NUTRITION IN A NUTSHELL
Vegetarian and vegan diets are the best - here's why...
By Juliet Gellatley, Founder & Director,Viva! and VVF, Nutritional Therapist
and Amanda Woodvine, Senior Nutritionist, VVF
Introduction by Audrey Eyton
Veggie vitamin chart Food chart - what to eat each day
Introduction by Audrey Eyton
Audrey Eyton is the author of several books including The F2 Cookbook, The F2 Diet and The FPlan Diet, the latter being one of the fastest selling British books of all time and a worldwide bestseller. Her books are credited with having made lasting changes to our national eating habits. For the past 35 years Audrey has written on health and nutrition and has played a huge part in encouraging people to reduce their consumption of animals.
"Going vegetarian? But what about your PROTEIN? What about your HEALTH? It can't be good for you!?"
Or, so say some people. Wrong!
Let's compare two of today's most common diets and see which one appears better for your health.
A typical Western diet:
This diet, packed with animal products such
as hot dogs, sausages and cheeseburgers, has
been described by a top nutritionist as "the
most atrocious diet in the world".
scientific facts to support that opinion.
There is a great deal of evidence indicating
that eating too much meat and dairy products,
as well as consuming too little fruit, vegetables
and complex carbohydrates, are major factors
in promoting the development of heart
disease, stroke and many forms of cancer.
other words, the typical Western diet is a bigleague
culprit in killing off the majority of
people in the UK before their time.
A Western vegetarian diet:
(For the types of vegetarians, click here).
Vegetarians rely on fruits, vegetables,
pulses (peas, beans, lentils), pastas, breads,
cereals and other wholegrains as well as other
kinds of plant foods to provide most of what
they eat. Vegans follow a similar diet but eat
no animal products of any kind, including
eggs, dairy and honey.
Many scientific studies comparing vegetarians
with typical Western diet eaters have found
that vegetarians are considerably healthier
and less likely to suffer from a wide range of
illnesses than meat eaters, and they tend to
live longer. What's more, there are apparently
no illnesses to which vegetarians seem more
prone to develop than meat eaters.
1898, nutritionists have been telling us that:
"No single factor is more important in
determining the outbreak of cancer in the
predisposed than high feeding. Many
indications point to gluttonous consumption
of meat as likely to be especially harmful".
(Scientific American, December 1898.)
Many more modern studies have now
confirmed this early finding and have added a
significant number of other diseases to the list
that afflict meat eaters more than vegetarians.
study published in the British Medical Journal
in December 1998 cautions against meat's links
with cancers of the bowel, breast, prostate and
pancreas - and possibly even lung.
position paper on vegetarian diets, the eminent
American Dietetic Association (ADA) notes that
vegetarian diets are associated with reduced risk
for a number of chronic diseases, including
obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension,
type 2 diabetes, prostate and colon cancer.
(Journal of the American Dietetic Association,
97 (11), June 2003, Volume 103  pp748-
765.) These diseases have become the major
cause of death among adults in almost all
countries - regardless of income.
This follows a
worldwide trend of replacing carbohydrate-rich
foods (such as cereals, roots and tubers) with
meat, dairy products and oil crops.
So why have some people got it wrong - including a lot of doctors and journalists, for that matter?
Since the beginning of the twentieth century,
nutritionists advocated large protein intakes
to 'assure good health'.
Since the 1980s it has
become evident that more protein is not
better. In fact, too much protein can damage
the kidneys, heart, bones and significantly
increase the risk of colon cancer.
leading health authorities in Britain, the USA,
Australia and other countries are agreeing on
the need to shift away from animal products
towards plant-based diets.
Despite all this, there is confusion, and not all
of it is accidental. When a piece of research
that suggests that meat-based diets are
healthy makes the news, it is often found out
later to be poorly done, unreliable and paid
for by companies that sell animal products.
Nevertheless, as doctor and nutritionist, John
McDougall, M.D., states, "People love to
hear good news about their bad habits," and
"It is used as a justification to continue
consuming the disease-inducing, standard
It is no secret that food is a very
political issue. Big companies
make huge amounts of money
from animal products and
wield enormous power - so
governments are not very
willing to challenge them.
There hasn't been the political
will to change the national diet,
even though the World Health Organisation says that's what urgently needs to happen.
But, some people say, we're meant to eat a diet based around meat.
No we're not! Over millions of years, human
beings have evolved to eat a diet based upon
From the very earliest times, right
up to the middle of this century, the vast
majority of people obtained most of their
nutrition from vegetables, fruits, wholegrains,
roots, seeds, nuts and other plant-derived
According to William C. Roberts,
M.D., the distinguished editor-in-chief of the
prestigious medical publication, the American
Journal of Cardiology:
beings eat meat, we are not natural carnivores.
