More people than ever are turning to vegetarian food. There are many reasons for this but health is one of them. But what is a healthy vegetarian diet?
Meat is no longer the natural food it once was, it’s tainted with antibiotics, intensively reared and for many people that’s enough to make them give up meat altogether. Others are cutting down on their intake of meat and poultry and having 2 or 3 days a week where they eat vegetable-based meals. This is becoming more and more popular.
Why Choose Vegetarian?
Whether you’re going vegetarian for ethical reasons, to improve your health, or to cut down your grocery bill, vegetarian food opens up a whole new way of eating. Delicious vegetable-based dishes with bright colours and interesting textures, big flavours and plenty of vitamins and minerals. Italian, Indian, Chinese and many other world cuisines lend themselves perfectly to a vegetarian diet.
If you’re considering going vegetarian but aren’t sure whether to or not, keep reading and you might just take the plunge.
What Can I Eat on a Vegetarian Diet?
The biggest worry for most people who want to go vegetarian is that they will miss the taste and texture of meat. (It’s been said that the hardest thing to give up for vegetarians is bacon.) Somehow, people are worried that they’ll feel deprived. But this doesn’t have to be the case at all. There are lots of vegetarian dishes that are so good, you won’t miss meat at all.
For those that want to be vegetarian but can’t seem to live without meat there are some great products on the market that claim to taste just like the real thing; vegetarian bacon, Quorn mince or chunks, and veggie sausages. Some are better than others. I have personally tried a Bolognese sauce with Quorn mince and to me, it tasted very much like it had been made with the traditional beef mince. The texture was similar too.
Lentils are also a good stand-in for mince. I’ve used them for shepherd’s pie, moussaka and curry. Obviously, you know you’re not eating meat but the texture is there. And lentils are very high in protein, B vitamins and minerals such as zinc and potassium. They also have a high iron content. This is good news for vegetarians, as sometimes their diet can be lacking in iron. Lentils can provide enough iron to make up for the deficiency. Plus they’re very high in fibre.
Is A Vegetarian Diet Healthy?
A vegetarian diet can be a healthy one but you need to be careful that you don’t become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. You can take a vitamin and mineral supplement in tablet or capsule form if you’re worried about missing out on vital nutrients but this shouldn’t be necessary if you’re careful to eat a varied diet.
You do need to be mindful of what you’re eating and ensure that you’re replacing the meat and poultry that used to be a part of your diet with nutrient-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, beans and lentils and soya products such as tofu. Some vegetarians eat dairy products like eggs and cheese but others don’t.
If you’re giving up dairy there are some good alternatives on the market now, like milk made from soy, almonds or oats, vegetarian cheeses and coconut-based yoghurts.
Sticking to a varied and healthy diet is important. Yes, you could live on pizza, cheese on toast and chocolate cake; technically, this would be classed as vegetarian. But you would miss out on the vitamins and minerals that are so vital to good health.
Vegetarian or Vegan?
So what’s the difference between vegetarian and vegan?
Vegetarians do not eat any animal products such as meat, fish, shellfish or poultry but may still eat dairy, eggs and honey as these products aren’t derived from harming animals. Vegans are much more strict; they avoid all meat products but also don’t eat eggs, dairy products or honey and they don’t wear any clothing or shoes made from leather or silk.
Both diets are regarded as healthy. Vegetarians and vegans have lower levels of heart disease, some cancers and conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Read more on the health benefits of going vegan here.
But on the flip side, vegans can become deficient in important vitamins and minerals. They are more likely to be lacking essential Omega-3 fatty acids which are vital to health. In this case, a supplement would be beneficial.
Some people start out as vegetarians, but over time they may decide to become vegan. Vegans can have a rather limited diet but lots of people can still thrive and be healthy. Veganism has become very popular recently and is gaining in popularity all the time.
But don’t go vegetarian or vegan because it’s the trendy thing to do or it’s unlikely that you will stick to it. This has to be a personal choice, made for your own reasons. Not because all your friends have gone vegan and you’re ashamed to eat a burger in front of them, or because you read an article saying how meat causes heart disease. It has to be your decision.
Taking It Slowly
You could start perhaps by having 2 or 3 meals a week that are based around vegetables, and see how that feels. Any change will seem weird at first but if you enjoy your veggie dinners then it gives you more incentive to take the plunge.
There are so many wonderful vegetables available, in all the colours of the rainbow. And so many ways to cook them. Vegetables like peppers and aubergines taste amazing roasted or cooked on a barbecue. So does corn on the cob, charred and sweet and glistening with melted butter.
Salads are another great way to use vegetables; raw spinach mixed with avocado, sliced mushrooms and crunchy croutons with a tangy dressing makes a perfect lunch. Or a classic caesar salad (minus the anchovies.)
You may find that you’re enjoying your meat free meals so much that you don’t miss meat at all. Or even if you do get cravings for a steak or a bacon sandwich it’s not the end of the world. If you really want it, then have it. There are no hard and fast rules, you need to find what works for you.
I hope you enjoyed this article and have fun experimenting with your veggies. If you have any comments or questions please leave them below.
Visit this post on what to eat on a vegetarian diet for some inspiration
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