To celebrate National Vegetarian Week this week, we thought we'd address some of the frequent nutritional and health related concerns with turning vegetarian and link you through to some awesome recipes which tackle those concerns.
There are all types of vegetarians but we'll stick to lacto-ovo vegetarian for the sake of this post as it represents the most popular idea of what a vegetarian is: someone who doesn't consume meat products.
Studies into diets that are high in fruits and veggies have been found that they're been liked to less heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes which is amazing. Eating at least 5 portions of colourful fruit and veg is the best thing to do as these types of foods can be rich in antioxidants and anti-cancer flavonoids. Research has found that consuming dark green, yellow, orange, red and purple fruit and veg can significantly decrease your risk of various cancers.
LET'S TALK ABOUT PROTEIN, BABY
Protein has been on the lips of many people in recent years and has become something of a fad in the last year with things like crisps being unnecessarily advertised as having added protein. And more so than ever it seems vegetarians and vegans frequently come under question as to where they get their protein from.
Proteins are extremely important as they make up the basic building blocks in the cells within our bodies: they create the structures, enzymes and hormones. They are also continually being worn out and in so doing must be replaced through the food we consume. The daily recommended guidelines aren't that high though: 0.75g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day for adults, or 10% of the total calories consumed in a meal (Unless you're an athlete who needs a little more to allow proper muscle repair).
That amount is actually very easy to get in a vegetarian diet through eggs, dairy, beans, grains, legumes, peas and soy products... It can often be healthier to get protein through veg as well as it comes with more fibre and less saturated fat than meat, cheese and milk products.
Have all the protein with this super green pea and mint soup.
WHAT ABOUT CALCIUM?
People may be worried about calcium intake on a vegetarian diet, especially if a person has decided to cut out dairy (a large amount of the worlds population is thought to be lactose intolerant). Calcium is actually quite easy to get on a vegetarian or even vegan diet. People who follow vegetarian diets often still consume dairy products (milk, yoghurts, cheese etc) but you can also find calcium (along with vitamin D) in fortified dairy alternatives, breads and tofu. And it naturally occurs in kale, almonds, oats, beans, lentils, soy, beetroot, seaweed, spinach, figs, pumpkin, cashews & other nuts and sesame seeds.
Here's an interesting fact: Calcium in milk actually occurs in the watery part of the liquid so using skimmed milks or low fat yogurts and cheeses means you aren't missing out on your calcium intake. Also because butter and cream are largely made up of fats in dairy they don't actually contain much calcium.
Get some more calcium with this cashew nut curry with broccoli and halloumi.
KEEPING UP WITH IRON
Iron can be a funny one because it is true that heme iron from animals is far more easily absorbed than non-heme iron from plants, but that being said it's not impossible to keep up iron intake on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Iron is a mineral in our bodies that is very important in the production of blood and transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies. Iron deficiency is actually quite a common nutrient deficiency across the world and the symptoms include fatigue, pale skin, weakness and an inability to maintain body temperature.
To make sure you absorb the most iron in your diet it's best to pair iron rich foods with vitamin C as it can help increase absorption by five times as much. It could be as simple as having a glass of orange juice with your meal - but definitely avoid tea at mealtimes as it inhibits iron absorption.
Iron rich foods outside of red meat and liver include legumes such as lentils, soy, tofu, tempeh. Veggies such a beetroot, broccoli, seaweed, sweet potatoes and leafy greens. Nuts such as pine nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds are also great sources. And you can find iron in quinoa, fortified cereal, porridge oats and brown rice.
Up your Iron with this sweet potato, black bean & quinoa chilli.
Vitamin B12 is a vitamin that should be supplemented to ensure vegetarians and vegans get their daily recommended amount. But it can also be found in milk, cheese, eggs, yeast extract and fortified breakfast cereals and milks. B12 deficiencies have been linked to depression and long term neurological disorders so it wise to keep this in check. Have a blood test to see if you need more than you're getting.
Get B12 & protein from this spicy chickpea shakshuka.
Omega essential fatty acids - 3 & 6. They're deemed essential as our bodies cannot make these fats. Omega-3 is called ALA and omega-6 is LA. These fats impact our immune systems, brains, nerves and eyes so they're quite vital to the healthy functioning of our bodies. Good sources include chia seeds, ground linseed, walnuts, hemp seeds and use of vegetable/rapeseed oil when cooking meals. To meet daily recommended amounts you would need about one tablespoon of chia seeds for example.
To up your omegas, why not try this almond butter chia seed pudding.