A balanced diet for vegetarians

If you’re a vegetarian, or are tempted to cut back on the meat, make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need with our guide for a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet…

A balanced diet for vegetarians

Vegetarians enjoy a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit with some also choosing to include dairy products and eggs. Studies suggest that a plant-based diet like this can be a healthier way to eat with fewer reported cases of obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes.  Typically, a varied vegetarian diet contains less saturated fat and more folate, fibre and antioxidants, plus as a vegetarian you’re more likely to exceed the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables.

Reference Intake (RI) (the new term for Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs))

The RIs are benchmarks for the amount of energy (kilocalories), fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugar, protein and salt that an average adult should consume each day. The RIs for fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt are maximum daily amounts. Don’t forget that we are all different with varying needs for energy and nutrients so this information is for guidance only:

Reference Intake (RI)

Energy (kcal) 2000
Protein (g) 50
Carbohydrates (g) 260
Sugar (g) 90
Fat (g) 70
Saturates (g) 20
Fibre (g) 24
Salt (g) 6

Perfect Portionsportions

Numbers and figures are all very well but how does this relate to you? Personalise your portions with our handy guide to finding the right serving size:


Foods Portion size
Carbs like cereal/rice/pasta/potato Your clenched fist
Proteins like meat/poultry/fish Palm of your hand
Savouries like popcorn/crisps 2 of your cupped hands
Bakes like brownies/flapjacks 2 of your fingers
Butter & spreads The tip of your thumb


BreakfastGet up and go breakfast muffins

A protein-based breakfast makes for an ideal choice because it’s a filling and sustaining way to start the day and needn’t take any longer to prepare than toast or cereal. For example, while your bread is toasting scramble some eggs for a nutritious toast topper and on days when you have a little more time, enjoy our version of a vegetarian kedgeree.

Eggs provide a good balance of quality protein combined with fat, plus the yolks are a useful source of vitamin D, which we need for strong bones and teeth. Protein slows stomach emptying, which means you stay fuller for longer so you’ll eat fewer calories during the rest of the day. If you do prefer your breakfast in a bowl, pack your porridge or cereal with a selection of nuts and seeds and finish with a generous dollop of natural yogurt.

Many people think vegetarians are at risk of being low in the mineral iron but there are plenty of plant foods that are good sources, including breakfast cereals, muesli, wholemeal bread as well as pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Enjoy any one of these with a small glass of vitamin C-rich fruit juice to optimise your body’s iron uptake. For those who avoid dairy, like milk and yogurt, choose an alternative that is fortified with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.

Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast as this sets your blood sugar off on a roller coaster, which means you’ll end up choosing the wrong foods later in the day. Remember breakfast makes an important contribution towards your daily intake and plays a key role in maintaining a healthy weight.

Breakfast suggestions
Vegan tomato & mushroom pancakes
Tofu brekkie pancakes
Seven-cup museli
Scrambled omelette toast topper
Spicy tofu kedgeree
Veggie breakfast bakes
Get up and go breakfast muffins
Apple & linseed porridge
Cinnamon buckwheat pancakes with cherries
Creamy yogurt porridge with apricot, ginger & grapefruit topping
Bulghar & spinach fritters with eggs & tomato chutney
Fruit & nut yogurt

Mid-morning snackAlmond butter

Make every snack count with nourishing options that supply both the ‘pick-me-up’ you need while topping up your portions of fruit and veg, or deliver key nutrients like iron or vitamin D. Swap your morning biscuits for toast topped with slices of banana, bake a batch of fruit-packed muffins or blend up a fruit smoothie.

Snack suggestions
Peanut butter & banana on toast
Malted walnut seed loaf
Almond butter
Crunchy baked eggs
Super berry smoothie
Exercise shake
Melon & crunchy bran pots
Nutty blueberry muffins


LunchHoumous & avocado sandwich topper

At lunch, aim for a mix of protein from beans, peas, nuts, grains or dairy products, combined with starchy carbs. You need carb-rich foods because without them you’re likely to suffer that classic mid-afternoon slump. The key is to choose carbs that produce a steady rise in blood sugar, which means passing on the sugary ‘black’ foods and going for high fibre whole grains that help you manage those afternoon munchies.

We need some fats in our diet, but it’s important we don’t eat too much and the focus should be on the right type of fat. Fat is not only a source of energy it helps us absorb fat-soluble vitamins including vitamins A, D, E and K. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat but keep in mind that full-fat dairy, as well as some plant foods like coconut and palm oils, are high in these saturates. Heart-friendly mono-unsaturated fats are found in plant foods like avocado, olive and rapeseed oils, whilst nuts and seeds supply the heart-friendly poly-unsaturates, including the omega-3 variety. It’s these unsaturated fats that we should be eating more of, so include a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or two tablespoons of oil, or the equivalent of unsalted nuts, daily.