No matter how much fat carnivores eat, they
do not develop atherosclerosis (clogged
When we kill animals to eat them,
they end up killing us because their flesh,
which contains cholesterol and saturated fat,
was never intended for human beings, who
are natural herbivores."
Not only did early humans eat many times the
plant food we eat today, they ate only a
fraction of the animal food.
So when both
nature and cardiologists are in agreement, it
makes sense to listen to what they say.
Whatever fears people may have about a
vegetarian diet, the really unhealthy way
to eat is to continue consuming the
typical Western diet.
A vegetarian diet is an excellent
way of nourishing your body,
which will not only leave you
pleasantly full but positively
glowing with good health!
So, what exactly is nutrition?
By Juliet Gellatley and Amanda Woodvine
Whether you are a vegetarian or vegan, variety is the key to a
healthy, well balanced diet.
All food contains a mixture of nutrients in different quantities
known as protein, carbohydrates (including
fibre), fat, vitamins, minerals and trace
elements. Wholefoods contain a mix of all
these nutrients, but are often grouped
according to the main nutrient they provide.
Protein is needed for growth, repair of tissue
and protection against infection. Protein is
made up of small 'building blocks' called
amino acids. Vegetable-based foods contain all
the amino acids the body needs. By eating a
range of whole, plant-based foods you will get
all the different amino acids you need - and in
the right proportions.
Especially good sources
of high quality protein include soya products
(eg soya beans (sold frozen in many
supermarkets), tofu, soya milk, veggie mince),
cereals (eg brown rice, pasta, wholemeal
bread), pulses (eg baked beans, chickpeas,
lentils, kidney beans), nuts and seeds (including
the protein-packed 'superfood' quinoa which
quickly cooks and is often used like rice).
Meat contains all the amino acids that
comprise protein, but that doesn't mean it is
better for us than plant protein. Animal
protein is linked to cancers, heart disease and
many other diseases. Also, eating large
amounts of animal products, even leanlooking
meats, means eating saturated animal
fats and cholesterol. It is these artery-clogging
substances which are a main cause of heart
disease, kidney failure and stroke, as well as
Meat also contains little
carbohydrate, no fibre or calcium, and few
vitamins - but frequently contains dangerous
microbes such as Salmonella and E. coli. The
problem of food-borne infections is a growing
In view of all this, it is a comfort to
know that a well-balanced vegan diet supplies
all the protein you need, whether you are a
growing child or a mature adult.
How much protein do we need?
Not as much as we think - recommended
amounts have more than halved in the past 20
years as several chronic diseases have been
linked to eating too much animal (not plant)
protein. The average adult needs to consume
between 45 and 55.5 grams of protein per day.
Protein requirements (grams needed per day)
The figures below give the recommended daily amounts of protein per age group, but it can’t be stressed too often that you will not go short of protein, so don’t worry about it.
|Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI),
g per day
To give you a comparison between some meat and vegetarian products, a standard 50g beef burger contains 10.2g of protein and three (90g) fish sticks 12.l g; half a can of 225g baked beans contains 11.5g of protein; an average serving of pasta (190g cooked) contains 8.5g, an average serving of kidney beans (160g cooked) 12.4g, and a small packet (25g) of peanuts contains 6.1g.
Carbohydrates are our main and most important source of energy and most carbohydrates are provided by plant foods.
There are three types of carbohydrates:
'Fast releasing' carbohydrates
(simple sugars) are found in fruit, sweets,
syrups and many processed
foods. Much of it is
refined sugar -
the kind you
your cereal -
and is best
avoided, as it
but no fibre,
- 'fast releasing'
- 'slow releasing'
- dietary fibre
releasing' or complex
carbohydrates (starches) are
found in wholegrains (eg brown
bread, brown rice, pasta, oats, barley, rye etc),
some root vegetables such as potatoes, and
most fresh fruit. The World Health
Organisation (WHO) recommends that 55-75
per cent of our diet (as energy) should come
from slow releasing carbohydrates, as they are vital to good health. Typical meat eaters don't
get enough complex carbohydrates while
vegetarians and vegans tend to get plenty.
Dietary fibre is the indigestible part of
vegetable foods (whole fruits, vegetables, nuts,
seeds, cereals and beans). Despite its
indigestible nature, fibre is essential for the
digestive system to work properly. It acts like a
broom in the intestines, sweeping away toxins,
lowering 'bad' cholesterol and helping prevent
diseases such as colon cancer.
