Vegetarian Diet

Vegetables (either raw, cooked or frozen) are one of the richest sources of vitamins and some essential minerals. To help prevent vitamin deficiency, the World Health organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum daily intake of five portions of vegetables and fruits. Several dietary studies show that populations with diets that are rich in vegetables have a significantly reduced risk of coronary heart disease and cancers. Vegetables contain vitamin A (beta-carotene), members of the B-complex, Folate, vitamins C, E and K. Vegetables are also excellent sources of phytochemicals – the protective plant micronutrients like the carotenoids lycopene and lutein. (The health benefits of phytochemicals are a relatively recent discovery. Phytochemicals – from the Greek word “phyto”, meaning “plant” – are compounds found in plant foods.)

If you want to follow a vegetarian eating plan or simply reduce your intake of meat, has tons of information and resources to help you understand the principles of healthy vegetarianism, maintain a healthy weight and reduce your cholesterol.

Our main veggie diet is a lacto-ovo eating plan, although it can be converted to suit vegans. One of the big problems about strict vegetarian menus is the danger of not eating enough vitamin B12. If you follow a vegan diet or a strict macrobiotic diet, you will need to include B12 fortified foods and possibly other nutritional supplements to ensure optimum nutrition.

Vegetarian Nutrition – A Different Approach

Not eating meat is one thing – following a healthy vegetarian diet is quite another. Like it or not, meat is a very convenient source of certain vitamins and minerals, so if you don’t eat meat you need to take extra care to ensure that your diet satisfies your total nutritional needs.

Vegetarian eating requires a different approach to meal-preparation and cooking.

  • Because meat supplies texture, flavor and bulk, as well as nutrition, many meat dishes
    tend to contain a small number of ingredients. By contrast, most vegetarian dishes tend to contain a much wider variety of ingredients, (for texture, flavor and bulk) and flavorings like herbs and spices. So be prepared to increase the number of ingredients and flavorings in your meals.
  • Meat also supplies a variety of taste, so meat-eaters tend to be quite un-experimental when it comes to buying and cooking new foods. By contrast, vegetarianism requires a slightly bolder approach. So be prepared to try new foods and new cooking methods.
  • Meat is also a convenient source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Meat dishes therefore require fewer extras to make up a balanced meal. By contrast, vegetarians need to make a little extra effort to create a healthy balanced meal. So be prepared to include the necessary food groups in your meals.

Essential Food Store for Vegetarians

If you’re serious about eating a healthy vegetarian diet, I strongly advise you to keep a stock of most (if not all) of the following foods. They are the essential building blocks of a balanced vegetarian diet.

  • Herbs – Basil, chives, oregano, mint, rosemary, parsley, garlic & ginger.
  • Spices – Paprika, cinnamon, garam masala, cumin seeds, cayenne pepper, coriander, chili pepper, turmeric, mustard seeds.
  • Flavorings – Soy sauce, lemon juice, lime juice, sesame salt, miso, tahini, horse radish, brewer’s yeast, wholegrain mustard.
  • Breads – Wholegrain bread, rye bread
  • Brown foods – Brown rice, whole-wheat pasta.
  • Legumes – Soya beans (best), red kidney beans, garbanzo beans (chick peas), split peas, pinto beans, black-eyed beans, red lentils, green lentils, soya bean products like tempeh and tofu.
  • Nuts – Almonds, walnuts, pine kernels, brazil nuts, cashews.
  • Seeds – Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds.
  • Muesli – Choose lower fat, lower sugar brands.
  • Low-fat milk products – Skimmed milk, fat-free yogurt.
  • Cheeses – Ricotta, cottage, curd, feta.
  • Eggs – Choose free range; eat max 4-6 per week, or unlimited egg-whites.
  • Fruits – Widest possible variety of fresh fruits. (Plus frozen fruit or canned in juice)
  • Vegetables – Widest possible variety.
  • Foods fortified with vitamin B12 – B12 is an important vitamin for non-meat-eaters. It is available in dairy products, but there are several B12 fortified foods which are worth buying, including: yeast extracts, vegetable stocks, vegetable burger mixes, soya milks, margarines, breakfast cereals and herbal soft drinks.

As a basic guide, a balanced vegetarian diet should include the following each day:

  • Grains/cereals : 3 or 4 servings. These provide energy, fiber, B vitamins, calcium and iron.
    Grains include: Wheat, rice, barley, corn, oats, rye, millet, buckwheat.
    Pasta, rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals, muesli, porridge, all types of breads/tacos etc.
  • Legumes, nuts or seeds – 2 or 3 servings
    These provide protein, energy, fibre, calcium, iron and zinc.
    Legumes include: Lentils, beans, peas, garbanzos (chick peas), peanuts, soya beans.
    Nuts include: Almonds, walnuts, pine kernels, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts.
    Seeds include: Sesame, sunflower, pumpkin.
  • Fruit, vegetables – 4 or 5 servings, including
    Fresh fruit – for vitamin C;
    Dried fruit – for fibre and iron.
    Dark green leafy vegetables – for folate, calcium and iron;
    Red, orange and yellow vegetables – for beta-carotene;
  • Dairy or soya products – 2 servings
    These provide protein, energy, calcium and other minerals, vitamin B12, vitamin D.
  • A small amount of oil, margarine or butter
    This provides energy, essential fatty acids, vitamin E (plant oils) and vitamins A and D (margarine or butter).

