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food-salad-healthy-vegetables peels

Did you know 16th – 22nd May is National Vegetarian Week 2016?

Whilst we often hear the word ‘vegetarian’ being used, what does it really mean?

Well, a true vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat meat, poultry, game, fish or shellfish and instead eat a diet based on grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits.

Some people follow a ‘semi-vegetarian’ diet, which is primarily plant-based diet but includes dairy, eggs and fish on occasion, or in small quantities.

There are various reasons why people choose to be a vegetarian from animal rights and environmental concerns to religious beliefs and health issues.

Vegetarian diets tend to be naturally lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher in plant nutrients than most meat-based diets and include:

  • At least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, more if possible.
  • Wholegrain bread, rice and pasta, organic options are always preferable.
  • Beans, pulses and other proteins.
  • Dairy alternative products such as almond soya and rice milks.
  • Unsaturated oils and spreads.
  • At least eight glasses of water a day.

By understanding what makes up a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet, it is possible for your to get all the nutrients the body needs without adding in supplements.

Vegetarians can be low in iron, which isn’t great as this can cause anaemia and a weak nervous system. To get enough iron you need to eat a variety of:

  • beans, lentils and peas
  • nuts
  • dried fruits such as apricots and raisins
  • dark-green vegetables, such as broccoli, kale and spring greens
  • whole grains, such as brown rice and brown bread
  • cereals fortified with iron

Vitamin B-12 is also needed to produce red blood cells and prevent anaemia but is almost exclusively found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. Fortified breakfast cereals are a readily available source of vitamin B12 and this is where taking supplements might be considered a good idea.

Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for heart health, but are mainly found in eggs and fish so add vegetable oils, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, and walnuts into your diet mix mix.

Getting started can be daunting but we have some tips to help you:

  • Each week cut the number of meat meals you eat so you slowly move over to being a vegetarian. You might find before long you don’t miss meat and it is an easy switch.
  • Add greens, such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard into your diet by adding into soups, salads, stir-fries and smoothies.
  • Try your favourite recipes without meat. Make a vegetarian chilli by swapping the mince for extra kidney beans. Make fajitas using tofu rather than chicken and go for pasta with a thick organic tomato sauce packed with peppers rather than beef.
  • Scan the Internet and library for vegetarian cookbooks and recipes.
  • Check out ethnic restaurants and look in your supermarket for new ideas on what to cook and eat.

Regardless of whether you choose to be vegetarian, it’s always good to eat a variety of foods so why not cut out meat this National Vegetarian Week and see how you get on?