For thousands of years many cultures have lived on vegetarian diets. Today, the advantages of a vegetarian diet are widely recognised, and in many cases contribute to substantially improved health.
Vegetarians are much less likely to suffer from heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, and diabetes. A well-planned and varied vegetarian diet is appropriate for people of all ages, and can provide the body with everything it needs to function at its best.
Creating a well-balanced vegetarian diet
To ensure a balanced vegetarian diet, include a range of cereals, legumes and fruits to get the carbohydrates you need and maintain a healthy weight. Wherever possible, aim for wholegrain rather than refined foods, and try to avoid foods that are heavy in fat and sugar. Don’t forget that everybody should drink 6-8 glasses of water per day.
Essential vitamins and minerals are easily provided by a vegetarian diet, although some minerals are more readily absorbed if you remember these key factors:
- Iron absorption from plant sources is enhanced by vitamin C, so include a source of both in the same meal. Whole fruits are recommended over fruit juices, as they will also add fibre.
- Zinc absorption is improved by the fermentation used to make bread or tempeh, but variety also helps.
Vegetables make up a large portion of a vegetarian diet, and are packed with nutrients, providing vitamin C, beta-carotene, riboflavin, iron, calcium and fibre. Go for vegetables that are laden in beta-carotene and vibrantly coloured, such as silver beet, spinach, broccoli, carrots, squash, kumara, and pumpkin.
Grains are rich in fibre and other complex carbohydrates, as well as protein, vitamin B, and zinc. We recommend wholegrain bread, rice, pasta, hot or cold cereal, corn, millet, barley, cracked wheat and tacos.
Nuts and legumes are great sources of protein, and can be easily incorporated into a vegetarian diet. Look forchickpeas, beans, peas, lentils and tofu. These all have the added bonus of fibre, iron, calcium, zinc and B vitamins, and are a simple addition to just about any meal. A major health bonus of a plant-based diet is that the protein doesn’t come laden with saturated fats, unlike protein sourced from meat.
Got more questions on becoming vegetarian?
The NZ Vegetarian Society supports people through their transition into a vegetarian lifestyle and offers practical advice on nutrition, meal plans, social eating, and product recommendations. They have a variety of resources available on vegetarian health and nutrition.
Find out more at www.vegetarian.org.nz
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