Malnutrition among vegetarians?


Whether it was adopted for religious, personal or ethical reasons, vegetarianism has seen a steady growth in recent years. Even Chef Gordon Ramsay, known for his hatred towards vegetarians has included plant-based options to his menu. It is not a new form of diet, nevertheless, but it certainly has been given a new breath and recognition in recent years.

To start, let’s take a quick look at what it is. To those who are not part of this lifestyle, it may be difficult to differentiate between a vegetarian and a vegan.

Vegetarian: Someone who doesn’t eat meat, poultry or fish. But like many things in life, that’s not all there is to it. There are several types of vegetarian diets but the most common type is vegan (excludes meat, poultry, fish, egg, dairy as well as products that contain them) and pescatarian (excludes meat and poultry but eats fish and sometimes eggs as well as dairy products).

With that seemingly limited options on the menu, a non-vegetarian might wonder how vegetarians get their nutrients. Is it a healthy diet?

In recent years, studies have confirmed the health benefits of a meat-free diet which includes reducing the risk and prevention of chronic illnesses. The narrative has swung from questioning the nutritional deficiencies of vegetarianism to raising eyebrows on questionable effects and practices of the meat and poultry industries (but that is a different topic all together).

Like any other diet, if not planned properly, it will cause nutrient deficiencies. But it is certainly not a problem exclusive to vegetarians. Without proper eating plan, even a vegetarian diet can become unhealthy. After all, cheese pizzas and candy are all technically ‘vegetarian’. (cue your *gasp* here)

Planning your diet

For current vegetarians and those intrigued to try this diet, we’ve prepared a basic guide and information to help you ease into the diet and navigate through the complexities of nutrition. It is certainly a healthy way to meet your daily nutritional needs if planned properly.

  1. Knowing your nutrients

    When starting your vegetarian journey, it is important to know the types of nutrients you need and where to get the missing nutrients in order to meet your body’s daily nutrient requirement. As a start, here’s a simple kitchen list of the types of food to include in a healthy vegetarian diet:

    • Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries, oranges, pears, pineapples
    • Vegetables: Leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots
    • Grains: Quinoa, barley, rice products (noodle, laksa), oats
    • Legumes: Lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, soya beans, soya products
    • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, chestnuts
    • Seeds: Watermelon, sunflower, chia and pumpkin seeds
    • Healthy fats: Coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, fish
    • Proteins: Tempeh, tofu, seitan, natto, nutritional yeast, spirulina, eggs, dairy products


    A vegetarian diet includes food that are rich in fiber, antioxidants and compounds that help to protect against disease but it can be challenging to fulfill your nutritional needs if your diet is more restrictive. As an example, a vegan diet cuts off natural food sources of vitamin B-12 (necessary to prevent anemia and produce red blood cells!) as well as calcium as it also excludes milk products (for strong teeth and healthy bones). While you can get calcium from juices, cereals, soy milk and tofu, it is important for vegans to include vitamin-enriched cereals, fortified soy products and vitamin supplements for their vitamin B-12 intake as it is almost exclusively found in animal products.

    If you’re thinking of starting your vegetarian journey – Vege Express, Dalucia and Manjung Naluri have just what you need! They can be found on our cari@unifi platform along with many other local sellers.


  2. Ideas for your meals

    If you’re worried about what to eat when on a vegetarian diet, thankfully, Malaysia is a blessed food heaven so we can always find good food for every type of diet! We’ve gathered some simple meal suggestions to get you started.


    • Thosai and dalca with milk (508 kcal)
    • Peanut butter and banana toast with wholegrain bread (200 kcal)
    • Whole-wheat avocado toast with eggs (219 kcal)
    • Banana, berries, spinach and almond milk smoothie (159 kcal)
    • Scrambled tofu (151 kcal)
    • Fruits & nuts yogurt (176 kcal)


    • Cauliflower fried rice (289 kcal)
    • Falafel burgers or other plant-based burgers (273 kcal)
    • Fried rice-noodles with bean curd and taucu (450 kcal)


    • Rojak petis with sesame seeds (170 kcal)
    • Bubur kacang hijau (228 kcal)
    • Vegan ice-cream (160 kcal)
    • Dark chocolate (1 kcal)


    • Chickpea curry with basmati rice (305 kcal)
    • Vegetarian biryani (395 kcal)
    • Tofu pad Thai (550 kcal)

    Note: Calorie count may differ depending on ingredients and size of serving

    But do remember to keep your diet balance, healthy and colourful! As a guide, here’s the Reference Intakes (RI) for nutrients you need daily. However, do keep in mind that we all have varying needs and cater it to your requirements.


    For men



    For women


  3. Ease into your new diet

    There are no rules for your transition into a plant-based diet, so don’t feel pressured to go cold turkey on your meat! You can opt to transition gradually by reducing your meat and increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet. Start with meatless Monday or try a vegetarian version of your favourite recipes.

    Long gone are the days when vegetarian food was typically found at Uncle Lim’s vegetarian stall with fake meat. There are a lot of more vegetarian dishes available now and you can always ask for a vegetarian option when dining out at your favourite restaurant.

    Or, maybe start off with Indian food to start your vegetarian journey. No other cuisine makes vegetables taste so good! (Biryani will always be good even if it’s vegetarian)

    If you’re intrigued, but not sure if you can go on a 100% plant-based diet, you can opt for a Mediterranean eating pattern with lots of beans, wholegrains and fish and a lot less meat!

Health Benefits

If you’re looking for a healthier lifestyle, this diet is definitely for you. As mentioned earlier, studies have shown that vegetarian diet protects you from chronic disease.

  • Protects your heart

    In one of the largest studies involving more than 76,000 participants, it was found that vegetarians have a lower risk for cardiac events (think heart attack) and are 25% less likely to die of heart disease.

    A great ingredient to protect your heart? Nuts! They’re rich in antioxidants, fiber, mineral and healthy fatty acids that goes a long way in protecting your heart. Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Reduce risk of diabetes

    A vegetarian diet can significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by half in comparison to non-vegetarians! It’s all in what you eat. Food in high fiber are slower to digest and helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

  • Helps weight loss

    For those looking to lose weight, a plant-based diet has also shown to be an effective strategy. A study with type 2 diabetes, (where weight loss is often an important strategy), vegetarian diet was nearly twice more effective at reducing weight than a low-calorie diet.

We hope this has inspired you to lead a healthier lifestyle and cleared some misconceptions on vegetarianism. Don’t forget to eat your fruits and vegetables folks!

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