National Vegetarian Week

Food As A Billy Bargain

I love vegetables. Love ‘em, love ‘em. As someone who’s always needed to watch my weight I love the quantity of vegetables you get for little calorie expenditure. All that nutrition, for little cost - Food as a Bargain.

Yet… Do I love them enough that I could live a life solely on them? No.

But… Do I admire those that have made the decision to do so? Yes.

For those that have made the commitment the vegetarian diet can be good for your diet and is often espoused as a healthier way of life. While this can be true it’s also very easy to become a “cheese and chips” vegetarian, particularly when faced with restrictive restaurant menus (when eating out once, a vegetarian friend of mine had to resort to tomato soup and chips).

The Vegetarian Challenge (no, I don’t mean trying to find a good vegan wine)

The most obviously challenged macro nutrient for vegetarians is protein. Although eggs are a good source and rennet-free cheese is available it’s all too easy to become overly cheese dependent (à la Wallace And Gromit). And, while cheese does have nutritional benefits it is still high in sodium and is energy dense. So those watching their weight, or have issues with digesting lactose or whey / casein (dairy sugars and proteins) may need to avoid it.

To get around this vegetarians need to explore the world of grains. Not just the usual rice or wheat but also exploring higher-protein grains such as buckwheat, spelt, quinoa, amaranth and millet. By including many different sorts, vegetarians should be able to include all the essential amino acids. Combining different protein sources in the same meal is simple, with classic examples such as rice and beans, beans on toast, peanut butter sandwich and Ezekiel bread.

Of course there is now a whole industry devoted to vegetarian ready-meals and processed foods. Many of these rely on the following ingredients, which although ok as part of a balanced diet should not, for various reasons, be singularly relied upon to form a foundation.

5 Vegetarian Foods To Avoid Living on Constantly

  1. Seitan. Basically wheat gluten. This is the wheat protein that it seems half the population is trying to avoid. For good reasons too - many people are intolerant to gluten, and many others, such as coeliacs, have severe reactions. If you have no digestive problems, then fine. Just bear in mind (as with many vegetarian proteins) it’s not a “complete” protein and is limited by the amino acid tryptophan.
  2. Soy. It’s everywhere. Vegans couldn’t avoid this if they tried. It appears as tofu, milk, vegetable spreads, yoghurts, tempeh, soy sauce, natto, TVP and edamame. It does have its beneficial properties: for one- it’s a complete protein and two - natto and tempeh have the advantages of being fermented so are also considered probiotics. Soy also though, contains phyto-oestrogens (isoflavones). Although naturally weaker than our own oestrogens excessive amounts may still have the ability to disrupt our hormonal profiles. Bad enough in female vegetarians but something men should be additionally wary about (moobs in case you were wondering).
  3. TVP – Textured Vegetable Protein. It’s soya, and soya processed with some interesting chemicals such as hexane (a solvent used to extract plant fats) in order to give it texture.
  4. Anything processed, packaged and longlife, with an ingredient list longer than your arm with the 1st ingredient as sugar, the second as high fructose corn syrup. The label may say “vegetarian” but it doesn’t always equate to “healthy”. Oreos are vegetarian. Oreos are not something that should be considered a diet staple.
  5. Ditto vegetarian frankfurters, bacon, burgers, sausages. Basically anything that gives the appearance of meat, yet isn’t. Meat generally has just one the one ingredient and although many processed meats have ingredient lists that don’t bear up to close scrutiny neither do “fake meats”. Most will be based on TVP. Go for an organic product if possible, to minimise any thing completely laboratory created.

It is as easy to eat an unhealthy vegetarian diet as it is to eat an unhealthy omnivore diet. A balanced diet low in processed foods, with healthy fats, protein and fibre is crucial to everyone, regardless of your moral stance or lifestyle choice.

For more information on how to eat a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet please contact saffron@thislifenutrition.co.uk

By Saffron Rogerson

03 May 2016