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Applying Canada's Dietary Guidelines

Considerations for vegetarian diets

Vegetarian diets are those that exclude some or all animal products. Special consideration is needed when applying Canada’s Dietary Guidelines to vegetarian diets to help meet nutrient needs.

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Iron and zinc needs are higher in vegetarians

The need for iron and zinc is higher for individuals eating vegetarian diets because of the reduced bioavailability of these minerals from plant-based foods.

Food sources of iron and foods that contribute zinc should be encouraged. Whole grains, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and eggs are important sources of both of these nutrients.

Female adults and adolescent females consuming vegetarian diets can be especially encouraged to emphasize the inclusion of food sources of iron. The need for iron is high in this life stage because iron is lost through menstruation. 

Foods with vitamin B12 are important

Careful choices of foods and beverages may be needed to help achieve adequate vitamin B12 in vegetarian diets. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal-based foods, but there are plant-based foods that are fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified plant-based beverages and products labelled ‘simulated meat products’.  When selecting these products it would be important to promote use of the food label to choose those with little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and with little to no free sugars.

Including eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese or plant-based foods and beverages fortified with vitamin B12 will help meet requirements for this nutrient.

Importance of including a variety of plant-based foods

Some vegetarian styles of eating include animal-based foods. For example, lacto-ovo vegetarian diets include eggs, milk, yogurt or cheese, in addition to plant-based protein foods.

Including a variety of plant-based foods is particularly important for those who exclude animal products to help provide all essential amino acids. Encourage the consumption of a variety of:

  • nuts
  • seeds
  • legumes
  • whole grains
  • soy products and fortified soy beverages