Eating red meat
frequently can increase your chances of colon
cancer by 20-40 per cent! While a vegetarian
diet high in plant foods contains plenty of
fibre, meat contains none.
foods should be consumed in as unrefined
form as possible; for example, brown rice,
wholegrain pastas (eg wholegrain spaghetti
instead of white) and brown breads, whole
beans - as they are more health enhancing,
containing more fibre and vitamins.
Fats and oils
We need a little fat (essential fats, also called
omega-3 and omega-6) in our diet every day
as they are essential to good brain, eye and
nerve health and are part of our cell
membranes. They also repair tissue,
manufacture some hormones and
carry some vitamins.
We tend to
eat too much omega-6 (as
processed vegetable oils in
junk foods) and too
little omega-3. The
best source of
flaxseed oil; other
good sources of
essential fats are
walnuts, ground flaxseeds,
hemp seed oil and soya products, as well as
other nuts and seeds such as almonds, Brazil
nuts, sunflower and sesame seeds.
fat for cooking is virgin olive oil which
although not an essential fat, is still beneficial
to our health.
Fats can either be saturated or unsaturated
(which includes mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated).
A rough guide is that saturated fats are normally solid at room temperature
and they include animal fats such as lard and
Unsaturated fats are normally liquid at
room temperature, such as sunflower or olive
oil. There are few vegetable fats that contain
saturated fat - coconut oil and palm oil are
the most common ones.
(mainly from animal products and processed
foods) are not needed in the diet and we are
better off without them!
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance called a
sterol. It is found in all animal foods but is
completely absent from all plant foods. The
body can make all the cholesterol it requires
so we do not need to (and should not!)
include it in our diet - at all!
increase the level of
'bad' cholesterol in
Too much of
the wrong kind of
fat is linked to cancers and
biggest dietary cause of
clogged arteries, high blood
pressure, heart attacks and
strokes is our animal fat and
refined sugar-laden diet. The more of
these there are in your blood, the greater
your risk of getting one or all of the above
One in five men and one in six
women die of heart disease in the UK - that's
how huge an epidemic there is. And it looks
set to get worse as young people consume
ever greater amounts of fat - mostly animal
fats - as well as sugar.
Vitamins and Minerals
Click here for the vital functions of
vitamins and vegetarian sources.
fresh fruit and vegetables actually protect us
against some 60 or more diseases, including
the big killers, cancer and heart disease.
Especially valuable are the vitamins known as
antioxidants. This group is composed of betacarotene
(vitamin A) and vitamins C and E -
the so called 'ACE' vitamins. They are found
abundantly in plant foods.
A recent discovery
at Glasgow University in Scotland has
identified another family of powerful
antioxidants - flavonols, including lycopenes,
found only in red fruits (eg tomatoes) and
vegetables. Again, there are none in meat.
The reason why
antioxidants are so
important is that they
are our main defence
molecules called free
radicals, which play a
major role in diseases
related to aging.
Free radicals are
losing an electron. To
try and regain their
missing electron, these
molecules crash around
like back-alley muggers,
trying to steal an electron
from other molecules. This theft
can create a chain reaction in
which DNA - the human genetic
blueprint - becomes damaged and begins to
produce diseased cells, which can lead to
cancer and other health catastrophes.
High-temperature cooking - in particular, the
frying or searing of meat - can damage our
health. Researchers cooked beef burgers, bacon
and soya burgers and found that both the beef
burgers and bacon produced significant amounts of the most damaging free radicals
while the soya burger produced virtually none.
Antioxidants are the 'heroes' who neutralize
the damaging free radicals, and so protect
the body against diseases.
Antioxidant vitamins are mainly
found in fresh fruit and
vegetables, and vegetarians
and vegans usually eat
much more fresh fruit and
vegetables than meat
eaters. This is probably
one big reason why
vegans are usually
healthier and tend to
live longer. To assure
yourself of an ample
supply of these valuable vitamins, eat a
reasonably varied diet and don't live on chips
Eat a variety of foods like fresh
fruits, vegetables, cereals (eg wholegrain
bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta), all
types of beans, as well as healthy
snacks such as your favourite
nuts, seeds or dried fruits.
Some of the most
notable vitamins and
Vegetarians and vegans get
plenty of vitamin A from eating
foods containing beta-carotene - in fact it's
almost impossible to become deficient in this
vitamin these days!
