The Health Benefits of A Vegetarian Diet
by WLR's Food Information Assistant, Tim Sharp
Vegetarian or not, change the way you think about food, experiment and try new "meat-free" dishes in your diet.
Studies have shown that vegetarians (following a well-balanced low-fat high-fibre vegetarian diet) often have lower incidence of coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity and some forms of cancer.
A vegetarian diet tends to be lower in total fat, and vegetarians tend to eat proportionally more polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat compared with non-vegetarians. (Animal products are the major sources of dietary saturated fat).
Vegetarians avoid meat, poultry, game, fish and slaughterhouse by-products such as gelatine and animal fats. The staples of the vegetarian diet are fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, seeds and nuts. Most vegetarians eat dairy products and free-range eggs.
- Fruitarians: Avoid all animal products and processed foods.
- Vegans: Avoid all animal products.
- Lacto-vegetarians: Eat dairy products but not eggs.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: Eat both dairy products and eggs.
- Semi-vegetarians: Eat fish and/or chicken but no red meat. They are not officially classed as vegetarians.
A vegetarian diet can be a very healthy option but it is important to ensure it is well balanced. You could stuff your face with chips and chocolate at every meal and be vegetarian but you wouldn’t be doing your health much good.
Staples of a Vegetarian Diet
A balanced vegetarian diet should include:
- Grains and cereals: Wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, muesli.
- Legumes, nuts and seeds: Soya beans. kidney beans, split peas, lentils, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds
- Fruit and vegetables: As much as you want - think variety. Try new fruits and vegetables and include them in your diet every day
- Dairy or soya products: Look out for fat free and reduced calorie options for milk, yoghurts, cheeses.
A typical vegetarian diet closely matches expert dietary recommendations for healthy eating, being low in saturated fat and high in fibre, complex carbohydrates, and fresh fruit and vegetables. As long as you eat a variety of foods you will be getting all the nutrients you need.
Try A Little Vegetarianism
Abandon the idea that you have to eat meat every day and try a couple of meat-free days each week. You don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian dishes.
Supermarkets, restaurants and fast food outlets all are now stocking a wide range of vegetarian options. Many "meat-free" dishes still have the meaty consistency, and are significantly lower in fat and calories than their counterparts. (Our panel of tasters have often failed to spot the hidden vegetarian option!)
Take a look at the Tried & Tasted panel's review of vegetarian ready meals.
Use the dieting tools in WLR to work out which food combinations work best for you. Keep an online food diary and access our calorie and nutrition database free, for 24 hours.
The Vegetarian Society http://www.vegsoc.org
Find out more about events, new recipes and veggie starter packs at: http://www.nationalvegetarianweek.org/
Recommended Vegetarian Diet Books: