Vegetarian diet – Some questions answered


If you follow a vegetarian diet for your own personal reason, it is important to plan so that you are getting all the required nutrients to achieve good health. The new government eat well plate applies to both vegetarians and meat eaters. This will include plenty of fruit and vegetables, starchy food like whole grain bread, cereals, rice, pasta and potato, a moderate amount of meat alternative, some low fat dairy food or alternatives and very little fat and added sugar.

A balanced vegetarian diet can not only be nutritious but also healthy.  Vegetarian diets have been found to be associated with lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers and lower cholesterol.


This leads to first question what are the risks of a diet too heavy in red meat or too lacking in meat?

 A diet too heavy in red meat and processed meats especially has been found to be rich in saturated fats, higher in calories, lower in fibre and phyto-nutrients which increases risk of certain cancer, raise blood cholesterol, heart disease and obesity.

"A National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 people found that those who ate the most red meat daily were 30 percent more likely to die of any cause during a 10-year period than were those who ate the least amount of red meat. Sausage, luncheon meats and other processed meats also increased the risk. Those who ate mostly poultry or fish had a lower risk of death."

However a diet lacking in meat protein which is the source of essential amino acids, most easily absorbed iron, zinc, selenium and B vitamins means that alternative vegetarian sources of protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins especially vitamin B 12 have to be considered in order to avoid developing any deficiencies. Good meat substitute sources and the required vitamins and minerals can be in:

 Beans, lentils, chick peas, fortified soya and soya products, tofu, seeds( sesame seed/tahini, flaxseeds), nut and nut butters, whole grains in fortified cereals, pasta, rice and maize, quinoa, hemp, eggs if eaten, milk and dairy products if taken and mycoprotein vegetarian meat alternative e. g quorn.


Recommendation for a vegetarian

A mixture of different plant protein can ensure that you are getting all essential amino acids, iron, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. To help absorb iron from plant foods include vitamin C with meals from vegetables and fruit. Avoid foods high in saturated fats such over reliance on full fat cheese and try having flaxseed, walnut, rapeseed and soya oils for omega 3 fats know to be beneficial for your heart.


Recommendation to a non-vegetarian-as well as health benefits, meat free meals once or twice a week using vegetable protein as a substitute can be:

  • Cheap

  • Rich in fibre, vitamins and other nutrients

  • Less calories-"A large, five-year study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2013 revealed that people who don't eat meat have a lower average BMI than meat-eaters, and that vegans have a significantly lower obesity rate than omnivores (9.4 percent versus 33.3 percent). Plus, a new study presented at The Obesity Society's 2013 meeting found that overweight/obese people following a vegan or vegetarian diet lost more weight than those who consumed meat—even though both groups took in the same number of calories."

  • Make your skin glow

  • Make you feel happier

  • Give you higher energy levels

Note: Extra care is needed for all pregnant and breast feeding women, children under five years old, the over 65 years and ethnic minorities who may need to speak to a Dietitian to make sure all nutritional needs are met.


Second question -Protein supplements e. g shakes and protein bars their use as a substitute and risks if solely relied upon?


Having balanced and regular meals should be the best approach to achieving good health. Once in a while choosing a healthy meal replacement whilst forced to eat on the run is acceptable provided you choose a substitute that is nutritious, balanced and filling. The protein bars and drinks were initially targeted to the serious athlete, however now anyone needing a boost can take them. These can be nothing more than very high calorie high sugar based drinks and bars. The best thing to do is make an informed choice by reading the labels and look for calorie content per serving- ideally below 300 calories, fat and added sugar below 5g, fibre 3-5g, protein 10-15g and fortified with a third of daily vitamin and mineral requirements.

The main advice is to avoid over reliance of these products and try and stick to achieving a balanced diet from your food choices using  eat well plate as a guide and planning regular meals and healthy snacks.


Good alternatives snacks that can be cheaper and taken on the run:

  • Low fat cheese and crackers

  • Fruit and yoghurt

  • Healthy cereal bars

A quick healthy meal can be:

  • Home -made soup and whole grain bread and low fat spread

  • Low fat cheese and salad sandwich

  • A pasta or rice salad with beans


Third question-For people who lack the certain amount of vegetable intake in their diet, what are the best ways for them to improve the amount of vegetables on their plates to help them become healthier?


Health benefits of eating more vegetables within the 5 per day fruit and vegetables government target is great in lowering many diseases including high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, some cancers and stroke. Yet from the general public only 15% adults are achieving these targets.



  • Vegetables are great for overall health  so try to gradually increase your intake

  • Good for regular bowel movement

  •  They make a great  low calorie snack,

  • Kinder to your teeth than sweet biscuits, cakes and fizzy drinks. Sticky dried fruit and fruit juices eaten too much and too often can cause tooth decay so better to have them with food at meal times,

  • Contain vitamins A.C.E, minerals and Fibre

  • Vitamins A.C.E are anti-oxidants nutrients that protect against cancer and heart disease. They are needed for healthy muscles, nerves, bones and blood vessels.

One portion can be:

  • one small glass (150ml )of vegetable smoothie,

  • 3 tablespoon of cooked, frozen or canned vegetables or side salad

  • Don't count potatoes

  • Remember to drink adequate daily fluids if you are thinking of increasing your vegetables. Recommended is 6-8 cups (250ml) per day




Perhaps you associate eating vegetables with past bad experience or you were force fed and had a bad experience.


Here are 10 tips to try increasing intake of vegetables and enjoy the change:


1.Use exposure technique if you find it hard to try vegetables why not try using a new psychological technique called EXPOSURE which is recommended for young children in the national MEND programme. Exposure means getting to try a new food 10-15 times before you actually start to eat more of it.

