The educational charity is encouraging everyone to participate – whether you try just one vegetarian meal, go veggie for the whole week or commit to being meat-free for life.
The charity suggests numerous ways we can all get involved, such as holding veggie dinner parties, setting up information stalls at local venues and organising 'taste testing' evenings. It's also inviting us to make our own 'Veggie Pledge' on its website to let everyone know what we're committing to do for the week.
According to the Society, the decision to become a vegetarian is a highly personal one and may be prompted by concerns over animal welfare or for the environment, for example. "With the growing awareness of the importance of healthy food, many people are also becoming vegetarian because it matches the kind of low-fat, high-fibre diet recommended by dietitians and doctors," it adds.
The charity says that vegetarians typically have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers, as well as lower blood pressure. Dietitian Azmina Govindji cautions, however, "Don't assume that all vegetarian eating is healthy. Foods like cheese and cream are rich in saturated fat, which can raise your 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol levels, making you more prone to heart disease in the long term."
What should I eat on a veggie diet?
The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as "someone who eats no meat, poultry, fish, shellfish or crustacea and also avoids the by-products of the slaughterhouse, such as gelatine, rennet and animal fats".
The charity says that people can get all the nutrients they need from sources such as nuts, seeds, grains and cereals, soya products, dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt, and free-range eggs.
It advises people on a vegetarian diet to eat the following every day:
- 3 or 4 servings of cereals/grains or potatoes
- 4 or 5 servings of fruit and vegetables
- 2 or 3 servings of pulses, nuts and seeds
- 2 servings of milk, cheese, eggs or soya products
- A small amount of vegetable oil and margarine or butter
- Some yeast extract, such as Marmite, fortified with vitamin B12
Provided a vegetarian diet is well balanced, it should provide all of the nutrients needed by the body throughout life, says the British Nutrition Foundation.
It notes, however, that there are times when extra care is needed to ensure that all nutritional needs are met – in the case of infants and young children, for example – so it's advisable to take medical advice before changing your child's diet or if you have any health concerns.
Break out of the food rut!
Even if you're not planning to adopt a meat-free diet in the long term, substituting soya, pulses and vegetables for red or processed meat on a regular basis can not only bring health benefits, but also prompt you to try new recipes rather than falling back on the same old standbys week in, week out.
Invest in a good vegetarian cookbook for inspiration, and try some of the delicious vegetarian recipes featured on our website.
"This is your chance to develop new tastes," says Azmina. "Experiment with different vegetables like sweet potatoes, or try grains like bulgur, quinoa and couscous as a nice change from pasta and rice."
If you fancy going veggie for a while, Azmina offers some tips to help ensure you get balanced meals on your plate:
To cut down on saturated fat, go for lower-fat cheeses like feta or mozzarella, instead of blue and Cheddar. Or try mature Cheddar and grate it – it will go further and give you a strong flavour.
Opt for low-fat yoghurt or try 0 per cent fat Greek yoghurt.
When you eat a vegetarian meal that contains iron, the iron absorption is reduced if you drink tea with your meal. Go for orange juice instead.
Colours equal nutrients when it comes to fruit and veg, so make sure you eat a 'rainbow mix'.
A vegetarian ready meal may sound virtuous, but many can be high in salt. Check the labels and choose those with less salt. If you see traffic light labelling, avoid too many red lights.
National Vegetarian Week runs from May 16 to May 22. For further details, visit the Vegetarian Society's website at https://www.vegsoc.org/
Vegetarian recipes for you to try
To get you started on eating more vegetarian meals, try these tasty options:
Chickpea and Brocoli Tagine
Mediterranean Macaroni Cheese
Sweet Potato and Leek Frittata
Black Bean Chilli
Avocado, Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
Penne with Beans and Goats Cheese
Veggie Cheesy Chilli
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