There are many health benefits associated with being vegetarian. However, a wholly vegetarian diet may also put you in danger of being deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. This can be avoided with a well-planned meal schedule, which can ensure that you and your family get the balance of nutrients you require for excellent health.
Take in more Fat
It might seem like an unhealthy suggestion, but vegetarians need to be sure they are consuming adequate fat from their diet. Fat-laden Krispy Kreme’s don’t count unfortunately; it is the Omega 3’s and 6’s and the unsaturated fats you must put on the shopping list. Healthy fats form a foundation for good health because they allow your body to absorb other vital vitamins and minerals.
Yummy sources of unsaturated fats include nut butter (cashew, almond, peanut) and avocados. A delicious, child-friendly breakfast could be a smoothie of avocado, almond milk, bananas and blueberries. In terms of cooking oils, be sure to prepare the family meals with oils such as olive, canola, sunflower, rapeseed or peanut, and avoid coconut and palm oils as these are high in saturated fats.
Most of us have heard about the importance of the Omega oils for joint care, mental health and even children’s brain power! Pescatarians or flexitarians have it easier as they can get most of their Omega fatty acids from a couple of portions of oily fish per week. Vegetarians should load up on cauliflower, walnuts, soya and acai berry to get their fix, or consider a supplement containing DHA and EPA (the essential fatty acids found in the Omega fats).
Educate your children but be flexible
Perhaps you are vegetarian because you champion animal rights, perhaps it’s due to affordability or perhaps you are doing it for the health benefits. Whatever your reasons, be sure to be open with your family, so that everyone can play an equal role in the families’ chosen lifestyle.
As we all know, part of growing up is to begin to question some of our beliefs and lifestyles. As such, it is possible that your child may decide that vegetarianism is not right for them. Parents should be supportive of their children’s decisions. If this does occur, try to be as flexible as possible. It is not uncommon for eating habits to change (and then change back) numerous times throughout the lifespan.
As with fat, some vegetarians may also be lacking high-quality protein in their diet. The most popular form of vegetarian protein is soya. Soya is the base product of tofu and Quorn, and is included in many other products. Whilst there are some recognised health benefits of soya, vegetarian families should take the time to vary their protein sources. So what are some good protein rich alternatives? For those that still eat some animal products, eggs are a great source of protein. Also, pea protein, kidney beans, spinach, watercress and asparagus are very good sources of protein for vegetarians. A home cooked quorn chilli with kidney beans and a side of spinach would make a great protein packed meal for children.
Focus on the good
Whilst vegetarians can be at risk of certain deficiencies, it is also important to celebrate the health benefits associated with vegetarianism. For example, vegetarian diets may lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. This is predominantly because a vegetarian diet tends to be much lower in harmful saturated fats. Individuals with high cholesterol are also often advised to drastically cut down on animal products in their diet.
With that in mind, it is important not to feel ashamed of your lifestyle choice. If you have friends round for dinner, don’t feel as if you have to cook meat. Why not show-off how good vegetarian food can be? Vegetarian diets tend to be slightly more affordable as well, which means you can spend the difference on higher quality food items.
Not another Cheese and Pasta dish
If you are a vegetarian, you have probably felt that disappointment when presented with that same old vegetarian option. Often, vegetarians are given dry meat substitutes, or are palmed-off with another dish of pasta in cheese sauce.
One of the key things to remember is to be adventurous and innovative. This can involve trying out new restaurants that have a good selection of wholly vegetarian meals, such as Wagamama, Yo! Sushi and Las Iguanas. It’s also worth experimenting with different spices and herbs to increase your repertoire. For example, Asian cooking makes a feature of many different vegetables and lentils in its cooking. Taking inspiration from world cuisine will ensure you never feel you are missing out. A simple place to start is by sampling lightly spiced Indian Daal (lentils), or trying some healthy soups for diet. Soup is an excellent choice for vegetarian families as it is warm, comforting and the flavour possibilities are endless. Ready-made soups are a quick and effective option for families, as long as you choose ones with healthy ingredients. Or, what about making your own sushi?
Vitamins and Minerals
Vegetarians should be wary of potential Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Iodine deficiencies. In terms of minerals, vegetarians must also ensure they have enough Iron, Zinc and Calcium in their diet. This is particularly important for growing children and teenagers.
Thanks to Popeye, we are all aware of the health benefits of spinach – particularly with regards to its iron content, but what if you just can get your little ones to eat their greens? Well, pumpkin seeds and lentils are something else you could try. If that doesn’t work then there’s something that will – cocoa! Replacing the standard Cadbury’s hot chocolate with real crushed cocoa beans and hot steaming milk is tastier and should provide about a third of your child’s daily iron requirements. It is particularly important to ensure teenage girls, or keen athletes, have enough iron in their diets.
Look out for breads and cereals that are fortified with vitamin B12. Snacking on good quality dried fruit will also help prevent a deficiency in this area.
Take advice from the Doctor
If you are considering a move towards vegetarianism for you or any member of your family, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor first. This is especially important if planning a pregnancy, or if you have recently given birth. If you are planning to give supplements to children it is highly advisable to have a chat with your doctor. Different amounts of certain vitamins and minerals are required throughout the lifespan.
Do you have any vegetarian recipe ideas or health tips?