Vegetarian food is becoming much more popular since many people are beginning to realize how varied and delicious vegetarian diets can be.

  • Vegan, or total vegetarian diets, exclude food of animal origin. Meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, and eggs are left out. Only nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are eaten.
  • Lacto-vegetarian diets contain foods of plant origin plus milk and milk products.
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets consist of milk, milk products, eggs, and foods of plant origin.

Health benefits

Vegetarian diets are usually followed by Seventh Day Adventists. Studies in California and Western Australia have shown that these people have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than other people.

Other benefits appear to be less high blood pressure and blood cholesterol, obesity, less dental caries, and less constipation.

Vegetarian diets, particularly Lacto-vegetarian diets, tend to be high in calcium. Calcium loss has been related to osteoporosis, a medical condition in which the bones fracture easily, particularly in old age.

Vegetarians are usually thinner because their foods are high in fiber and rather filling, which reduces the appetite.

Foods to eat

Most vegetarian diets contain some or all of the following foods:

  • nuts
  • peanut butter
  • dried vegetables
  • fruits
  • cereals
  • bread
  • beans and peas

Danger

Vegetarian diet, particularly vegan, can be dangerous if the selection of foods is limited. Select a wide variety. An example of an inadequate vegetarian diet would be one consisting of fruit and small amounts of seeds or nuts.

Because of the special requirements of pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children, it is recommended that they do not follow a vegan diet.

How to get nutrients as a vegetarian

Protein is essential in any diet to build, maintain, and repair body cells. It is made up of building blocks called amino acids.

Meat and eggs are regarded as “complete” proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids. In plant-based proteins, some of the amino acids are missing.

By combining certain plant foods you can make your source of protein complete. Some examples are cracked wheat and parsley, beans and brown rice, beans and nuts, peanut butter sandwich, dried fruit, and nuts.

Animal protein may be combined with plant protein. For example, eggs with brown rice and vegetables, cheese sandwich, cereal and milk, scrambled egg on toast, cauliflower and cheese sauce, yogurt, and fruits.

Iron is necessary for blood formation. A deficiency can cause anemia. By including cereals, whole-grain breads, green leafy vegetables, dried fruits (especially apricots and peaches), and brewer’s yeast in the diet this may be avoided.

Iron absorption is increased if foods containing Vitamin C are eaten at the same meal. Vitamin C may be found in citrus fruits, mangoes, pawpaws, and berry fruits.

Zinc is necessary for the growth and repair of cells. Include legumes and whole grains in your diet to make sure you have a good supply.

Calcium is a mineral that should be included to maintain strong healthy bones, teeth, nerves, and muscles. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are good sources.

Vegans can increase their calcium intake by eating nuts (especially almonds), dried fruits (especially apricots), broccoli, spinach, soybeans or soybean milk, and sesame seeds.

Vegans may have difficulty in obtaining the recommended intake of vitamin B12, as this vitamin is mainly found in foods of animal origin (meat, cheese, and eggs). As a precaution, some doctors do advise B12 supplements. Vegan mothers who are breastfeeding certainly should take them.

Recipes

Jane Nutta Singh, an expert in Indian cookery, shares some exotic vegetarian recipes with us. Some of them use ghee – clarified butter – but if it is not available, use a combination of butter and oil.

Banana balls

  • 1kg (2lb) green bananas
  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic 1cm (½in) piece green ginger
  • salt
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • pinch cardamom
  • 1 egg flour
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons ghee, extra
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • ¼ red pepper

Place bananas in their skins in boiling water, boil 10 minutes, or until tender. When cool, remove skin and mash bananas thoroughly. Heat ghee in a pan, add peeled and finely chopped onion, crushed garlic, and grated ginger; stir until onion is transparent. Add banana pulp, salt, paprika, and cardamom, mix well, remove from heat, cool. Add slightly beaten egg to banana mixture, beat until well combined, take tablespoonfuls of mixture and shape into balls, roll balls over flour to coat.

Place cream, tomato paste, salt and extra ghee in a saucepan, stir until mixture boils, reduce heat, simmer gently uncovered 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add banana balls, cook until heated through. Sprinkle top with chives and seeded and finely chopped pepper. Serves 4-6.

Celery with lentil

  • ½ cup coconut
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 onion
  • 6 sticks celery
  • 1 tomato
  • 250g (8oz) lentils
  • 2½ cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon ghee
  • 1 large onion, extra
  • 1 clove garlic, extra
  • pinch cumin
  • pinch dry mustard
  • pinch garam masala
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 shallots
  • ½ red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped mint
  • 1½ cups of brown rice

Soak coconut in hot water, stand 20 minutes; place coconut mixture into a blender, blend at medium speed until mixture is thick and finely pureed. Peel and finely chop the onion; chop the celery into 5cm (2in) pieces; roughly chop peeled tomato; wash lentils, drain. Place lentils and water into the saucepan, bring to boil, simmer gently uncovered 10 minutes. Add onion, celery, tomato, crushed garlic, turmeric, and salt, mix well, cook further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Heat ghee in a pan, add peeled and finely chopped extra onion and crushed extra garlic, cook until onion is transparent. Add cumin, mustard, garam masala and bay leaf, mix well. Add finely chopped shallots, seeded and finely chopped red pepper, mint and coconut puree, stir until mixture boils, reduce heat, simmer gently uncovered 15 minutes. Cook rice in a large saucepan of boiling salted water 30 minutes or until rice is tender, drain. Place lentil mixture, coconut mixture, and rice in a large bowl, gently toss until combined. Serves 6.

Spiced rice

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 tablespoons ghee
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 tablespoons sultanas
  • 125g (4oz) green beans
  • a few cauliflower flowerets
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 1 cup shredded cabbage
  • 1 red pepper
  • 4 shallots
  • salt, pepper

Cook rice in boiling salted water 30 minutes or until tender, drain well. Melt ghee in a large frying pan or wok, add peeled and sliced onions and crushed garlic, cook 5 minutes on medium heat. Add cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, mix well. Add sliced beans, cabbage, peeled and sliced carrot, cauliflower, chopped red pepper, sliced celery, and shallots. Cook, stirring lightly for 10 minutes. Add rice and salt and pepper. Remove the cloves, add sultanas, mix well. Serves 6-8.

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