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Essential nutrients for plant-based diets

If you follow a plant-based diet, you may risk removing essential nutrients for a healthy body. Here’s our advice on making sure you eat a balanced diet.

If you remove some or all animal products from your diet, you may not get enough of important nutrients. This because your body can’t absorb some nutrients from plant-based sources as easily as it can from meat, fish or diary. You should plan your meals to ensure that they include suitable sources of all the nutrients your body needs.

Type of vegetarian diet Dairy Eggs Meat Fish Poultry
Vegetarian Yes Yes No No No
Lacto Yes No No No No
Ovo No Yes No No No
Vegan No No No No No

Balanced diet

Regardless of whether you are a vegan, vegetarian or follow an other plant-based diet, the national healthy eating recommendations still apply to you. This means you should eat:

  • At least 5 portions of a variety of  fruit and vegetables
  • Starchy foods such as bread, cereals, potatoes - choose wholegrain and fortified cereal products where possible
  • Moderate amounts of alternatives to meat and fish, such as tofu, soya, textured protein, beans or eggs.
  • Some dairy products or alternatives, such as fortified soya milk and yoghurts. Choose low fat varieties
  • Limit foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt, such as chocolate, biscuits and crisps. These foods are low in nutrients and high in calories

The tables below can help you choose enough protein, iron, vitamin B12, Calcium, Omega 3 fats and Vitamin D for a healthy diet. 

Alternative sources of essential nutrients

Protein  Helpful information
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Tofu
  • Quorn
  • Soya products
  • Nuts

Two servings per day

One serving is:

  • 2 eggs
  • 100g / 4 oz soya or tofu
  • 125g / 5 oz hummus
  • 6 dessertspoons of peas, beans or lentils
  • 40g / 1.5 oz unsalted nuts or peanut butter or seeds
  • Pulses
  • Eggs
  • Wholemeal bread and flour
  • Breakfast cereals fortified with iron
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes and figs


Iron from plant-based food is not as easily absorbed by the body as iron from meat.

To help you absorb iron, eat some vitamin-C rich foods at the same time, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli or orange juice.

Vitamin B12   
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Breakfast cereals fortified with B12
  • Unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12
  • Yeast extract, such as Marmite, which is fortified with vitamin B12

B12 is only found naturally in foods from animal sources so it can be difficult, particularly for vegans, to consume adequate quantities. Becuase of this you may need a vitamin B12 supplement. Ask your doctor for advice. 

  • Green, leafy vegetables – such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach
  • Fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks 
  • Calcium-set tofu
  • Sesame seeds and tahini
  • Pulses
  • Brown and white bread (in the UK, calcium is added to white and brown flour by law)
  • Dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots

Three servings per day

One serving is:

  • 1 large glass (200ml) of milk or calcium enriched soya milk
  • 125ml yoghurt/calcium enriched soya yoghurt
  • 25g/1oz cheese/calcium enriched soya alternative
Omega 3 fats  
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Walnuts
  • Soya oil
  • Ground flaxseeds
  • Soya beans
  • Chia seeds


Evidence suggests that plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids may not have the same benefits in reducing the risk of heart disease as those in oily fish. For that reason, you may need an Omega 3 supplement. Ask your doctor for advice. 

Vitamin D    

Fortified (with added vitamin D)  products such as:

  • Fat spreads
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Unsweetened soya products


People on the island of Ireland don’t get enough vitamin D from their diet or from the effect of sunlight on their skin. So, people are recommended to take Vitamin D supplements. The amount you need depends on your age, your skin tone, how much time you spend outdoors and the time of the year. Read more here. 


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