4 Key Nutrients for Vegetarians

Our dietitian Lily ‘Lentil’ talks through the benefits of a plant-rich diet and highlights the key nutrients to keep in mind when following a vegetarian dietary pattern.

fresh start vegetarian

Veggie eating for the win!

Research on dietary patterns shows that a well-planned vegetarian diet can be healthy at any life stage (1). There’s also good evidence to show that a vegetarian eating pattern can benefit our health with an associated benefit to blood cholesterol, blood pressure and risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease (2-4).

Although, it’s key to remember that eating vegetarian full-time may not be relevant or suitable for everyone! No matter what style of diet you follow it comes down to the quality of the foods you eat. At one end of the continuum, you could have a vegetarian diet packed with nourishing whole foods and at the other end you could have a diet based around highly processed snacks and packaged foods.

Whatever the case, if you’re eating a predominantly plant-rich diet or strictly vegetarian, it’s important to have a plan so that you can meet all your nutritional needs.

Here are 4 key nutrients that are super important especially for people following a vegetarian diet. We’ve included plenty of examples to help you base your meals around whole foods containing these nutrients each day.

1. Protein

Foods containing vegetarian sources of protein include tofu, edamame beans, peas, legumes like chickpeas, eggs, yoghurt, pulse pasta’s, nuts/nut butters and grains like brown rice and quinoa.

It’s important to eat a good variety of plant proteins to ensure we’re getting all the different amino acids. Animal foods are ‘complete proteins’, meaning they have all the essential amino acids (these are the building blocks of protein), plant foods can be missing one or two of these. Combining plant foods like beans and rice or peanuts and lentils make for a complete protein source.

2. Iron

Iron has lots of jobs in our body including making red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body.

Red meat is typically thought of as the key source in our diet, but you can find iron in plant foods, too! The catch? Iron found in plant foods is non-haem iron which isn’t absorbed as easily as haem iron found in animal foods. So, it’s important to include plenty of iron-rich foods including dark leafy greens, tofu, edamame, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans, black beans), nuts and seeds (chia seeds, hemp seeds, linseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews), dried fruit (apricots, figs), oats and quinoa.

To help your body better absorb non-haem iron, you can pair these foods with foods rich in vitamin C, like capsicum, citrus, cabbage or broccoli.

3. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for healthy blood and nerves. The best sources are animal products like meat, chicken, fish, eggs, milk and cheese. If you are fully excluding or even partially excluding these foods, it’s important to chat to your doctor around whether a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.

Some plant-based foods are fortified with B12 so if you’re following a vegetarian diet it pays to look out for B12 on the ingredients list of a product. Examples include breakfast cereals or nutritional yeast.

4. Omega-3s

Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated which is proven to benefit the health of our heart and have an important role in the function of our eyes and brain.

Oily fish is one of the best sources of longer chain omega-3 fats, but it’s not the only one! Chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds/linseeds and walnuts and their oils are all sources plant-based shorter chain omega-3’s. Our bodies can convert the short chain versions into long-chain omega-3’s but the conversion rate is relatively low.

The down-low on Fresh Start veggie meals

Whether you’re a full-time vegetarian or trying to include more meat-free meals in your week, it’s never been easier to create a Fresh Start menu that works for you.

Fresh Start Choice has 20 delicious recipes to choose from each week and 5 of these recipes are vegetarian. All vegetarian meals have at least 15g plant-based protein per serve which is sourced from a wide variety of plants including tofu, edamame, falafel, chickpeas, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds. You’ll see lots of these ingredients in our Fresh Start veggie meals. You’ll also see many of these ingredients in our chicken, beef, pork, lamb and fish meals too.

All vegetarian recipes are developed to ensure they taste delicious and perfectly portioned so that you know you’re getting plenty of goodness.


  1. Craig WJ, Mangels AR; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-82.
  2. Agnoli C et al. A comprehensive review of healthy effects of vegetarian diets. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2023 Jul;33(7):1308-1315.
  3. Oussalah A et al. Health outcomes associated with vegetarian diets: An umbrella review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Clin Nutr. 2020 Nov;39(11):3283-3307.
  4. Wang T et al. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Cardiometabolic Risk in People With or at High Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(7):e2325658.

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