.

Meet all nutrient needs

Here are the nutrients you will need to pay special attention to if you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian:


Protein helps keep your red blood cells and muscles working well. Vegetarian sources of protein include milk products, legumes (beans, lentils, peas), soy, nuts, seeds, eggs and whole grains such as quinoa and buckwheat.


Zinc helps in wound healing and boosts the immune system. You can get zinc from legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.


Iron helps carry oxygen around the body. Vegetarians need about twice as much iron as non-vegetarians. This is because we don’t absorb the iron from plant foods as well as the iron in meat sources. Iron is found in:

  • Legumes
  • Fortified pasta and cereals
  • Prunes, raisins and apricots
  • Quinoa
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Dark green vegetables

Omega-3 fats:

The omega-3 fats promote heart health in adults and brain and eye development in infants. They are mostly found in fish and seafood. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fats are fortified soy beverages and orange juice, omega-3 eggs, tofu, canola oil, soybean oil, flax seed and walnuts.

If you would like a handout on food sources of these nutrients, call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.

Bottom line:

Well-planned vegetarian diets can be healthy for people of all ages and can provide you with all the nutrients you need for good health. But planning is key!

An EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian can help. Call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email to learn about the nutrients you need, healthy food choices, menu planning and to receive handouts. You can also try the My Menu Planner Vegetarian Eating Plan to help you get started.  

You may also be interested in:

Four steps to a balanced vegan eating pattern

What you need to know about following a vegan eating plan

What you need to know to raise a healthy vegetarian child


Last Update – June 1, 2015

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.