We convert beta-carotene into vitamin A in our bodies. Beta-carotene is
found in green vegetables (spinach, kale,
broccoli and watercress etc) as well as red
and orange vegetables (carrots, yams, sweet
potatoes etc) - and, as we've seen, it protects
you from several diseases.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
A daily source of this vital vitamin is required
- easily available from foods
fortified with it. Vegetarians
get B12 from free-range
eggs and dairy.
need to obtain
foods, such as
yeast (eg Marmite) and
soya milk. Vitamin B12 from
fortified foods is better absorbed
than the B12 from meat, poultry
As with almost all vitamins,
vegetarians and vegans get more of
this from their diet than do meat
You'll find high amounts in
fresh oranges, grapefruit, broccoli,
spinach, cabbage, strawberries,
green peppers and other fruit and
vegetables. It's not in meat.
Calcium is important for healthy bones and
teeth and for the working of muscles. It is
virtually absent from meat products.
Excessive amounts of animal protein (from
meat, dairy, fish and eggs) in the diet can
actually leach calcium from the bones,
weakening the skeleton and leading to
osteoporosis. Therefore it is much healthier
to obtain calcium from plants than from
Calcium is found in dark green leafy
vegetables such as broccoli, kale, watercress
and cabbage; pulses; dried fruits; tahini
(sesame seed butter used to make hummus)
and nuts and seeds (particularly almonds and
sesame seeds). Many soya milks and tofu are
fortified with calcium.
Iron deficiency can be significant, especially in
women of childbearing age (who lose iron
each month in the menstrual flow).
However, all the world's
leading health advisory
bodies agree that meateaters
are just as likely
to suffer from iron
deficiency anaemia as
especially women -
should ensure a good supply
of iron in their diet. It's needed
for healthy red blood cells to
transport oxygen to all parts of
Good sources of iron are
baked beans, wholegrain bread, molasses,
leafy green vegetables, dried fruit
(particularly apricots and figs), cocoa,
pulses (all types of beans, peas, lentils)
and pumpkin seeds.
Vitamin C increases
the absorption of iron by a factor of four
- another reason why fresh vegetables
and fruits are so important in the diet.
Many reputable health organisations,
including the World Health Organisation,
American Dietetic Association and the British
Medical Association, all agree that vegetarian
and vegan diets can lead to superb states of
Any person who changes to a
completely plant-based diet is greatly
improving their chance of avoiding a number
of deadly diseases.
In the process you will
also help to bring an end to the horrors of
factory farming, stop the onslaught which is
destroying the world's oceans, begin to offer
hope to the world's starving peoples and help
the environment start to recover.
The different types of vegetarians
A vegetarian eats food that is free from any ingredients obtained from the killing of animals. A vegan eats food free from any animal products. Because there are so many foods that vegetarians eat, it’s easier to state which they don’t eat!
A vegetarian does not eat red meat (eg lamb, bacon, pork, beef), white meat (eg duck, chicken, turkey), fish and other watery creatures (prawns, lobsters, crabs etc), or slaughterhouse byproducts (eg animal fat, gelatine, as it is made from crushed bones, horns etc) or cochineal (crushed insects). A vegetarian may or may not eat free-range eggs, dairy products (eg cow’s milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt) or honey.
Vegetarians who choose to eat dairy products and free-range eggs, are LACTO-OVO VEGETARIANS.
Those who eat dairy products but not eggs are LACTO-VEGETARIANS.
Those who eat eggs but not dairy products are OVO-VEGETARIANS.
Those who avoid all animal products, including all dairy products, eggs and honey are VEGANS.
Guidelines for vegetarian products
- NO animal flesh (meat, poultry, fish, shellfish).
- NO meat or bone stock (in soups, sauces or other dishes). Instead use vegetable stock.
- NO animal fats (suet, lard, dripping) and instead use only vegetable margarines and pure vegetable oils.
- NO gelatine, aspic, jelly crystals for glazing, cooking etc. Agar agar is an acceptable alternative.
- NO other products derived from the slaughterhouse.
- NO royal jelly or cochineal.
- For VEGANS, also:
- No eggs, dairy products or honey.
If you see Viva!'s symbol on a product, you can be sure that it is vegan, and so dairy-free. And the gold star of the food
symbols - the Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation's stamp of approval - means that the product is healthy too!
Juliet Gellatley has a degree in
zoology and is a qualified
nutritional therapist. She founded
and directs Viva! and the
Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation
and is an authority on vegetarian
and vegan health and nutrition. She has given hundreds of public and school talks on these issues, as well as many media interviews. She is author of several books and reports.
Amanda Woodvine holds a BSc
degree in Nutrition from King's
College, London and is the
Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation's
senior nutritionist.Vegan Amanda
has trekked some of the most
rugged terrain in the Rift Valley of
Tanzania, climbed Mount
Losimingori and has completed
the London Marathon!