Eating a vegetarian diet has become more popular over recent years with up to 18% of the world’s population choosing to stick to vegetarian food. People choose a vegetarian diet for religious, ethical or health reasons. There are some people who have chosen to become vegetarian as it is seen as more environmentally friendly.
A standard vegetarian diet is a diet that contains no fish or meat products. It consists of plant-based products along with dairy products and eggs. Some vegetarians also exclude either dairy or eggs. Some vegetarian diets are completely vegan where no animal products are consumed and the diet is purely plant-based. Pescatarians will also eat fish.
Some people will indulge occasionally in meat or fish but like to stick mainly to a vegetarian diet for health reasons. As with all healthy diets, it is important to include lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and avoid over-processed food in your healthy meal plan.
Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
- Good for your heart. Vegetarians may be up to a third less likely to develop heart disease.
- Reduces the risk of cancer.
- Reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Can lower blood pressure.
It is always important to vary the food that you eat in order to ensure that you get all the nutrients that you need. Some nutrients are found less in vegetarian food sources and can even be less easily absorbed by the body than nutrients gained from eating meat and fish. This means that you need careful meal planning with vegetarian food to ensure that you have a healthy vegetarian meal plan that delivers all of the nutrients your body requires.
Vegetarian meal prep is very important to ensure that you include all the foods that your body requires to maintain optimum health and fitness. Whether you go for a healthy meal plan or home food delivery you will need to consider what nutrients might be harder to include in a vegetarian diet.
Protein is made up of amino acids and is essential for building and repairing the tissues, muscles and bones in your body. Healthy diets often favour lean protein over carbohydrates as a way of improving weight loss and maintaining good health. Vegetarians who eat dairy will find plenty of protein from their diet. Good sources will be eggs, milk, yoghurt and cheese. There are also soya alternatives to dairy that provide protein and calcium in a vegetarian diet.
Pulses are another great source of protein. Just 100g of lentils will provide 9g of protein and this healthy vegetarian staple will fill you up in hearty stews, casseroles and curries. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a pure protein that has lots of health benefits, providing all 9 amino acids. Its high fibre content and lack of gluten make it a great alternative to other grains as part of a weight-loss diet.
Calcium helps your body to build strong bones and teeth. This is not a nutrient that is often lacking in a vegetarian diet although vegans who do not eat dairy will have to plan more carefully. It is found easily in all dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurts.
An alternative to dairy would be soy products as soybeans are rich in calcium. Other vegetarian sources of calcium are beans, peas and lentils which are also rich in protein and fibre. Nuts, seeds and grains are another good source of calcium.
Iron is an important part of a healthy diet. It helps the body to produce red blood cells and an iron deficiency can lead to anaemia where you can be tired and breathless. The good news is that although red meat is a great source of iron, there are vegetarian alternatives. The best sources for iron in vegetarian food are eggs, dried fruit, pulses such as lentils and chickpeas and dark green vegetables such as watercress, spinach, kale and cabbage.
Vitamin B12 helps to keep your body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. A deficiency can lead to a type of anaemia that leaves you tired, listless, weak and even depressed.
Fortunately, you can find Vitamin B12 in lots of vegetarian foods. Some of the best sources are dairy food, eggs, nutritional yeast and shiitake mushrooms.