VEGETARIANISM has been steadily gaining in popularity in recent years‚ and with the recent meat scandals locally and internationally‚ it’s fair to say many more people are now considering "going green”.
Generally‚ a vegetarian diet is defined as one that excludes meat (including poultry)‚ seafood and products containing these foods. However‚ there are many different forms of vegetarianism:
Pescatarians eat fish‚ but not meat and chicken.
Lacto-vegetarians are vegetarians who eat dairy products but not eggs.
Ovolacto-vegetarians are the most common vegetarians‚ and eat dairy products and eggs.
Ovo-vegetarians are vegetarians who eat eggs but no dairy products.
Vegans exclude all animal products and byproducts.
Nutritional considerations for vegetarians
A vegetarian diet can be healthy and nutritious‚ and may even be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. However‚ it is imperative that you take time to properly plan your diet should you decide to make the change. It is easy to experience certain nutritional deficiencies when you choose to leave out animal products. Below are some of the deficiencies vegetarians can experience:
Many people switch to a vegetarian diet without finding suitable alternatives to animal products. Meat‚ eggs and fish are virtually the only source of "complete” protein — that is‚ protein that contains all the essential amino acids for cell production in the body. Luckily‚ your body can make its own complete protein if you eat a variety of plant foods and take in enough kilojoules daily. Research has shown that by eating an assortment of plant foods throughout the day‚ you can ensure that you get all the essential amino acids you need. It also ensures adequate nitrogen retention and use in healthy adults.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids
Whereas vegetarian diets are generally rich in omega 6 fatty acids‚ they may be lacking in omega 3 fatty acids as found in oily fish. Diets that do not include fish‚ eggs or generous amounts of omega 3-rich seeds are generally low in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)‚ fatty acids important for cardiovascular health. Vegetarians should include good sources of essential fats in their diet‚ such as flaxseed‚ walnuts and fatty fish if possible‚ or a good omega 3 supplement. Those with increased requirements of omega 3 fatty acids‚ such as pregnant and lactating women‚ may benefit from DHA-rich supplements.
The iron in plant foods is non-heme iron‚ which is sensitive to both inhibitors and enhancers of iron absorption. This means the amount of iron your body absorbs can be increased or decreased by other substances you take in. For instance‚ tea‚ coffee‚ herbal teas and cocoa contain polyphenolics that inhibit the uptake of iron. Similarly‚ phytates (found in whole grains‚ legumes‚ nuts and seeds) and calcium also inhibit iron absorption. Vitamin C and other organic acids found in fruits and vegetables can substantially enhance iron absorption. The way you prepare your food can also have an influence on the levels of phytates you take in. Soaking and sprouting beans‚ grains and seeds‚ and the leavening of bread‚ can diminish phytate levels and thereby enhance iron absorption.
Calcium intakes of ovolacto-vegetarians are similar to or higher than those of nonvegetarians. However‚ vegans tend to be lower than both groups and may fall below recommended intakes. If you are a vegan‚ make sure you speak to a dietician and take a good calcium supplement daily.
As an ovolacto-vegetarian‚ you can get enough vitamin B12 from dairy foods‚ eggs or other reliable vitamin B12 sources (fortified foods and supplements)‚ if you consume them regularly. If you are a vegan‚ however‚ you must eat vitamin B12-fortified foods‚ such as fortified soy and rice beverages and some breakfast cereals‚ or take a daily vitamin B12 supplement.
Is a vegetarian diet always a healthy one?
No. Just because you’re following a vegetarian diet‚ it does not mean that it is healthy or low fat. It is possible to eat no meat at all and still get unhealthy amounts of fat in your diet‚ due to substituting meat with unacceptably high amounts of nuts‚ cheeses and dairy products.
No matter what diet you follow‚ it is always important to watch your portions. Below is a two-day ovolacto-vegetarian meal plan‚ providing approximately 6‚300kj (1500 calories) to give you an idea of what a healthy vegetarian diet looks like.
1 cup fat free/skim milk and 125ml yoghurt
½-1 cup oats‚ cooked or soaked in milk
1 apple grated into the oats
A smoothie made with 2 pieces of fruit‚ 125ml yoghurt and ½ cup milk.
40g dried fruit or 2 medium kiwi fruit
A small handful of almonds
Make a salad with:
2-3 cups mixed salad (peppers‚ mushrooms‚ onions‚ carrots‚ salad leaves‚ etc.)
½ cup butternut‚ pumpkin or beetroot‚ roasted
2 eggs‚ boiled & chopped or 160g tofu‚ cubed
Season with lemon juice‚ vinegar and fresh herbs of choice (parsley‚ coriander‚ mint‚ etc.)
1 small banana or pear
2 cups stir-fry vegetables‚ cooked (include 1 cup of peas or carrots in stir-fry)
1 cup barley/rice/cous cous/quinoa‚ cooked
120g soya strips or soya mince
5 ml oil for stir-fry and a small handful cashew nuts for stir-fry
Season with fresh lemon or lime juice‚ fresh ginger and garlic and a little soya sauce
1 egg‚ boiled and sliced or 2 tbsp hummus
3 Provita or corn thins
A few sundried tomatoes or gherkins‚ chopped
1 nectarine or 4 dried apricots
1 apple‚ cut into wedges or 7 apple rings dipped into 2 tsp peanut butter
Make an open sandwich with:
Sliced tomato and cucumber
1 small slice rye or seed loaf bread or ½ small pita/wrap
½ -2/3 tub fat free cottage cheese or 2/3 cup beans
Serve with a side salad: 2 cups rocket or baby spinach leaves with ½ cup butternut/pumpkin‚ roasted or carrots‚ baby/grated
Season with optional extras such as mustard‚ guerkins‚ sprouts‚ pickles‚ etc.
15 medium grapes
2 cups mixed roast vegetable medley (baby marrow‚ peppers‚ onions‚ broccoli‚ mushrooms‚ snap peas‚ spring onions‚ etc.)
1 cup carrot & peas‚ cooked‚ or beetroot salad
3 baby potatoes‚ boiled or roasted with skin (or leave out and add another slice of bread to lunch)
1½ rounds feta cheese crumbled over roasted veg
10ml olive oil for roasting vegetables
Create your own meal plans
To plan a healthy‚ balanced vegetarian diet‚ simply follow these four steps as much as possible when planning your meals:
Step 1: Choose vegetables/salad (or fruit)
Fill half your plate with veggies and fruit.
Step 2: Choose a starch (or fruit)
Add a fistful of low-GI starch (barley‚ sweet corn‚ rice‚ sweet potato).
Step 3: Choose a plant-based protein‚ legumes‚ eggs or dairy
Your protein portion should be the size of the palm of your hand
Step 4: Add a small serving of a healthy fat
Choose olive oil and other mono-unsaturated fats.
It is possible to get all the nutrients your body needs if you follow a well-planned vegetarian diet. Should you decide to cut meat from your diet‚ speak to a registered dietician who will guide you in creating a meal plan that will cater for your specific dietary needs. © BDlive 2013