Mid-afternoon snackSweet potato & pea puffs

For many it’s not sugar so much as salty, savoury foods they crave in the afternoon. If this sounds like you forget the crisps and opt instead for a spiced seed mix, savoury popcorn or enjoy low-fat cream cheese on crackers or a crunchy colourful salad.

Snack suggestions
Pear, blue cheese & walnut sandwich topper
Spicy seed mix
Spiced chilli popcorn
Broad bean bruschetta
Sweet potato & pea puffs
Crispy cheese & guacamole tortillas
Dagmar’s detox salad
Carrot & houmous roll-ups


DinnerSpaghetti with spinach & walnut pesto

Don’t curfew carbs – they’re low in fat, fibre-rich and help you relax in the evening, plus they’re filling, which means they’ll get you through to breakfast. Combine them with some healthy essential fats, such as the ones you find in nuts, especially walnuts as well as seeds like pumpkin and some protein from tofu, eggs or dairy. During the night your body will use the protein and these healthy fats for regeneration and repair, which is important for maintaining healthy skin and hair.

Dinner suggestions
Spiced veg with lemony bulghar wheat salad
Spaghetti with spinach & walnut pesto
Mushroom, walnut & tomato baked peppers
Fragrant vegetable & cashew biryani
Chinese noodles with tofu & hazelnuts
Spinach & artichoke filo pie
Veggie bolognese
Tofu & asparagus pad Thai
One-pot mushroom & potato curry
Easy veggie biriyaniberries

More from around the webPromoted stories by Outbrain


1. Biryani

What It Is: An aromatic rice dish cooked with several spices, notably saffron, and a protein (typically chicken or mutton) that’s been marinated.
Perfect For: A huge family dinner.
Feels Like: Hearing the neighborhood mosque sound its azan for evening prayers.

2. Momos

  • Momos

What It Is: A variation on the traditional dimsum, native to the North Eastern states that border Nepal (where the dish originated), eaten with a fiery red chutney.
Perfect For: A quick mid-evening snack.
Feels Like: Kicking your shoes off after a long day and settling into your couch for hours of TV.

3. Idli

What It Is: A heavy South Indian breakfast food. A fermented batter of ground rice and lentils, steamed in little circular moulds.
Perfect For: When you’re done sleeping in on a Saturday morning.
Feels Like: Being woken up by the smell of cooking.

4. Gulab jaamun

Gulab jaamun

What Is It: Small balls of dried milk, slow cooked and boiled in a sugar syrup.
Perfect For: When you’ve already had a delicious meal and have just enough room for dessert.
Feels Like: Playing hide-and-go-seek with your cousins at a family reunion way, way past your bedtime.

5. Chole bhature

Chole bhature

What It Is: A spiced, curried chickpea dish served with a fried flour bread.
Perfect For: A late Sunday breakfast.
Feels Like: Seeing your family all dressed in new clothes on a festival day.

6. Nethili varuval

Nethili varuval

What It Is: Anchovies dipped in a paste of turmeric and red chilies and fried, native to the South Indian region Chettinad.
Perfect For: A crispy, spicy appetizer.
Feels Like: Temple bells.

7. Kati roll

What It Is: A traditional street food popular across India (and abroad). A wrap of kebabs, eggs, vegetables, and spices rolled into paratha (a type of flat bread).
Perfect For: When you need a meal on-the-go. Also a great way to use up leftovers.
Feels Like: Standing on a dusty Kolkata street-corner at dusk, watching families go home through rush hour traffic.

8. Rajma

What It Is: Kidney beans in a thick gravy popular across North India.
Perfect For: An accompaniment for rice, particularly delicious when served piping hot in the winter.
Feels Like: Summer holidays at your grandparents’ house.

9. Pani puri

What It Is: A small crisp hollow round bread filled with spiced water, tamarind paste, potato, onion, and chickpeas.
Perfect For: When you’re craving a thousand flavors at once.
Feels Like: Drunkenly challenging your best friend to a contest of who can eat more of these, and then feeling like your mouth is on fire.

10. Jalebi


What It Is: A wheat flour batter deep fried in coil-shapes and soaked in sugar syrup, served hot.
Perfect For: When you want something hot, but also sweet.
Feels Like: People-watching in a crowded bazaar while your mother haggles over sari prices.

11. Tandoori chicken

Tandoori chicken

What It Is: Chicken marinated for hours in a paste of yogurt and spices, and then roasted (traditionally) in a clay oven called a tandoor.
Perfect For: Wowing your dinner guests with minimal effort.
Feels Like: Making a pitstop at a roadside diner three hours into a family roadtrip.

