So you’re vegetarian, are you? Is this for health, ethical or environmental reasons? Or is it just a fad???
Having followed a vegetarian diet since the age of 16, I have been asked many times ‘why’? The truth is I was always a bit fussy about the thought of what I was eating. For quite a while I happily ate various types of processed meat, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t really anything to do with an animal. As the years rolled on I could no longer kid myself and so became fully vegetarian.
I settled nicely into the ‘lacto – ovo’ category, which basically meant I ate LOADS of cheese and loved it! In those early carefree days I didn’t realise that ensuring that I had an adequately balanced diet would take some thought and planning. The problem began with trying to simply replace meat in a meal rather than planning a ‘vegetarian’ meal. Cheese is a great source of calcium but it contains high amounts of saturated fats, high calories which can lead to weight gain, and is low in iron.
Without careful consideration the vegetarian diet can be deficient in, for example, Iron, Zinc and B12. Iron is a particularly important nutrient as anaemia is common in young and child bearing women.
There is good evidence that vegetarians have a lower risk of some cancers, diabetes and heart disease, so most of us are hopefully getting it right! However it is unclear if this is due to avoiding meats and perhaps having less processed foods, or due to having higher intakes of fruit and vegetables, the ‘protective’ foods.
When I was planning for pregnancy, I tried to improve my diet, ensuring it was well balanced and contained all the essential nutrients. After the birth of my daughter, we discovered that she had multiple foods allergies and this meant we had to look at what we, as a family, were eating. Now, we all eat more lentils, beans, tofu and eggs (well cooked). We also add yeast flakes to some of our meals which provide a good source of B vitamins (including folic acid).
I am the only vegetarian in the family but my husband and two daughters all eat less meat as a consequence of my dietary choices – and I eat less cheese as a consequence of my daughter’s requirements, so we are all helping each other out!
Do a quick check of your vegetarian diet – does it contain:
Protein – lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, dairy and eggs
Iron – lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, dried fruit
B12 - dairy, eggs, fortified cereals, yeast extract