A Healthy Vegetarian Diet

healthy vegetarian food

While many of us come to vegetarianism from an ethical perspective, to enjoy a healthy vegetarian diet, we need to embrace good eating habits just as much as our compassionate lifestyle. One of the most positive influences on making the switch is the discovery of a whole world of plant-based ingredients and how these foods can have a complete and lasting impact on our health and happiness.

Enjoying a nourishing and satisfying vegetarian diet is the best way to stay committed and enables us to be lifelong vegetarians, despite the change. Being fit, strong, healthy and active, on a healthy vegetarian diet can be easy and this is the very thing which means we never miss eating meat.

A healthy vegetarian diet focused on whole foods and fresh ingredients is the very best. Low in saturated fat and high in beneficial fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, it can support glowing health and happiness from the inside out. It’s important to acknowledge there can be a greater risk of vitamin deficiencies when switching to a plant-based diet. It all comes down to understanding the foods we need to eat to maintain optimal health and wellbeing. I strongly recommend seeking professional advice (try your GP or a certified nutritionist) for any concerns you might have when cutting meat, dairy and eggs from your diet.

Armed with a little knowledge it can be easy to include an abundance of different nutritious whole foods and fresh ingredients in our diet, whatever our lifestyle – making the switch to meat free, one we’ll embrace for a lifetime!

Plant-based foods offer a reliable source of essential vitamins and minerals, including adequate protein and iron. Enjoying a healthy vegetarian diet is all about eating a good variety of fresh vegetables, and fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, soy products and legumes and combining these foods for the very best nutrition, flavour, texture and goodness. Fortunately most of us have easy access to a wealth of ingredients and fortified foods, that makes eating a varied, nutrient dense plant-based diet exciting, fun, and super easy.

Veggie num num’s Top Tips for Enjoying a Healthy Vegetarian Diet

Variety is Key

Eating a good variety of nutritious plant based ingredients is fundamental to a healthy vegetarian diet. With a variety of foods on our plate we can enjoy a wealth of essential vitamins and minerals each day. Plus, combining different sources of plant-based protein like beans and soy products with rice or nuts and seeds with whole-grains works to create a complete protein source for our bodies (you can find out more about complete protein here.). For the very best nutrient dense foods to include in your varied vegetarian diet check out Veggie num num’s Simple Guide to Vegetarian Nutrition to gain a better understanding about which foods to eat and why.

It’s simple to introduce variety into everyday eating:

  • Use a combination of grains, cereals, nuts and seeds in a single meal by adding things like quinoa or barley to rice (you can buy handy combinations like this from supermarkets) buckwheat or amaranth to muesli and granola, and top salads, soups, sandwiches, curries and more with any combination of seeds and nuts for a flavourful nutritional boost.
  • Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables each day. Quite simply eating lots of different coloured foods means our bodies are enjoying lots of different vitamins and minerals. Experiment with different in season fruit and vegetables, go to Local Markets and frequent Fruit and Veg shops for the biggest variety and get excited about all the flavour, texture and goodness the world of fresh produce has to offer. Make big salads and stir-fries filled with mixed vegetables and fruits or in winter create roasted vegetable dishes, soups, and curries using a good combination of seasonal veg.
  • See every meal as an opportunity to add nutrition, flavour and texture from a variety of plant-based foods with a combination of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruits – it’s is the very best in happy and healthy vegetarian eating!

Join the ‘SuperFood’ Club

It may be uber trendy and there’s definitely some debate, but ‘SuperFoods’ can be a powerful addition to our diets. Hype aside many of these foods can provide us with a rich plant-based source of essential vitamins and minerals and although some can be expensive, I believe it’s worth the investment in our health. Raw products are the best and below is a list of my favourites and the reasons why I think they make a super addition to any healthy vegetarian diet.

Hemp Seeds – Being an excellent plant-based source of the two essential fatty acids, omega 6 and omega 3 AND a complete protein source (containing all nine essential amino acids) hemp seeds are indeed a super vegetarian food. They also offer a good source of zinc and magnesium to boot. Try sprinkling hemp seeds (also called hemp hearts) on your breakfast in the morning – great over muesli, porridge and pancakes or even try some on your avocado on toast. Hemp protein powder is a great addition to fruit and green smoothies.

Chia Seeds – Containing all nine essential amino acids means these little seeds offer a vegetarian source of complete protein with the added benefit of being a great source of important omega 3 fatty acids and a source of calcium, iron, potassium and antioxidants. They’re also high in fibre making them great for our digestive system and to help us in feeling fuller for longer. Chia seeds can be added to salads, smoothies, juices, pancakes, breakfast cereals, muesli, porridge and more. Plus chia gel is an excellent egg substitute in baking – simply combine 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with ¼ cup of water and set aside for around 10 minutes until It forms a gel (this makes the equivalent of one egg).

Raw Cacao – Rich in antioxidants, cacao also offers a good plant-based source of important minerals and vitamins including iron, zinc, folate and magnesium. Don’t confuse raw cacao, sold as powder or nibs, with the processed stuff that often contains added sugar. Cacao powder is delicious in smoothies, desserts, pancakes and baking and the nibs are a good addition to muesli, porridge, desserts and more.

