This week is National Vegetarian Week, an annual awareness week which promotes inspirational vegetarian food and the benefits of a meat-free diet. You might not be aware of this fact but around 7% of the UK’s population is vegetarian these days. That’s over 4 million of us. The chances are that if you’re not a vegetarian yourself, then you’ll know at least one person who is.
Reasons why people opt for a vegetarian lifestyle are varied and include ethical or religious reasons, a love of animals, or they simply don’t like the taste or texture of meat. Whatever the reason, the requirements of vegetarians should be taken into consideration when planning menus.
Definition of a vegetarian
According to the Vegetarian Society a vegetarian is “someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or, without, the use of dairy products or eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter.”
Vegetarians can further be categorised as:
Lacto-ovo – this is the most common type of vegetarian, who eats dairy products and eggs. Many will only eat vegetarian cheese (i.e. produced without the use of rennet) and eggs which are free-range.
Lacto – lacto vegetarians avoid eggs but eat dairy products.
Vegans – do not eat any products which are derived from animals. No eggs, no dairy, honey, products containing beeswax etc.
Is a vegetarian diet healthy?
Eating a balanced plant-based diet is actually extremely good for your health. Vegetarians don’t have to worry about getting their ‘5-a-day’ as they consume plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables at every meal. Moreover, an increasing number of medical professionals are advocating vegetarian diets as one of the healthiest diets for lowering the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes.
According to Cancer Research UK, in men 6.1% of cancer cases were linked to a lack of fruit and vegetables. This was the highest risk factor after tobacco. In fact for oesophageal cancer, half of the risk comes from eating too little fruit and veg.
It used to be the case that people believed that red meat consumption was necessary for a balanced diet, however recent studies are now pointing to evidence that eating it only occasionally or just 42g per day could prevent almost 1 in 10 early deaths in men and 1 in 13 in women.
It is true that vegetarians and vegans can struggle to find the type of protein found in red meat and fish and may be lacking in vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and iron. However these can readily be found in nuts, pulses, leafy green vegetables and fortified products such as cereals and rice or soya milk.
Eat less meat and save the planet!
The UN’s top climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri has stated that “People should consider eating less meat as a way of combating global warming. UN figures suggest that meat production puts more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transport.” Huge amounts of land, water and fossil fuels are used in the livestock industry and it produces 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Not only that, but eating less (or no) meat would help to save the lives of some of the 2 million animals that are slaughtered every year.
If you’re looking to reduce the amount of meat in your diet, to improve your health and help reduce the environmental impact of meat production you could also sign up for ‘Meat-free Mondays’ an initiative by famous vegetarian Paul McCartney to encourage people to eat vegetarian food one day a week.
Catering for Vegetarians and Vegans
If you’re a meat-eater, providing a varied and balanced diet for a vegetarian can seem quite a challenge at first. There are several products that you might use in preparing meals that you simply can’t use for vegans and vegetarians. I’m not just talking about meat, dairy, fish and eggs. It’s extremely important to read the labels of products to make sure that they don’t contain animal products such as gelatine, cochineal etc. Even Quorn, often used as a meat substitute for vegetarian meals is unsuitable for vegans since it contains egg.
Here are some other products to avoid (unless you have a vegan-friendly version to hand)
- Worcestershire sauce – contains fish
- Stock powders – can contain milk
- Veggie burgers or sausages – may contain milk or eggs
- Dark chocolate – often contains milk ingredients
- Sweets and jellies – many contain gelatine
- Fresh pasta – often made with eggs
- Some breakfast cereals – can contain milk, vitamin D3 or honey
- Thai curry paste – can contain fish
Additives which are unsuitable for vegetarians/vegans include E901, E120, E920, E904, whey, ghee, lanolin, Vitamin D3, lactose, butterfat/buttermilk, fish oil ‘omega3 enriched ‘ products and casein.
There are literally thousands of exciting and inspiring ideas for vegetarians, so don’t just stick to the old staples – lentil soup, nut roast, vegetable chilli, vegetable curry and vegetable lasagne. Our Nutrition courses – including our online Foundation Nutrition course online, or the Diploma in Nutrition & Health, will equip you with the knowledge of how to provide balanced nutritious meals for all types of vegetarians, ensuring they include all the required nutrients.
To get you inspired, here are a couple of vegetarian recipes from the Vegan Society:
Stuffed Baked Courgettes with Cashew Nuts and Wild Rice
2oz (55g) wild rice
4 large courgettes
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
2oz (55g) carrot, grated
1 1/2 oz (45g) cashew nuts, lightly toasted
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook the rice according to the instructions on the packet.
2. Cut the courgettes in half lengthways. Remove the flesh, leaving about half a centimetre. Chop the flesh and set aside.
3. Heat the vegetable oil in a pan and add the onions and red pepper. Cook gently for about ten minutes until the onion is starting to brown. Add the garlic, chopped courgette flesh and carrots and cook for a further few minutes.
4. Remove the pan and add cashew nuts, rice, salt and pepper. Spoon mixture into the courgette shells.
5. Cover and place on a baking tray. Cook in a preheated oven at 190C/375F/gas mark 5 for 25-30 minutes. Serves 4.
Lime and Coconut Cheesecake
9 oz (250g) vegan ginger biscuits
2 dssp vegetable oil
5 oz (145g) block creamed coconut
12 oz (350g) firm silken tofu
2 1/2 oz (70g) caster sugar
Coconut shavings and lime slices to decorate – optional
1. Break the biscuits to fine crumbs using a blender (or plastic bag and rolling pin).
2. In a saucepan place vegetable oil and 45g/1 1/2 oz of the creamed coconut. Heat gently, stirring continuously, until the coconut has melted.
3. Take off the heat and add the crushed ginger biscuits. Mix well and transfer to a lightly oiled 7-inch cake tin with a spring bottom. Press down firmly and leave to cool in a fridge.
4. Using the saucepan again, add the juice and pulp of the two limes and the rest of the creamed coconut. Heat gently until the coconut has melted.
5. Transfer to a blender and add the tofu, avocado and sugar. Whizz until well blended and smooth.
6. Remove the biscuit base from the fridge and pour the tofu mix into the tin. Decorate with coconut shavings and lime slices. Place in the fridge to set – approx 3 hours.