Vegetarian Healthy Eating
The increasing popularity of vegetarianism, particularly amongst young people, is often linked with animal welfare issues. Health scares such as BSE and E coli have also prompted some people to give up meat. For others the decision to go vegetarian is due to the growing body of scientific evidence which suggests that there are real health benefits to be gained from choosing a meat-free diet. Several studies have shown that vegetarians are less likely to suffer from cancer and heart disease than meat eaters, and in a study carried out by the British Medical Association vegetarians were found to be slimmer and less prone to obesity. “Obviously there are good and bad vegetarian diets,” says Chris Descent of The Vegetarian Society, “but on the whole vegetarian diets tend to be higher in fiber, fruit and vegetables and lower in fat – particularly saturated fat.”
We need protein for growth, the repair of our tissues and protection against infections. Contrary to what you may have heard, making sure that a vegetarian diet contains enough protein is not a problem. It’s found in a wide variety of vegetarian food, including eggs, dairy products, nuts, grains, cereals and beans. Because the protein in foods like cereals and beans is not what is known as “first-class protein”, in the past vegetarians have usually been advised to eat meals containing complementary proteins, but it’s now known that this isn’t really necessary. Providing a variety of different protein foods are eaten every day, the body will get everything it needs.
Iron – The Hard Facts
Iron is essential for making hemoglobin, the red pigment in blood which carries oxygen around the body. Meat is a particularly good source of iron and although it is found in many vegetarian foods it isn’t as easily absorbed by the body as the iron in meat. Even though studies have shown that vegetarians are at no greater risk of iron deficiency than meat eaters, it makes sense to include plenty of iron-rich foods in your diet. The absorption of iron from plant foods is increased by vitamin C. So eating fruit and vegetables, or drinking orange juice, with iron-rich foods is a good idea. Tannin reduces iron absorption, so avoid drinking tea or coffee at the same time as an iron-rich meal. Some vegetarians, particularly women and girls who have heavy periods, may benefit from taking an iron supplement.
Vitamin B12 is needed by the body in minute amounts for growth, the production of red blood cells and the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. The vitamin is found mainly in food of animal origin, but may also be present in water and some root vegetables, beans and peas, bean sprouts, seaweed, wholegrains, peanuts and green leafy vegetables. Vegetarians eating dairy products or eggs will easily get enough, but vegans need to make sure they supplement their diet in some way. Many vegetarian and vegan foods are fortified with Vitamin B12, however, so in practice it isn’t really a problem.
Cool For Kids?
A survey found that 29% of girls and 12% of boys aged 8 to 18 years were vegetarian. Many parents worry that a vegetarian diet will not provide all the essential nutrients a growing child or teenager needs. However, Dr Michael Nelson, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition at Kings College, London University, believes vegetarian diets are perfectly capable of providing everything a growing child needs and still have a healthy lifestyle. Several studies support this, showing vegetarian children have similar patterns of growth and development to other children. Problems may arise if children themselves make the decision to become vegetarian. You can’t just cut out meat and carry on as before – it needs to be replaced with adequate sources of iron such as beans and plenty of dark green leafy vegetables.
The Protein Providers
- Tofu, or bean curd, is made by pureeing soy beans, straining off the “milk”, then pressing it to make bean “cheese” or tofu. It is low in fat and a good source of protein. There are three types: firm, soft and silken. Firm tofu can be marinated and used for kebabs or cut into cubes and added to stir fries. Soft and silken tofu are used for sauces, salad dressings, dips and desserts.
- Quorn is a distant relative of the mushroom. It is low in fat and a good source of protein and fiber. The texture is similar to that of meat, which some vegetarians may find off-putting. It has little flavor of its own but absorbs the flavors of foods and spices it’s cooked with. It is available as mince or chunks or in ready-meals. You will find it in the chilled cabinets in most supermarkets.
- TVP (textured vegetable protein) is a meat substitute made from soy bean flour. Low in fat and rich in protein, it is available as dehydrated chunks or mince, or incorporated into ready-prepared products such as burgers or sausages. To use it, simply follow the packet instructions.
Types Of Vegetarian
More and more types of vegetarian practices are being born from the need to satisfy groups of people worldwide to apply the vegetarian concept of living.
- Ovo-Lacto Vegetarians – vegetarians who will consume any kinds of food but not any kind of meat. This kind of diet also allows for the consumption of eggs, honey and dairy products.
- Lacto Vegetarians – vegetarians who will not consume any kind of meat and eggs but will consume honey and dairy products.
- Ovo Vegetarians – vegetarians who will not consume any kinds of meat and dairy but will consume eggs and honey.
- Vegans – the classic vegetarians who will not consume any kind of meat, eggs, dairy products or honey.
- Macrobiotics – vegetarians who eat nuts, legumes, whole grains and fish.
- Raw Vegans – vegetarians who limit themselves to unprocessed food that has not been heated to above 46°C (115°F). Their diet mainly consists of raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, raw eggs, unheated dairy products and sushi.
- Fruitarians – a diet of only fruits, nuts, seeds and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant.
- Pescetarians – those who refrain from consuming meat but will take in shellfish, seafood and fish.
- Pollo Vegetarians – vegetarians who are in a sense only half vegetarian, they allow chicken and fish but not red meat.
- Flexitarians – who refrain from meat if the specific beast was raised or slaughtered cruelly.
- Freeganists – who eat all kinds of meat unless the environment was damaged or humans or animals were exploited while the meat was being prepared.
5 Ways To Ensure A Healthy And Delicious Vegetarian Diet
- Go variety – The key to a healthy diet – vegetarian or otherwise – is to eat as wide a range of foods as possible. This helps your body get the full spectrum of nutrients it needs.
- Guard against iron deficiency – include plenty of iron rich foods, alongside foods rich in vitamin C and away from tea and coffee.
- Not too much cheese – cheese and other dairy products are high in saturated fat, so try not to rely on them too much. Be adventurous with other flavorings and use more beans – they’re low in fat and full of fiber.
- B12 for vegans – if you’re vegan make sure you include foods fortified with B12.
- Invest in a good cook book – you’ll soon see there’s much more vegetarian food than nut cutlets – delicious though they may be!
These tasty, balanced meals make the most of healthy vegetarianism – with fresh ingredients and abundant flavor.
Eggs Florentine make a great light meal. Wash 1kg spinach and cook until tender. Drain, chop and reheat with a little butter. In a clean pan melt 25 g butter, stir in 3 tbsp plain flour and cook gently for 1 minute. Take off the heat, slowly stir in 300 ml milk and gradually bring to the boil, stirring. Reduce the heat, add 50 g grated cheese and stir until melted. Poac 4 eggs. Put the spinach in an oven proof dish, place the eggs on top and pour over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and brown under the grill.
Or try Beans in BBQ Sauce. Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil and cook 1 finely chopped onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 400 g can of chopped tomatoes, 200 ml vegetable stock and 2 tbsp dark soy sauce. Simmer for 15 minutes to thicken. Add 3 tbsp dark brown sugar, 1 tbsp mild mustard and 2 cans mixed beans. Cook for 5 minutes to heat the beans.