People who assume that their vegetarian diet is healthy infuriate this nutritionist

National Vegetarian Week begins on May 21st and not surprisingly it got me thinking of ‘veggies’, not least because I was speaking at an event last week where a new ‘fishless’ Quorn fish finger was being served and to my surprise, it didn’t taste too bad.

Being vegetarian can be a good thing. On average veggies are less likely to suffer from heart attacks, also some diet-related cancers and constipation, but and there is a but, it is not an automatic gateway to ‘good health’ as many vegetarians seem to think. Nor is it a free-pass to being as slim as famous vegetarian pin-ups like Joanna Lumley or Sadie Frost.

In fact, I see many non-meat eating people in my private practice who struggle with their weight and who would do anything – apart from sinking their teeth into a sirloin steak – to shed the extra poundage.

My conversations with overweight vegetarians usually begin something like this: “I eat really well. I don’t have kebabs and junk food, I never have fish and chips and obviously I avoid chocolate because it’s dairy. So why am I fat?!”

At this point we move rapidly on to the ‘what I do eat’ list, which usually follows:

“I have porridge with soya milk, a tablespoon of pumpkin seeds and a teaspoon of honey for breakfast. It’s cashew nuts (about three handfuls) mid-morning, an avocado wrap for lunch and an apple to follow.

Mid-afternoon I’ll have a flapjack and then a vegetarian lasagne for dinner with roasted vegetables and a little pudding like wholemeal apple crumble with dairy free ice cream.”

All sounds delicious and ultra healthy doesn’t it? In many ways it is: porridge gives slow release energy and helps to lower cholesterol. Pumpkin seeds are great for immune-boosting, zinc and honey are natural sweeteners.

Cashews are full of energy-boosting iron, avocados give us vitamin E for our hearts and skin, a flapjack is again full of wholegrain oats.

Finally the lasagne gives us a serving of vegetables with the tomatoes it contains and you get another two from the roasted veg.

The problem is, as healthy as these choices are individually, put them together and the calories soon add up and for a nutritionist like me, it can be infuriating that vegetarians assume not eating meat is the same as watching what they eat.

In truth, the daily diet listed above tops 2950 calories. That’s 450 more than an average man needs each day and at least 950 more than the average woman needs.

It also contains a whopping 161g of fat. A man’s daily maximum is 90g and a woman’s 70g.

Exceed your calorie needs by this each day and within a year you could be at least several stones heavier no matter how much ‘good’ food you eat.

The truth is, no matter your dietary preference – vegetarian, vegan or fruitarian – we all need to watch what we eat if we want to stay healthy.

It doesn’t matter if you’re overweight because you eat too many roast dinners or too many veggie burgers, you will be upping your risk of heart disease, stroke and type two diabetes regardless.

So I thought what may be helpful is to give you an idea of the classic vegetarian pitfalls; and since we are on the subject of veggie burgers, we may as well begin here.

A Burger King Veggie Bean Burger has 590 calories while a Burger King Angus Burger has 580 and a BK Ocean Catch burger has 493 calories.

And for the record, a shop bought frozen veggie quarter pounder gives you around 230 calories before bun, mayonnaise and a lean beef quarter pounder provides the same.

An individual lamb pie has 550 calories while a vegetarian version of the same weight has about 521 calories.

A bar of Dairy Milk chocolate (38g) as mid-morning snack has 205 calories compared to a Pret a Manger Love Bar (oats, nuts, honey), which has more, at 324 calories.

The list goes on and on. A 200g Cheddar and Onion Pasty has 534 calories while the same weight beef filled pasty comes in at 423 calories.

Other areas to watch out for are nuts and seeds – at least 520 calories per 100g, which most of us can wolf down in a jiffy – and flapjacks – a 100g flapjack easily clocks up 448 calories.

Veggie options in pubs can also be problematic. A Ploughman’s lunch can be over 800 calories and an individual quiche, which is fine if you eat dairy and eggs, can easily give you 500 calories per serving.

The moral of this column is if you are thinking of becoming vegetarian or indeed are one but are wondering where things have started to go wrong, you need to be more vigilant. It is just as easy to have unhealthy diet as a vegetarian as it is for a meat eater but by the same token it is also possible to be a very healthy one, too.

For great info on vegetarianism visit: vegsoc.org packed full of recipes and advice.

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