Chlorella – The indicated health benefits of this single-cell algae are quite impressive and include boosting immunity, supporting a healthy digestive system and aiding body detoxification. Containing an amazing nutritional profile of over 20 vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, B vitamins and vitamins C and E, chlorella, also contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a plant-based complete protein. Chlorella powder is available from health food stores and some chemists and although the taste can take a little getting use to, it can be a powerful addition to your vegetarian diet.

Pure Coconut Oil (also called raw/virgin/cold pressed) – With antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties Coconut oil is a powerful food for promoting a healthy digestive and immune system and supporting healthy hair, skin, bones and teeth. You can use it like other oils and butter in cooking or try adding a spoonful to smoothies for a delicious coconut flavour.

Choose Nutrient Dense Real Food

Limiting processed and refined foods and making real food choices means we get the very best nutrition from everything we put in our belly. Occasional treats aside, a diet of predominately whole, real food ingredients, means we will enjoy far more nourishment and all without the added sugar, salt, saturated fats and chemical additives found in lots of packaged foods. Check labels carefully for additives and preservatives but, also for animal derived ingredients, which can lurk in many foods found on our supermarket shelves. Find out more about real food ingredients here.

Get into Fermented Foods + Beneficial Probiotics

One of the most common complaints of new vegetarians can be a weak immunity, making us susceptible to colds, flus and other nasties. Along with a diet high in zinc and vitamin C rich foods, fermented foods and probiotics play an essential role in building a strong and robust immunity. As an added bonus these foods can also lift our mood, assist in vitamin and mineral deficiencies and relieve many common gastrointestinal complaints, like bloating and constipation.

What makes them so good for us? Fermented foods contain beneficial probiotics which are a powerful tool in keeping our digestive system happy and this is one of the most important things we can do to maintain overall good health. As an added bonus the vitamins and minerals in these foods are more easily digested and therefore more easily absorbed into our bodies for added nutritional punch.

What are fermented foods?

Natural or Tub Set Yoghurts that contain whole ingredients and live cultures are readily available (simply check the ingredients to make sure the yoghurt has active or live cultures and avoid those with added sugar and things like gelatine which is animal derived). Along with dairy yoghurts, there is cultured coconut yoghurt available from many health food stores and increasingly supermarkets – these products also contains live cultures and are a good option for those who avoid dairy.

Kimchi + Sauerkraut are fermented vegetables that can easily be made at home but also readily available from any supermarket or health foods store. These foods taste great and are a wonderful accompaniment to loads of dishes – from sandwiches and wraps to salads, stir-fries and more.

Kombucha & Kefir are fermented drinks that can be found in health food and whole food stores or made at home. Jump online to find recipes and have some fun in the kitchen creating these health-promoting drinks.

Raw Apple Cider Vinegar has a cloudy appearance and is packed with live bacterial culture. Use it in salad dressings or to make pickled vegetables.

Pro-biotic capsules are available from chemists and health food stores and can be taken daily as is, or added to smoothies and juices for an added healthy bonus

Consider Fortified Foods + Supplements

There are loads of fortified foods readily available today, quite often with added calcium, vitamin D, protein, iron, zinc and B12 and these can be great options for many vegetarians. Choosing non-dairy milks fortified with calcium and protein is a fantastic option for meeting our recommended daily dose of essential vitamins and minerals. There’s also a good range of breakfast cereals fortified with iron, zinc and B vitamins plus many mock-meats (vegetarian burgers/sausages etc) that are often fortified with things like B12, zinc and iron. Try to choose low sugar and salt and minimally processed varieties and not rely solely on these foods for a supply of essential vitamins and minerals.

Many vegetarians find supplements beneficial to their diet and the very best person to advise on this would be a professional nutritionist or GP. All people vary as to their nutritional requirements and it’s great to seek some professional advice to make sure we’re meeting the needs of our bodies – most especially for those in childhood or adolescence, pregnant, breastfeeding or advanced age.

Those who avoid both dairy and eggs need to take special care to include a reliable source of B12 – either from a supplement and/or fortified foods.

WANT TO FIND OUT MORE?

GUIDE TO VEGETARIAN NUTRITION

Follow Veggie num num’s Simple Guide to Vegetarian Nutrition for information on which plant-based foods offer the very best sources of essential vitamins and minerals and check out all the vegetarian recipes for lots of inspiration on how to easily include these foods in your everyday diet.

For loads more information and tips on enjoying a healthy vegetarian diet check out my book Going Veggie.

Vegetarian or not, different life stages and lifestyles have different nutritional needs. If you are athletic, pregnant, breastfeeding, or in adolescence, childhood, or old age, you can still thrive on a vegetarian diet; you just need to take special care to meet the additional dietary requirements of your body. The most important thing to remember when considering a change in diet is that everybody has differing nutritional needs and if you have any concerns about meeting healthy requirements for your own body or your children’s, you should seek professional advice