12. Banana chips

What It Is: Thin slices of banana deep fried in savory spices.
Perfect For: Munching on while watching your favorite movie.
Feels Like: The wind flying through your hair as you sail down Kerala’s backwaters in a houseboat.

13. Baingan bharta

Baingan bharta

Sabra Krock / Via nytimes.com

What It Is: Roasted eggplant mashed together with a variety of other vegetables and spices, served with flatbread.
Perfect For: An exciting and fancy vegetarian meal.
Feels Like: Going back for seconds at a family friend’s house.

14. Dosa


What It Is: A crispy, flat bread (similar to a crepe or pancake) made of rice batter, served with a lentil sauce (sambar) and a variety of chutneys.
Perfect For: When you want breakfast to be the highlight of your day.
Feels Like: Recounting last night’s events the morning after a sleepover.

15. Bhelpuri


What It Is: Puffed rice fried with vegetables, in a spicy and tangy tamarind sauce.
Perfect For: When you want a chilled savory snack.
Feels Like: Sitting in the back of a rickshaw at the peak of summer, thankful for the breeze.

16. Vada

What It Is: A South Indian snack staple made of a lentil or flour batter fried into a doughnut shape.
Perfect For: A neutral carb to accompany your craving for chutney and lentils.
Feels Like: A morning raga.

17. Bhindi masala fry

What It Is: Okra stuffed with spices, fried.
Perfect For: A vegetarian dish that’s both exciting and comfort food.
Feels Like: Mom’s cooking.

18. Rogan josh

Rogan josh

What It Is: A lamb curry of Persian origin, now popular in the Kashmir area. In India, rogan josh is often made using goat meat instead of lamb.
Perfect For: When you don’t just want a meal – you want a feast.
Feels Like: Strutting around in your nicest traditional finery and feeling like royalty.

19. Dhokla


What It Is: A snack/breakfast food from the state of Gujurat, made of fermented rice and chickpea batter.
Perfect For: An very, very light yet very, very flavorful snack.
Feels Like: Gossiping with your aunts and cousins for hours.

20. Gaajar halwa

What It Is: An extremely popular dessert, made by cooking grated carrot with milk, sugar, and dried fruits.
Perfect For: A piping hot wintertime dessert.
Feels Like: Wrapping a shawl around yourself and sitting by a heater on a chilly Delhi evening.

21. Pakora


What It Is: A fritter native to the Indian state Uttar Pradesh – one or more basic ingredients (onion, eggplant, potato, cauliflower, and chili peppers are all options) are dipped in gram flour and deep fried.
Perfect For: Rainy days.
Feels Like: Sitting by a window during a monsoon afternoon, bonding with your family over hot chai.

22. Rumali roti

What It Is: The word “rumal” is Hindi for handkerchief, and this bread resembles one; it is large, as thin as cloth, and served folded like a napkin.
Perfect For: When you need bread but want something lighter than naan.
Feels Like: Watching with child-like awe as a chef tosses the dough up in the air and spins it in circles.

23. Papri chaat

Papri chaat

Manuela Zangara / Via manusmenu.com

What It Is: Crispy, fried dough wafers served with boiled potatoes, boiled chick peas, chilis, yogurt, tamarind chutney, and several spices.
Perfect For: A healthy and multi-flavored snack.
Feels Like: Rewatching an old Bollywood movie with your mom, for the eighth time.

24. Kulfi


What It Is: An iced preparation made from thickened milk, almonds and pistachios.
Perfect For: When you’re craving ice-cream but with an Indian touch.
Feels Like: A street fair.

25. Recheado masala fish

Recheado masala fish

What It Is: A spicy paste made of chilies, tamarind, and garlic (amongst other spices) is rubbed onto whole fish which are then fried.
Perfect For: Satisfying your seafood craving and spice craving all at once.
Feels Like: Sitting on a beach in Goa, watching the waves roll in.

26. And, finally, samosas.

And, finally, samosas.

What It Is: A fried or baked triangular snackfood made of a potato stuffing, usually also containing onions and peas, served with a mint chutney.
Perfect For: Literally anytime, anywhere.
Feels Like: Home.


Purple bread!!

Purple bread

This can be filed under the “Amazing new superfoodpurple-bread” category. Purple bread was invented by a food scientist at the National University of Singapore, and is digested 20% slower than regular black bread, because it’s pumped up with antioxidants extracted from black rice — which gives it that unnatural purple hue. The slower rate of digestion is aimed at cutting down the spikes in blood sugar that occur after eating regular breads. This food is still in the development stage, and isn’t being sold yet “YET”