6 Staples of a Vegetarian Diet

These wholesome foods are essential for creating balanced meatless meals.

The building blocks of a meatless diet are wholesome, nourishing foods that should form the backbone of any diet—meatless or not. With these items in your pantry, a healthy, meatless meal is easy to pull together. Find out what these meatless staples are and why you should embrace them. Download a FREE Cookbook with Healthy Vegetarian Recipes!

Watch: See how to eat a healthy vegetarian diet


Calcium

1. Healthy Oils

Oils, especially canola and extra-virgin olive oil, offer heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Some, such as canola oil and flaxseed oil, provide omega-3 fats.


Iodine

2. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds provide protein and healthy ­unsaturated fats; walnuts and flaxseed provide omega-3 fats. Nuts and seeds also offer fiber and important nutrients, such as vitamin E, iron and zinc.


Iron

3. Eggs and Dairy

Eggs and dairy are good sources of high-quality protein for lacto-ovo-vegetarians. Dairy products, such as milk and yogurt, provide calcium and vitamin D.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

4. Legumes

Legumes—beans (including soybeans/edamame), lentils and dried peas—are the best sources of plant-based protein. Foods made from them (tofu, tempeh, falafel, hummus) are good sources too. Legumes also provide fiber, vitamins and minerals, including iron and zinc (nutrients abundant in meat).


Protein

5. Whole Grains

Whole grains should have a starring role in any vegetarian diet, as they are excellent sources of carbohydrates (the “good” kind) and other essential nutrients: B vitamins, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, copper, magnesium and iron, just to name a few. To try: oats, whole-wheat pastas and breads, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur.


Vitamin B12

6. Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables, with their abundance of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals (e.g., lycopene in red foods, beta carotene in orange foods, anthocyanins in blue/purple ones), should form the base of any vegetarian diet.