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Introduction to vegetarian diets

Published on 15 December 2009

Vegetarian diets are becoming increasingly popular as meat prices as well as health concerns rise. Many people are cutting down or cutting out meat in favour of a full vegetarian diet - here's what you need to know...

Vegetarian diets are becoming increasingly popular as meat prices as well as health concerns rise. Many people are cutting down or cutting out meat in favour of a full vegetarian diet - here's what you need to know...

A brief history of vegetarianism

Although it only appeared as we know it today in the 19th century, vegetarianism isn't a recent craze.

Many ancient philosophies, notably Hindu, Greek and even Christianity, have praised its virtues. In the past it was adopted for philosophical or religious reasons, although today it owes its popularity mainly to ethic, gustative, health and ecological factors. There are several types of vegetarian diets, some of which are more restrictive than others.

The most widespread is lacto-ovo vegetarianism, which consists of not eating meat but allows animal products such as eggs and dairy produce. This the most common veggie diet.

In addition there is:

- a lacto vegetarian diet excluding all animal products except dairy produce.

- An ovo vegetarian diet excludinf all animal products except eggs.

- A pescetarian diet excludinf meat but not fish.

- a vegan diet, which excludes all animal products and animal derived products.

Nutritional particularities

Most veggies follow the most popular vegetarian diet (lacto vegetarianism, which includes eggs and dairy produce) can provide a balanced diet in the Western world because it includes all the essential food groups.

The consumption of eggs and dairy products can prevent deficiencies caused by a lack of meat and fish because they provide the right amounts of good quality protein.

In terms of micronutrients, eggs, cereals and pulses provide iron; dairy produce provides calcium; cereals (especially whole grains) provide B Vitamins; fruit and vegetables provide Vitamin A; eggs and dairy produce provide Vitamin D.

- You can be a healthy vegetarian if you take all these factors into account and get a good balance of different foods (see below). A vegetarian diet could be the most healthy diet around, because you eat less cholesterol and saturated fat than on a normal diet without compromising on other essential nutrients.

- The more restrictive veganism carries a higher risk of deficiencies, notably in protein, essential amino acids, iron, zinc, Vitamins A and D but there are ways to supplement these if you choose to go vegan - research and imagination are key to staying healthy and vegan.

An ideal Vegetarian daily diet:

Breakfast

Milk or dairy product

Whole grains or cereals

Fresh fruit

Lunch

Eggs

Cereals/grains and pulses

Salad

Dairy produce


Dinner

Cereals/grains and green vegetables
Dairy produce
Fresh fruit

Wholemeal bread

NB. To meet your RDA of protein, eat at least 3 to 4 helping of dairy/eggs (except if you have cholesterol problems) a day or add nuts and protein-rich seeds (such as pumpkin) to meals. You should get at least one cereal/grain-based meal (with wheat, corn, oat, rye or barley) teamed with beans, lentils, peas or soya. The rest of your diet should be composed of fruit, vegetables, oil-producing seeds (such as walnuts and almonds) and bread.

For more information on vegetarian diets, vegetarian nutrition and vegetarian health see:

The Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation
The Vegetarian Society
Go Cruelty Free

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