Go veggie and stay healthy
Sticking to a healthy diet can be tricky, so if you're thinking of going veggie, getting a balanced diet is key...
Whatever the reason for you or your child ditching meat may be, going veggie can open up a world of exciting new cuisine and potential health benefits. If you're concerned about lacking protein or nutrients, don't be - it's all about variety. Here's what you need to know...
Everything in moderation
Just because meat and fish are no longer part of the diet, there's still no excuse to go overboard with your other favourite foods. Cheese is often a big pitfall, and although it's a great source of calcium and protein it is high in fat, salt and calories. Swap to lower fat versions or try cottage cheese to get a lower calorie calcium fix. Vegetarian ready meals can often be loaded with fat, sugar and salt, so try to cook fresh where you can and save these for an occasional treat.
Meat-free products in supermarkets have never been more plentiful, everything from burgers and sausages to 'bacon' and 'ham'. Many are soya based, but these can still contain large amounts of salt, so keep an eye on food labels. Quorn is a cheap and protein-rich meat alternative, and perfect for making speedy veggie meals. Meat-free mince can still make a richly flavoured chilli or shepherd(less) pie, just add some extra herbs or spices if you want to boost the flavour.
Don't forget about calcium
If your diet includes cheese, a daily yogurt and and a bowl of cereal (with milk) you'll have no problem reaching your calcium target, if you don't eat dairy however, getting enough calcium can be a little harder. Green leafy veg, beans, nuts, lentils, citrus fruits and seeds are surprising sources, while fortified cereals and non-dairy milks all provide an extra boost.
Go beyond 5-a-day
Five servings of fruit and vegetables is the minimum you should be aiming for. Vegetables tend to be lower in calories than fruits as they contain lower levels of natural sugars, so make sure they feature at every meal. Try and eat the rainbow every day- it may sound weird, but a colourful fruit and vegetable intake will mean you'll be getting lots more nutrients and vitamins compared to eating a limited selection. Canned, fresh, frozen and dried fruit and vegetables all count, and so do pulses too. Even half a can of baked beans counts as one serving, and when combined with some wholemeal toast, it makes a pretty perfectly balanced meal.
Don't stress about protein
It's one of the main worries when becoming a veggie, but if you're eating a varied diet, chances are you'll get more than enough protein. Although eggs, dairy,tofu, nuts, pulses and meat alternatives may be obvious sources of protein, you'll still be boosting your intake form other sources. Even two slices of bread or serving of pasta can provide around a fifth of our daily protein requirements.
Check the labels
Cutting out meat and meat by-products isn't the easiest task. Many foods and drinks contain animal products that you need to look out for. Cheeses can contain animal rennet, so check for a vegetarian symbol on pack. Wine can use fish or animal by-products during processing, so take a look on the bottle - many supermarkets have very clear labelling. Sweets, desserts and yogurts can often use gelatine as a gelling or setting agent- give this a wide berth if you're going animal-free.