How to be a good vegetarian

Simple; just don’t eat meat. That’s where it starts with young children, full of ideals – and peer pressure – when they discover that eating meat involves killing animals. But as any long-term vegetarian knows, that’s not all there is to it.
This recent survey found that almost a quarter of the vegetarians who took part thought that they were not getting enough protein, iron or vitamin B12. It didn’t test their actual nutritional status, and nor did the researchers ask a group of meat-eaters what they thought about their own diets. It’s about subjective feelings; a sense that they might be missing out on something.

From my own experience, seeing a lot of patients over the years who follow all sorts of dietary rules (and having been vegetarian myself in earlier life), lacto-vegetarianism can often mean relying on cheese, because it’s quick and easy. And if your diet is low in protein, you tend to crave carbohydrates more; your blood sugar doesn’t stay level. That can lead to weight problems, and an unhealthy relationship with sugar. A good long-term vegetarian diet involves a lot of cooking: beans and lentils, combined with grains to give you the complete set of amino acids in one meal that you need to make protein, and plenty of vegetables. For vegans, this is even more important.

All sorts of symptoms, from chronic fatigue to digestive troubles to headaches, can be at least partly due to not balancing your diet well. And that’s true of meat-eaters too, of course. Being vegetarian is a perfectly valid life choice, and it’s certainly easier on the limited resources of our planet, but it does need careful planning and a willingness to cook. Don’t fancy beans and lentils? That’s where the herbs and spices come in…