The Vegetarian Diet

I would never have anticipated writing about horsemeat and vegetarianism in the same article, never mind the same sentence, but the recent processed meat scandal has apparently driven a big change in consumer behaviour  .  Recent research suggests a not insignificant 7% of us have now cut meat out of our diets as a result of the uncertainty about what’s really in processed meat products.  But is going vegetarian a healthy answer?

According to the Vegetarian Society a vegetarian diet is one that consists of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits.  Some people choose to also eat dairy products and/or eggs.  All meat, fish and by-products of slaughter are definitely excluded.

So what are the advantages of the vegetarian diet?  Eating a variety of fruit and vegetables is definitely a good thing – different plant families and different plant colours bring different health benefits, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of our seasonal fruit and vegetable posts.  Vegetables in particular are a useful component of any diet because they contain a wide range of beneficial chemicals such glucosinolates in brassicas like broccoli and cabbage, betacarotene in carrots and minerals in green leafy vegetables  like spinach.

But like any diet or eating plan it’s important to understand what you might miss out on if you exclude particular food groups, such as dairy products, meat and fish in a vegetarian diet.  Dairy products are a valuable source of calcium in our diet, a mineral we use in a range of different functions including muscle contraction – we store it in our bones and if we don’t get enough through our diet this can affect our bone health.  But we can get calcium from other sources too, in particular leafy green vegetables, so this doesn’t need to be a problem for vegetarians.  Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel are a great way of getting our essential fatty acids, the Omega-3 fats that are beneficial for our health.  But again fish are not the only source of these nutrients – walnuts and flaxseeds are examples of how nuts and seeds can help fulfill our nutritional requirements.

When we consider sources of protein, the picture gets a little bit more complicated.  Proteins are a type of molecule that we use in thousands of different ways in our bodies, for example muscle, skin, hair, immune cells, digestive enzymes, the list is long!  Proteins are made of building blocks called amino acids.  Our bodies take these individual amino acids and combine them in a multitude of different ways to get the molecules our bodies need to function.  Different types of protein in our diet are made up of different amino acids, and there are 8 amino acids that are essential for human life – these are amino acids that we can’t make in our bodies so we have to get via our diet.  Protein sources that contain all 8 of these amino acids are called complete proteins.  Animal sources of protein such as meat and poultry are complete, but the only vegetarian source is a grain called quinoa.  This doesn’t mean that vegetarians can’t get all the amino acids they need, it just means they need to eat a variety of different types of plant proteins e.g. nuts, pulses and beans, to ensure they get the full range required.

People choose to be vegetarian for all sorts of reasons – to save money, because of personal views about animal welfare and environmental impact, because they feel better when they eat that way.  Whatever their reason the same rules apply as for any eating plan – eat a variety of foods and take care to include foods that contain particular nutrients to compensate for the foods you’re missing out.  The Nutribox healthy snacks are suitable for vegetarians and because many of them include a variety of berries and seeds such as goji, acai, chia and flax, they can help everyone eat a more nutritionally fulfilling diet.

To find out how you can snack more healthily click here .

  • Abi
  • 26 Feb 2013

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