How to plan a vegetarian diet

Vegetables prepared for a meal

Getting the balance right when planning a vegetarian diet is essential.

Vegetables prepared for a mealMost restaurants today provide non-meat meals. Vegetarian recipes are increasing in popularity but becoming a full-time vegetarian requires careful planning to ensure that you have a nutritionally balanced diet.

There are three types of vegetarian:

  1. Ovo-lacto-vegetarians eat eggs and milk but no meat or fish. Seventh Day Adventists eat this type of vegetarian diet, which is similar to a meat-based diet in nutritional value and is recommended for children.
  2. Lacto-vegetarians eat no eggs, although they do eat dairy produce (milk, cheese, yoghurt and buttermilk).
  3. Vegans or strict vegetarians consume no animal foods at all and rely on grains, dried beans and nuts for their protein intake.

The advantages and disadvantages of a vegetarian diet

Vegetarian diets offer two positive health benefits. They are low in fat and high in fibre, which is one of the recommended diets for a healthy heart and trim body shape.

Strict vegetarians must learn to combine two plant proteins to obtain sufficient protein for repair and renewal of body tissues. This protein complementation is an important principle of a vegan diet.

Protein complementation occurs when grains are eaten together with dried beans or nuts, as in rice with soy beans or rice sprinkled with walnuts. The total protein of the mixture is as good as animal protein from meat, milk or eggs.

Avoid deficiencies

Possible deficiencies in a vegetarian diet could be vitamin B12, which is found almost entirely in animal foods. Bacteria and yeasts manufacture B12 and only plant foods that have been cultured by bacteria (like soy bean curd or sauerkraut) provide the vitamin.

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Although body stores of it can last three to five years, any long-term vegetarian should include these foods for B12 if they do not eat eggs or dairy products. Newborn babies of vegan mothers are also at risk as breast milk may not contain enough B12 for the baby and therefore a B12-fortified soy milk is useful at this time.

Daily requirements

  • Four or more servings of grains, such as rice, wheat (as flour, bread, pasta or bulgur), oats, rye, millet, buckwheat.
  • Two or more servings of dried beans, peas or lentils.
  • Four or more servings of vegetables, sprouts, salads or fruit.
  • 300ml milk or goat’s milk (or cheese, yoghurt, buttermilk). Children, pregnant and breastfeeding women need 600ml.
  • Three teaspoons oil or polyunsaturated margarine.

Try this recipe for Red Mexican Rice:

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups natural brown rice
  • 4 cups stock (1 cup tomato juice and 3 cups water)
  • 1 medium-sized can kidney beans, drained
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper or dash of tabasco sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 corn cobs, cooked

Heat oil and fry onion and garlic. Add rice and toss over moderate heat for a few minutes. Add stock, bring to boil. Cover and lower heat to simmer and cook 50 to 60 minutes or until rice is tender. Add drained kidney beans, toss with fork to blend and heat through. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Serve with corn cobs. Serves 4.

If you try a vegetarian diet, why not let us know how you get on in the comments.