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Meat-free diets are as popular as ever, but it can be tricky getting all the nutrients you need. Bonnie Cleaver shows you the easy way to be a healthy vego.
The perks of a plant-based diet are enough to make anyone go vegetarian: reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer and a lower BMI on average. But if you think skipping the lamb chops at dinner will make you healthier and slimmer, think again.
"It's a misconception that cutting out meat makes you healthier or is the best way to control weight," says Dr Surinder Baines, senior lecturer of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle. "If you're not compensating for foods you cut out, you can be at risk of nutritional deficiencies."
So before you "veg out", read these tips.
Tap the experts
To get a real understanding of your dietary requirements, Accredited practising dietician Amanda Benham recommends seeing a dietitian or nutritionist who specialises in vegetarian nutrition.
"They will assess your current eating pattern, activity levels and what you want to achieve whether it's to lose weight, have a healthy pregnancy or live longer and modify your diet so you can achieve that," Benham says.
For recommended nutritionists and dieticians, visit the Australian Vegetarian Society.
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What to eat
Make sure you're getting adequate nutrition with this daily serving guide from dietitian Kate Marsh.
at least five serves each day. One serve is half a cup of cooked vegetables or one cup of salad.
Gives you: carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins A and C, magnesium, iron, folate and potassium.
Breads and cereals: at least four serves each day (preferably wholegrain). One serve is two slices of bread, or one cup of rice or pasta, or one cup of cooked porridge or cereal.
Gives you: protein, fibre and carbohydrate. They are also a good source of vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc and folate.
Fruit: at least two serves each day. One serve is medium-sized piece of fruit, or two or three small pieces of fruit, or one cup of tinned fruit, or two tablespoons dried fruit.
Gives you: dietary fibre, carbohydrate and many vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C.
Dairy products or non-dairy alternatives:
two or three serves each day. One serve is a glass of milk or calcium-fortified soy or rice milk, or 200g of yoghurt, or 40g hard cheese, or 100g ricotta cheese, or 150g calcium-fortified tofu.
Gives you: protein, calcium and vitamin B12 (in dairy and fortified foods).
Vegetarian protein foods: one or two serves each day. One serve is one-third of a cup of nuts, or one-quarter of a cup seeds, or two tablespoons of nut butters or tahini, or two eggs, or 100g tofu or tempeh, or one cup of legumes.
Gives you: protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12 (in eggs and fortified foods).
Eat small amounts
Sugars and foods high in added sugar:
such foods include cakes, confectionery, soft drinks, cordials and biscuits.
Fats and oils: choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties.
For the complete story, see the March 10, 2010, issue of Good Health.