What to do when a family member decides to become vegetarian….
- The nutrients. Can I have a good diet as a vegetarian?
Many vegetarian diets can provide better nutrition than standard carnivore diets and may be more eco friendly too
- The cost. Is it more expensive?
Most plant-based diets will actually save you money. Homemade products will generally be less expensive and have a better nutrient profile than shop-bought. I’ve explained this below further in the post and you can always access our recipes!
- Substitutions. Isn’t it a whole load of effort with lots of separately prepared meals?
Have store cupboard items in to help with those occasions when you are looking for ideas and try having good veggie options that everyone enjoys. These veggie sausages are tasty for everyone, veggie or not, or maybe two types of sausage meat/veg if someone prefers meat sausages. See substitutions below for vegetarian alternatives.
The main elements of a good plant-based diet is high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and whole foods such as nuts, seeds, peas, beans and lentils. Nuts and seeds provide a good source of healthy fats and nuts seeds, beans and lentils provide a good source of protein. All in all, a plant-based diet can provide an adequate amount of carbohydrates, fats and protein. Good quantities of fibre from these foods is also an important factor and will supply both soluble and insoluble fibre which is good for gut health.
Other important nutrients are vitamins and minerals. Vitamin B12 is found in some fortified foods, for example, breakfast cereals, it is also found in yeast extract and nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast costs about £2.99/125g and is really versatile as it can be used in salads, soups, a substitute for cheese. For what looks pretty uninviting at first glance it is surprisingly tasty. Some fat spreads are fortified with Vitamin D as are some nut milks which may contain added Vitamin A and sometimes added calcium which is present in large amounts as in cows’ milk. Check the label to see what the nutritional profile is of your plant-based milk, some do not contribute much nutritionally.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are essential which means they cannot be made by the body. Omega 3 is essential for brain development and ongoing brain health and needs to be consumed daily. It’s also good for cardiovascular health and is an anti-inflammatory. You can supply this in your diet via good quantities of ground linseed (1 tablespoon), chia seeds (1 tablespoon), walnuts (3 whole), hemp seeds (2 tablespoons), and rapeseed oil which you can cook with or use as a salad dressing. These are daily good quantities (in brackets). If you’re unlikely to consume this amount then a supplement may be the answer. Omega 3 can be found in vegetarian supplements produced from algae or seeds. Always consider little ones who are developing and need omega 3 in particular for brain development. A supplement may be a good idea when pregnant or breastfeeding this is something that you could discuss with your health practitioner. Finally, without getting too techy the amount of omega 3 in the diet can be affected by the quantity of omega 6 consumed. This simply means balancing the omega 6 consumed. Sunflower, corn and sesame in oil and oils of these whole food versions for example sunflower seeds all count to reduce the consumption of Omega 3.
To supplement dairy foods and find good sources of calcium, for all members of the family, but especially for smaller appetites and growth and development in children, try the following: sesame seeds and tahini, green, leafy vegetables – broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach (calcium is present, but largely unavailable) fortified, unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks, calcium-set tofu, and pulses. Also, bread which has been fortified with calcium by law for many years, dried fruit, for example, apricots, prunes, figs and raisins.
Finally going vegetarian shouldn’t be difficult, but careful consideration should be made when changing any diet radically. In time the body will become more efficient at absorbing nutrients such as iron, which can be difficult for the body to extract when red meat is routinely consumed. In the meantime, fortified foods and supplements could be considered in the early stages. Consuming Vitamin C with plant-based sources of iron helps with iron absorption. A glass of orange juice could provide this. Vegetarians are much more efficient at absorbing nutrients than carnivores.
This all sounds great, however, it can be easy to substitute highly refined foods high in sugar, salt and fats and processed ready foods which mean that a vegetarian diet could be unhealthy, in the same way, that any diet may be dependent on choices made. Popular or trending foods such as coconut oil may seem like a healthy choice but do contain a large proportion of saturated fats more normally associated with animal products. Saturated fats are thought to be implicated in circulatory and cardiovascular health risks.
Ready foods can be expensive for example buying hummus from a supermarket can cost anything from 50-80p/100g. Making your own (and it tastes better!) would only be could be as cheap as 20p/100g. Recipe Hummus
You can tailor your own food to suit you or your family by adding chilli, garlic etc. Eating falafel from the supermarket can come in at £1.00+/100g. Homemade isn’t a faff and can cost as little as 40p/100g.
Eating a plant-based diet can mean excluding all animal products, or meat and/or fish, or dairy – the combinations and people’s preferences are extensive. Buying premium vegetarian products and foods is definitely not the cheapest option and is often not as good quality or as tasty as those you can make at home.
Protein is made of many different building blocks called amino acids. Some of these are “essential” meaning that they cannot be made by the body. Having a variety of different protein sources is essential to consume all of the amino acids, ideally in a day. At one time it was thought that all the essential amino acids had to be consumed at one meal, but research suggests that consuming these essential amino acids over a 24 hour period is sufficient. The body is a lot cleverer than we give it credit for! Throughout the day do have a great variety of foods so that you’re likely to consume all the essential amino acids to help build and maintain bodies.
So looking at other practicalities and especially those arising from one person out of a group being vegetarian here’s a table of non-animal protein substitutes you can use.
|Animal origin||Vegetarian alternative|
|Cows’ milk||Fortified nut/soya milks|
|Butter||Vegetable spreads, oils such as rapeseed oil, soya or groundnut|
|Cheese||Rennet (from animals) is often used in cheese production. Non-rennet cheese is an option for people eating dairy or alternatively, there are some really good dairy-free, vegan versions using an array of ingredients and are in many different formats from “Halloumi” to camembert and are often fortified with Vitamin B12|
|Fish, Meat and Eggs||Tofu – made from bean curd
Beans – there’s such a variety try them in cans or dried (less convenient, but cheaper).
Nuts and their butters
Nutritional yeast – good for adding to salads, soups, casseroles and make a tasty mac and “cheese”
Teff (a grain)
Seitan – ready-made or make your own a mixture of flavoured wheat gluten that can be made to be a “meaty” alternative
Tempeh – soybean derivative