What do vegetarians eat ?

10 types of vegetarian* foods

  1. Vegetables e.g. root vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables.
  2. Fruits e.g. berries, citrus fruits, bananas, avocados.
  3. Nuts and seeds e.g. peanuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds.
  4. Vegetable pulses e.g. beans, peas, lentils.
  5. Textured vegetable protein and Tofu
  6. Cereals & grains e.g. breads, pasta & products made from e.g. oats, rice, etc..
  7. Sweeteners e.g. sugar, honey, treacle, molasses.
  8. Fats & oils e.g. butter, margarine, cooking oils.
  9. Dairy products incl. milk, cheese and yoghurt
  10. Eggs - usually hens' (chicken) eggs.

*ovolactovegetarian foods (some other types of vegetarians don't eat eggs and / or dairy products). Vegans also don't eat honey.

As explained on the page What is a Vegetarian Diet, there are different types of vegetarians.

The list of ten vegetarian foods on the right includes foods eaten by ovolactovegetarians (also called lacto-ovo-vegetarians) who do not eat meat or fish products but do eat dairy products and eggs.

Some of the items listed are not acceptable to all vegetarians, e.g. lactovegetarians (who don't eat eggs) and vegans (who don't eat eggs, milk-based products, or honey).

Notes about the types of foods included in vegetarian diets:

Food(s) / Food Type(s)





e.g. green leafy vegetables such as spinach, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower & broccoli, root vegetables incl. carrots and turnips

There are many types of vegetables. Different vegetables are common in different parts of the world, e.g. Europe, North America, China, South-East Asia, etc.. Availability of specific good quality fresh vegetables may also vary seasonally. In general, vegetables contain dietary fibre, water and various vitamins and minerals. E.g.

  • Many vegetables contain carotene, which is a pre-cursor of vitamin A (meaning that the body can convert carotene to vitamin A).
  • Some vegetables are good sources of B vitamins e.g. green leafy vegetables contain folic acid (vitamin B9) - see also vitamin B foods.
  • Some vegetables contain vitamin C, especially fresh raw green peppers, cabbage and potatoes.
  • Fresh sweet potato, asparagus and spinach contain vitamin E.

Many vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked in various ways e.g. by boiling, roasting and in some cases grilling or frying. As with other types of food, processing can reduce the nutritional value of vegetables e.g. overcooking can result in loss of vitamins. One way to recover at least some lost vitamins e.g. those that have moved from the vegetables e.g. carrots, peas etc. into water in which they have been boiled, is to use that water for stock e.g. to make sauces.



e.g. berries, citrus fruits, bananas

There are many different types of fruits. In general, fruits have high nutritional value because they include dietary fibre, water and vitamins, especially vitamin C. Some fruits also contain useful minerals and valuable antioxidants - often in the 'skin' rather than the 'flesh' of the fruit, hence some may be lost during food processing. Citrus fruits are especially good sources of vitamin C.

Depending on availability e.g. due to location and season, fruits can be consumed in various forms. These may include fresh (raw), fresh cooked e.g. in puddings / desserts, or preserved e.g. tinned, dried, or as jams, or in the form of fresh or preserved fruit juices. The nutritional benefits of eating fruit depend not only on the type of fruit but also on the form in which it is consumed e.g. dried fruits may contain very little water, and juices less fibre than whole fruit. Preserved fruits in general are rarely as beneficial as the same fruit consumed when fresh.


Nuts & Seeds

e.g. peanuts, walnuts, pinenuts, almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds

Nuts and seeds contain various amounts of protein (i.e. amino acids) and other nutrients e.g. vitamins and minerals - such as vitamin E in sunflower seeds, almonds and pine nuts.

Although nuts can be good sources of protein, e.g. peanuts have a similar amount of protein to pulses, as also applies to pulses and cereals / grains, they should not the the only source of protein in the diet.


Vegetable Pulses

e.g. beans incl. broad beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils

Vegetable pulses contain dietary fibre and many important nutrients including B vitamins and the mineral iron. They are also a valuable source of protein when combined with certain other foods such as breads, cereals, pasta or rice.


Textured vegetable protein & Tofu

e.g. made from soya beans

Textured vegetable protein products are usually made mainly from soya beans and are sold under various brand names. Their main contribution to vegetarian diets is the protein (amino acid) content of the soya beans.

However these products do not necessarily include all of the essential amino acids - hence the importance of a varied diet e.g. including grains or corn as well as beans and legumes.


Cereals & Grains

e.g. products made from wheat, oats, rice, barley

Breads and cereals in general contain B vitamins, the mineral iron and some protein (although not all of the essential amino acids - hence the importance of a varied diet). Many cereal products are also good sources of dietary fibre - which used to be known as "roughage". Examples include wholegrain cereals, brown rice, oats, buckwheat, barley, rye and bulgar wheat.



e.g. sugar, syrup, honey, molasses, treacle

Natural sweeteners such as sugar, syrup, honey, molasses and treacle include various types of sugars. They may be used to make foods taste sweeter (more appealing to some people). They also provide the body with energy and in some cases small amounts of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals e.g. molasses and treacle contain small amounts of the minerals calcium and iron while honey also includes very small (sometimes called 'trace') amounts of various minerals.

Some commercially produced 'processed' vegetarian foods contain various natural or synthetic sweeteners just for reasons of taste. In some parts of the world food additives such as low calorie sweeteners must be approved for use in human food products - see E-numbers (Sweeteners).


Fats & Oils

e.g. butter, margarine, cooking oils

All fats and oils are high in energy (calories) due to their fatty acid content. Vitamin A and vitamin D may also be present because many of these food types are fortified with these vitamins (meaning that they are added). Regulations requiring certain types of foods to have specific nutrients added before sale vary with location; some countries' laws require fortifications of certain foodstuffs while others do not.

In general, vegetable margarine and vegetable oils tend to be high in polyunsaturated fats, hence healthier than non-vegetable oils (e.g. oils derived from animal fats). See polysaturated fats vs polyunsaturated fats.


Dairy Products

e.g. milk, cheeses, yogurts

Food products such as cheeses are made from milk from various mammals including cows, buffalos, goats and sheep. Products made from cows' milk are probably the most commonly available and include different grades of milk (incl. 'full' or 'whole', skimmed and semi-skimmed), creams (single cream, double cream, whipped cream, ice-cream), cheeses and yogurts.

Such milk-based products include protein, vitamin B12 and the mineral calcium which is important for healthy bones and teeth.

can be compared with vegan alternatives to dairy products, e.g. based on soya milk

Vitamin B12 is also present in soya products. Calcium-enriched soya milk (and other soya products) is widely available in some areas e.g. UK.




  • hens' (chicken) eggs
  • ducks' eggs
  • quails' eggs, etc.

The most commonly eaten eggs are probably chicken eggs - which contain protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D and the mineral iron. It is easy to include eggs in a diet because they are used to make many food products e.g. pastas, noodles, pancakes, waffles and various types of cakes.

Although this page is entitled "What do vegetarians eat?" the information in the table above may be re-organized to answer related questions such as "What should vegetarians eat?" and why do (or why should) vegetarians eat certain foods or types of foods.

See also what is a vegetarian diet?, what are the benefits of a vegetarian diet? and
what are the possible deficiencies in a vegetarian diet?

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