Steps of exposure technique:

  • select a new type vegetable that you want to try to start eating, cut the food into small bite size pieces,

  • Then hold the food, look at the colour, shape, texture, smell it, lick it and place it in your mouth, don't worry if you don't eat it first time. You may need try the same vegetable few times before you become familiar with the taste and you actually want to bite and eat it.

  • You can try this technique with your friends who may not like vegetables too and share trying a new food each week. Chart how many attempts you make and never give up. If at first you do not succeed try again.

  • Rewarding yourself is also important once you are successful. E g Have a warm bath, having your hair and nails done.

2.Make it tasty by adding flavours-spices, herbs, olive oil and lemon juice , sprinkle low fat cheese on top, serve steamed vegetables with a tomato or low fat cheese sauce

3. Buy in season and pick your self- start by trying vegetables you have tried before or willing to try. Check what is available in season

4. Add vegetables to dishes you enjoy- try finely chopping/shredding vegetables in spaghetti sauce, curry, stew, soup or casserole or meat or meat alternative loaf

5. Start gradually and achieve having vegetable portion at each main meal.

6. Have them at hands reach- at your work desk, once thing you see when you open the fridge e. g pieces of cucumber or carrot sticks, bag of crunchy lettuce.

7. Eat with family and switch of distractions-Family that eats together are more likely to have a positive, less anxious and memorable shared experience when it comes to trying new vegetables. Switch of TV or radio so you can talk together and offer each other encouragement

8. Each week try something new- pick a new vegetable a week and try it

9. Try to cook together- this a great way to familiarise with vegetables you are to try willing

10. Make it fun- Experiment with tastes, textures. Sometimes smooth in a soup or soft in stew or casserole or crunchy in salad




Vegan Diet Interview



1.    As a dietitian, how do you feel about people partaking in a Vegan diet?


My answer-I believe that following a vegan diet is a personal choice, provided the person has properly researched and sought professional advice on how to achieve a well -balanced healthy and nutritious vegan diet then it is fine.


2.     From my own experiences, I have witnessed the rise in discussion about a Vegan diet, both on a personal, and global scale with many different celebrities endorsing a Vegan diet, For Example, pop superstar Beyoncé. Why do you think that there has been a rise in the Vegan diet, and do you think it is just a passing trend due to the high profile it has received in recent years?


My answer-There has been current interest in benefits of plant based food and vegan diet promotes this. I think it maybe a passing trend if general public are following a vegan diet because celebrities are doing it and not because of personal believes.



3.     Articles produced by Vegan associations are heavily promoting a plant based diet, with discussions of the benefits associated not only for our bodies, but also for our mental health. Would you say that when followed correctly a Vegan diet has benefits towards our health? If so, what are the benefits?


My answer-A well planned Vegan diet can be nutritious and healthy. They are associated benefits to lowering: heart disease, blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, weight, blood cholesterol and risks to certain cancers. A vegan diet can be lower in saturated fats, total calories and high in fibre.



4.     However, a Vegan diet that isn’t well-planned must lead to negative effects on our bodies. What are the consequences/issues involved with following a Vegan diet?

My answer:

·         A restricted vegan diet which is not properly balanced or varied can increase risk of developing:

·         Anaemia (iron and/or vitamin B 12) ,

·         Osteoporosis, calcium and vitamin D deficiency

·         Zinc, selenium and iodine deficiency

·         Unnecessary weight loss/weight gain



5.     From initial research I have learned that it is important for those following a Vegan diet to have planned well, I realize, that this is critical for adolescence as they are still growing, and developing, and a healthy, balanced diet is essential. If adolescence miss out on essential micro-nutrients within their diets, how could this affect their health, and development? And could it potentially lead to problems in the future?


My answer-Adolescents are still growing, active and requirements of micro-nutrients especially the blood and bone vitamins and minerals intake maybe compromised if a well -balanced vegan diet is not achieved together with adequate daily energy and protein. Problem group especially could be young adolescent females who may become pregnant and breast feed and the sporty adolescents who have high nutritional requirements.



6.     Do you believe that it is possible for those following a Vegan diet to get all the essential micro-nutrients within their daily meals?


 My answer-A well planned vegan diet can be nutritious and complete provided it is balanced, healthy and varied. I would encourage any person thinking of commencing a vegan diet seek professional advice so that they can make informed choices.



7.     Considering both the benefits, and the issues, would it be sensible for adolescences aged (11-19) to follow a Vegan diet? And why?


My answer-As I said earlier, if an adolescent is thinking of commencing a vegan diet, I would advise them to seek professional advice so that they may know and understand how to have a balanced, healthy and varied vegan diet and achieve their daily nutritional requirements. I would respect they personal choice to follow a vegan diet.



8.     Aside, from whether it is a sensible choice, and the benefits and issues, if adolescences still decide that they want to follow a Vegan diet, how would they ensure that they had a diet rich in micro-nutrients?


 My answer- Have variety from the  eat well plate food groups to achieve balanced regular meals and nutritious snacks and see your doctor and Dietitian who can assess any  nutritional deficiency by checking your bloods and diet respectively.


Reference: B D A food fact, MEND program 7-13 year old , Web MD


For specialized Diet and Nutrition advice seek the advice of a Professional Dietitian and Nutritionist Tabby kabeer S R D H P C 


B D A information on vegetarian diets which is really useful education tool.

For Specialized Diet and Nutrition advice seek the advice of a Professional Dietitian and Nutritionist Tabby kabeer  

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