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According to The Vegetarian Society, around 2% of us are completely vegetarian, while 7% of us describe ourselves as partly vegetarian.

What is a vegetarian diet?
If you are a vegetarian you don’t eat meat, poultry, game, fish or crustaceans like crabs or slaughter by products like gelatine. Instead you plump for grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables. Vegans are those people who don’t eat dairy products either.

Is it healthy?
More people are turning vegetarian simply because many of the foods involved are low-fat and high-fibre, as recommended by health professionals. According to the British Medical Association, vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, large bowel disorders and cancers and gall stones. However if you are vegetarian you do need to watch out that you don’t eat too much of something you really like or neglect a vital food group.

What should you eat?
It is perfectly possible to eat a healthy balanced vegetarian diet which must include the following nutrients:

Whilst red meat is the best source of iron (a vital energy provider) it is also found in wholemeal bread, whole grains, nuts, pulses, green vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals and dried fruit. It is however advisable to eat such foods with foods which contain vitamin C as this will really help it to be absorbed by the body. For example, a glass of orange juice with wholemeal toast or kiwi fruit in a green salad.

Vitamin B12 is also a vitamin primarily found in meat and is very important in the formation of red blood cells. It is however also found in foods such as Soya milk, diary products, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals but in much lower quantities so vitamin B12 injections are recommended if these foods are not regularly consumed.

Protein is vital for growth and repair and main vegetarian sources come from Soya products, fermented Soya products such as tofu and miso, pulses such as kidney beans, lentils and chick peas, nuts, grains, eggs and dairy products such as yogurts, cheese and milk – look out for low fat versions.

Omega 3 oils help to maintain a healthy heart and there are many non-fish sources such as Soya bean and rapeseed oil, linseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds tofu and omega rich eggs.

Zinc is vital for cell regrowth and the reproductive systems and again meat contains the richest source. However it is also available in whole grain foods such as wholemeal bread and brown rice, pulses nuts seeds and eggs.

It is advisable to always check labels as animal fat may be present in anything from biscuits and cakes to margarines. Certain food additives may also be derived from animal sources.

In fact, following a vegetarian diet is much easier than it used to be with the great variety of vegetarian food available more people can now enjoy this nutritious and tasty way of eating.

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