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Feeling good on a plant based diet

11-17th May 2020 was National Vegetarian Week in the UK, hosted by the Vegetarian Society. This initiative encourages people to try following a vegetarian diet for a week. It’s a great opportunity to try out some new meat-free recipes, include more fruit and vegetables in your diet and to get creative in the kitchen.

There has been a rise in people following both vegetarian and vegan diets, some people are also moving towards a plant-based diet with less meat. But how can we make sure we can have a nutritionally adequate vegetarian diet…?

What is a plant-based diet?

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) defines a plant-based diet as one that is based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits, with few or no animal products.

How is the different from a vegetarian diet?

A vegetarian diet is free from meat from any source including poultry, fish, seafood, insects, products derived from animals such a gelatine, rennet, stock and fat.

A vegetarian diet can include dairy products, eggs, fruits, grains, honey, nuts, pulses, seeds and vegetables.

How is a vegetarian diet different to a vegan diet?

A vegan diet further excludes animal products from any origin such as dairy products, eggs and honey.

I’ve heard the term flexitarian, what does this mean?

A flexitarian will occasionally eat meat, poultry or fish.

What are main nutrition concerns for a vegetarian diet?

Calcium, iron, iodine, omega 3, vitamin B12 vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc.



Why you need it?

Develop and maintain bone and dental health. Plays a role in blood clotting and muscle contractions.

Where you find it?

Broccoli, dairy products, dried fruit such as figs, kale, oranges, pulses, tofu, fortified breads, milks and cereals.



Why you need it?

Healthy blood, muscles and energy levels.

Where you find it?

Tofu, green leafy vegetables, nuts, peppers, strawberries, fortified bread and cereals.



Why you need it?

Production of thyroid hormones; triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones control the body’s metabolism. Brain and bone development during pregnancy.

Where you find it?

Dairy products, eggs, seaweed*, peanut nuts, iodised salt and fortified plant milk.


Omega 3

Why you need it?

Heart functioning, blood vessels and may be protective in maintaining memory.

Where you find it?

Chia seeds, green leafy vegetables, nuts such as hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts. and algae-derived supplement.


Vitamin B12

Why you need it?

Healthy nerves, red blood cells and building DNA.

Where you find it?

Dairy products, eggs, fortified cereals, milk and yeast extract.


Vitamin C

Why you need it?

Absorption of non-haem iron. Supports immune system.

Where you find it?

Broccoli, citrus fruit and strawberries.


Vitamin D **

Why you need it?

Aids absorption of calcium. Keeps muscles working properly.

Where you find it?

Egg yolk, fortified cereals, some plant milks, mushrooms, margarine and sunshine.



Why you need it?

Cell growth, supports immune system and helps wound healing.

Where you find it?

Cows milk, eggs, humous, cereals, nuts and seeds, bread, cheese and potatoes.

*Amount of iodine varies greatly.

** The UK government recommend taking a 10mcg vitamin D supplement during October and March as the sunlight isn’t strong enough for the body to convert it to vitamin D in our skin.

What are the nutrition recommendations for vegetarians?

The Vegetarian Society has adapted the government Eatwell Guide for vegetarians, applicable to anyone over the age of 2 years. Check it out on the Vegetarian Society website.

Can I get plant-based supplements?

Yes, for vitamin D look for vitamin D2 and lichen-derived vitamin D3. For omega-3 look for algae-derived supplements.

Is plant-based milk just as good as cow’s milk?

It can be, but not all plant milks are created equally. Look for those with fortified calcium, iodine, vitamin B12 and D.

Do I need to be worried about my protein intake? Do I need a supplement?

Protein is required by all cells and tissues in our bodies. It is essential for the growth and repair of our bodies. People following a vegetarian diet can get adequate amounts from their normal diet.

What are vegetarian sources of protein?

· Beans & pulses: chickpeas, red lentils, kidney beans and baked beans.

· Meat-free alternatives: Quorn (fungus), seitan (hydrated gluten), tempeh (fermented soya beans) and tofu (processed soya bean curd).

· Nuts & seeds: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, peanuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.

· In order to get the full range of amino acids you should combine multiple plant-based sources together.

What are ways to eat more plant foods?

· Try adding pulses, beans or lentils into curries, chilli and pasta dishes.

· Blitz up veggies that have started to go off into soup, endless combinations and a good way to reduce food waste.

· Make homemade sauces with veggies, check out my tomato ketchup recipes on my blog here.

· As the weather is currently quite good, why not mix it up and try a veggie burger or sausage on the BBQ. Alternatively, you can skewer vegetables and tofu to roast on the BBQ.

· Try making vegetables the star of the dish, for example a large stuffed mushroom.

I’m not vegetarian but I want to eat more plant-based, how can I get started?

People are adopting a more flexible approach.

Start with a meat-free day each week, the popular day is Meat Free Monday, but any day of the week will do!

Remember it feels to much like a dieting rule, then try and introduce a couple of plant-based meals a week.

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