There’s so much talked and written about the vegetarian diet – is it healthy or not and how easy it is to replace all the nutrients from a diet which includes meat and fish from fruit and vegetables? With so many delicious vegetables available all year round it is easy to access a wonderful range of produce to suit all tastes and culinary creations.
There are many excellent health reasons for following a vegetarian diet, either fully or partly. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her ‘low-down’ on why it’s good to be green!
Obviously a vegetarian doesn’t include meat or fish in their diet, for health or humane reasons (sometimes both) or just by choice. However, sometimes a vegetarian will eat fish (known as a pescatarian) and there are also those who follow a vegan diet, which we know means they do not eat any food of animal origin, including milk, cheese and eggs.
There are three main reasons why a vegetarian diet is so good for your health:
THE BODY LOVES TO BE ALKALINE
As a general rule, the body should always be in a more alkaline state than acidic. Too much acidity creates all manner of health problems and acidity is at the route of many of our degenerative diseases, including osteoporosis.
Foods high in protein such as meat, chicken, eggs, fish and dairy, contain strong acids in the body, and the body then has to work very hard to neutralise them. It does this by ‘buffering’ the acids with the body’s alkalising minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. This, in turn, has an effect on the health of the bones, because valuable calcium is being leached from them to counteract the acidity. Interestingly, Eskimos, who eat a very high protein diet of seal meat and fish, with very few fruits and vegetables, have some of the highest rates of osteoporosis.
So, if the amount of animal protein being consumed means are bodies are more acidic, then eating more fruits and vegetables means our body is naturally going to be more alkaline. Vegetarians will certainly be smashing the minimum recommended ‘five-a-day’ advice, which brings so many other health benefits including the number of vitamins you will be taking in.
As a nation, we generally don’t include enough fibre in the diet; refined and white foods such as white bread and pasta, together with cakes and biscuits contain little fibre. A vegetarian diet naturally contains a higher amount of fibre due to the amount of fruits and vegetables being consumed. It also generally includes beans, lentils, quinoa and peas, all of which are also high in fibre and it is fibre which keeps everything running smoothly in the digestive department!
Red meat is quite tough on the digestive system; its fibrous structure makes it particularly difficult to break down effectively, hence people can often get pain and indigestion after eating a meal containing red meat. So increasing your vegetable intake will also increase your fibre intake, making for a healthier digestive system.
Vegetarians often have a much lower incidence of heart disease, partly because their diet is naturally lower in saturated fat, which is high in red meat. Saturated fat can accumulate in the arteries leading to high cholesterol and blood fats – both markers for heart disease. It’s also well documented that eating a diet high in red meat can reduce life expectancy – partly because of the high fat but also because red meat, and especially processed red meat such as bacon and ham, contains high amounts of salt – another potential marker for heart disease.
It’s much easier to lose weight when eating a diet which contains maybe only 5% saturated fat. Plus, because vegetarians naturally eat more fruits and vegetables, they are automatically eating more antioxidant-rich food – yet another amazing health benefit, and also a way of increasing longevity.
Here are a few simple vegetarian meal suggestions to get you going:
It’s important for everyone to eat some protein at every meal; this will keep you feeling fuller for longer and helps to maintain even energy levels throughout the day.
Breakfast is therefore going to set you up for the day and should never be skipped! An egg and spinach omelette, some natural soya yoghurt with blueberries and some seeds, or quinoa porridge are all great options.
Lunch is equally essential and again, you’ll need the protein to help prevent that 3p.m. slump! An avocado salad, a mixed bean and grain salad, or a vegetarian sandwich with hummus, tomato and rocket will all fit the bill.
Dinner is a great time to be stocking up on some essential omega 3 fats which help the body to repair at night, as well as providing you with protein. Why not try some roasted vegetables with some whole wheat pasta combined with walnuts (omega healthy) and some pesto? Alternatively, try some peppers stuffed with wholegrain rice, mushroom, tomatoes and walnuts and baked in the oven – delicious!
And don’t forget that even if you’re eating some animal protein from eggs and dairy, combining grains and pulses (not necessarily in the same meal) you’ll be getting the same essential amino acid profile to make up complete proteins and help the body to repair and produce hormones. Try to eat grains and pulses on the same day, to be most effective.
So, all in all being green is great! And, you’ll certainly be ‘maxing’ out on some amazingly healthy foods!
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