Fruit and vegetables being prepared for a vegetarian meal
Vegetarian foods are appreciated for health benefits

Vegetarian Food: Why More People Are Enjoying It

5 minutes

The number of people eating a plant-based diet has boomed in recent years, with 3.4 million vegetarians in the UK in 2023. According to the Vegetarian Society, people in the UK ate 17% less meat in 2019 than in 2008, opting instead for vegetarian foods to make at home and choosing vegetarian options in pubs and restaurants.

What is a vegetarian diet? Simply put, vegetarians avoid eating meat, opting instead for vegetarian foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, grains, seeds, and nuts. With meat being more expensive, it’s good for your wallet, but there are also important health benefits. Did you know that vegetarians’ cancer risk is 14% lower than meat eaters (WCRF)? But are there risks in removing food groups from your diet? What should vegetarians be aware of to ensure their diet is healthy? 

What Is a Vegetarian Diet?

A vegetarian diet focuses on plant-based food. Foods for vegetarians include fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, dried beans, peas and nuts. Meat, poultry and sometimes fish and seafood are out. Some vegetarians abstain from by-products of animal slaughter as well. 

Types of Vegetarian Diets

There are various different kinds of vegetarian diets and different routes to becoming vegetarian. There are six main types of vegetarians, depending on what foods you include or exclude.

  • Vegan. A vegan diet eliminates all animal products and byproducts. Vegans don’t eat meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs or any animal-derived ingredients like honey, gelatin and whey. This is the most restrictive vegetarian diet and vegans need to take care to get all the nutrients their body needs.
  • Ovo-vegetarian. This means no meat, poultry, seafood, or dairy, but it does include eggs, which are a great source of high-quality protein and vitamin B12.
  • Lacto-vegetarian. This diet excludes meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, but dairy products are OK. People often choose this as a more flexible alternative to becoming a vegan.
  • Ovo-lacto vegetarian. This is what most people would consider a standard vegetarian diet. It excludes meat, poultry, fish, and by-products of animal slaughter and prioritizes vegetarian foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts. This diet also includes dairy and eggs. 
  • Pescatarian. A pescatarian’s main source of protein is from fish and seafood. They don’t eat meat or poultry. Some pescatarians eat dairy and eggs. Like other vegetarian diets, it focuses on vegetarian foods and plant-based options. Including seafood makes it easier to meet protein and omega-3 dietary requirements.
  • Flexitarian. Some would say that a flexitarian diet is not vegetarian. The main difference between flexitarianism and other vegetarian diets is that meat is eaten in moderation rather than prohibited. A flexitarian diet prioritizes fruits, vegetables, grains and other vegetarian foods and tries to limit meat and processed foods. 

Flexitarianism can be a great way to start eating more vegetarian foods
and thinking about your vegetarian diet as a whole.

Plate with roasted vegetables, seeds, pomegranate…: tasty foods for vegetarians
There are different ways to become a vegetarian

What Do Vegetarians Eat?

These days there’s a huge range of vegetarian foods and vegetarian recipes. Focus on plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses, seeds and nuts. 

The World Health Organization recommends eating at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
to ensure you get the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs.

A healthy vegetarian diet also includes starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice, cereals, and pasta. These should be whole-grain where possible. Most vegetarians also eat milk and dairy products like cheese and yogurt as they are good sources of protein, calcium, and vitamins. Other sources of protein are pulses like beans, peas, and lentils, as well as nuts and seeds. 

How To Get Protein As a Vegetarian?

One thing that can be difficult with vegetarian foods is getting enough protein.

Protein is important because it gives your body energy and helps it to function. It can be found in meat or plants but the protein from plants is healthier. A Harvard University study showed a lower risk of death from heart disease and other causes for people who got their protein from plants rather than meat. 

Vegetarian sources of protein include:

  • eggs and dairy
  • beans and lentils
  • whole grains like quinoa and couscous
  • soy products like edamame and tofu
  • nuts and seeds
  • pulses, chickpeas, dried fruits and nuts are relevant vegetarian sources of iron.
Wooden spoon with beans and pulses
Beans and pulses are a great vegetarian food with lots of protein

Popular Vegetarian Foods and Dishes

Beans and pulses are a firm favorite with vegetarians as they are a great source of plant-based protein and can be cooked and eaten in a variety of ways. 

  • Chickpeas are an excellent vegetarian food that features heavily in Indian vegetarian cuisine and there are some great recipes for chickpea curry. 
  • Roasted vegetables can be used in soups and pasta dishes. 
  • Sweet potatoes are a versatile option that can be roasted, baked, mashed, or fried.
Chickpea cooked with broccoli and yogurt sauce
Chickpeas are a delicious and healthy vegetarian food

These days more and more people are becoming vegetarians because of the health benefits as well as concerns about animal welfare and the environment. It’s easier than ever to find food for vegetarians in shops and to choose restaurants specializing in vegetarian food

Check out this list of vegetarian restaurants in London to see what’s on offer!


The Lowdown on Vegetarian Foods

Vegetarian foods include fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses, nuts, and seeds. There are more and more vegetarian options in restaurants, not to mention specialist vegetarian restaurants across the world

There are vegetarians in all cultures, all across the world and a huge range of vegetarian dishes. Popular vegetarian foods include curries made with beans and pulses, vegetable dishes, and starchy foods like potatoes, rice, and pasta.

Vegetarians eat plant-based foods and don’t eat meat, poultry, or fish. Some vegetarians also avoid dairy products, in a restrictive diet.

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