Food Combining for Complete Protein

  • Grains + Legumes = complete protein
  • The human body needs what is called ‘complete’ protein.
  • This ‘complete’ protein is only found in certain foods: i.e. meat, poultry, fish, eggs and cheese.
  • Although cheese and eggs are vegetarian foods, overloading on them will introduce too much fat and cholesterol into the diet.
  • Vegetarians must therefore ‘combine’ certain foods in order to obtain the complete protein they require. The two foods which must be combined are grains and legumes.
  • These foods don’t have to be eaten at the same time – within a few hours of each other is okay. In fact if your vegetarian diet includes regular servings of grains and legumes, your protein intake should be fine.

A few common examples of grains/legumes combinations include:

  • Peanut butter sandwich with wholemeal bread
  • Baked beans on wholemeal bread
  • Pea soup & bread roll
  • Hummus & pitta bread
  • Tacos & beans
  • Pasta & cheese
  • Muesli & milk
  • Brown rice & lentils
  • Mix and maximize your protein intake

As well as combining grains with legumes, vegetarians can maximize their protein intake by including foods from at least two of the following groups, in their regular meals.

  • Dairy foods
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Legumes
  • Grains

A Simple Day’s Vegetarian Menu

  • Breakfast : Porridge or muesli with fruit & fat-free milk/soya milk.
  • Lunch : Wholemeal salad sandwich, or rice salad.
  • Dinner : Any dish containing beans and grains, plus vegetables.
  • Dessert : Fresh fruit with low fat yogurt.
  • Snacks : Fresh/dried fruit, sandwiches, nuts, vegetable sticks.

Weight Loss Guidelines For Vegetarians

A non-meat diet isn’t necessarily non-fattening! For best results, follow these guidelines:

Check labels on all convenience food

Non-meat doesn’t mean non-fat. For example, convenience vegetarian foods (veggie burgers etc) often contain more fat than their meaty cousins. To avoid eating fat-bombs, always check the label!

Don’t over-do the eggs and cheese

Much of the nutrition which is supplied by meat can be found in non-meat foods like dairy products, cheese and eggs. However, these foods cannot be eaten carelessly.

  • For example, cheese contains more fat than many meat products.
  • Egg yolks are high in cholesterol.
    Each yolk contains 213mg per yolk, while your total daily cholesterol intake should be no more than 300mg per day.
  • To keep your diet as non-fattening as possible, go easy on egg yolks (and mayo) and buy lower-fat cheeses.

Switch to low fat dairy products

This is important for all dieters – vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian.

  • Drink fat-free milk.
  • Eat low fat yogurt.
  • Save cream for treats only

Watch your sugar intake

  • Limit your consumption of soft drinks.
  • Instead, drink water or 100% fruit juice.
  • Avoid candy and cookies – including the 95% fat-free varieties!

Adopt sensible cooking habits

  • Limit your frying.
  • Instead, bake, boil, grill or roast.
  • If frying use a fat spray.

Go for variety!

If you don’t make your diet as tasty and as enjoyable as possible, you’ll never stick to it. The best way to make it enjoyable (and healthy) is to eat the widest possible variety.

Nutritional Issues

Follow a balanced diet

A balanced vegetarian diet is exceptionally healthy. Indeed, the incidence of heart disease, stroke and cancer among vegetarians is much less than among non-vegetarians. However, an unbalanced vegetarian is no healthier – and may even be less healthy – than a non-vegetarian diet.

Facts about vegetarian nutrition

A balanced vegetarian diet supplies all the vitamins the body requires. Recent US and UK surveys have found that vitamin levels among vegetarian groups are quite adequate, and in some cases higher than the national average.


Soy protein has been shown to be equal to proteins of animal origin. It can be the sole protein source, if desired.

Vitamin B12

Vegetarians generally obtain adequate B12 from dairy products. For example, a recent study found average intake of vitamin B12 in vegetarians to be 180 per cent of the recommended level in men and 120 per cent in women. In addition, there is a growing range of B12-fortified foods.

Vitamin D

Most vegetarians generally obtain adequate Vitamin D from dairy products. It is also obtainable from the action of sunlight on the skin.


Studies have shown that vegetarians absorb and retain more calcium from foods than non-vegetarians. Vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli, some legumes and soya bean products are good plant sources of calcium.


Iron from plant foods is less easily absorbed than iron from meat and meat products. Fortunately, vitamin C greatly improves iron absorption and vegetarian diets are generally rich in vitamin C. It is recommended that plant food sources of iron are consumed at the same time as vitamin C rich foods or drinks to facilitate absorption. Good sources of iron for vegetarians include leafy green vegetables, legumes, (including baked beans), dried fruit, brewer’s yeast, wholemeal bread and fortified breakfast cereals.


Recent studies have found no significant differences in average zinc intake between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. However, some vegetarian women had low zinc intakes and this was attributed to limited consumption of zinc-rich foods such as pulses and wholegrains. Low zinc intake reflects poor food choices rather than inadequate food sources.


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