Different diets: the vegetarian

Vijay Rana

Vijay Rana, 61, from Middlesex, is a retired journalist. He has eaten a vegetarian diet all his life.

“When my wife and I came to this country, we had almost no concept of heart disease,” he says. “Now, we use rapeseed oil rather than ghee and try to minimise our salt intake.

“We eat lots of green vegetables, such as spinach, mustard greens and sprouts. In the evening, it is usually dhal made with lentils and sometimes beans in curry sauce with a green vegetable. We avoid adding ghee to chapattis and we don’t add butter to vegetables.”

Read our recipe for cauliflower dhal

Victoria’s verdict

A dish of saladVegetarian diets like Vijay’s can be a heart-healthy option when they are full of vegetables, wholegrains and a range of plant-protein foods, such as nuts, seeds and pulses, as well as eggs and low-fat dairy products.

But it’s important to remember that being vegetarian isn’t a fast track to healthy eating. Chips, pastries and cakes are usually vegetarian, too!

Resist simply relying on replacing meat with cheese as, although this is a nutritious food in terms of its protein and calcium content, it also comes with lots of saturated fat and doesn’t contribute much iron to the diet. Beans, dark green leafy vegetables and some dried fruits are good sources of iron.

Myths about vegetarian diets

"It’s important to remember that being vegetarian isn’t a fast track to healthy eating"

1. Veggie meals are better for you

If you are eating pre-prepared vegetarian products, check the food labels to make sure they are healthy choices as well as being meat-free.

2. Vegetarian meals aren’t tasty

Include the right balance of protein, starchy foods, and fruit and vegetables. Combine different textures and use plenty of herbs and spices to create flavour and variety.

3. All omega-3 fats are the same

While there are plant sources of omega-3, such as walnuts, soya beans, tofu and dark green vegetables, we don’t know for certain if they offer exactly the same benefits as the omega-3 fats from oily fish.

4. There’s not enough protein

A range of plant foods, including fruit and vegetables, pulses, lentils and wholegrains, can provide all the protein you need to ensure you have a healthy diet.

5. Vegetarians are healthier

Some studies have shown that vegetarians are healthier but we don’t know whether this is down to their diet or other lifestyle factors.

A vegetarian diet

Good for...

  • Fruit and vegetable intake
  • Fibre, if you eat lots of wholegrains, pulses and veg
  • Lean proteins

Watch out for...

  • Eating too many dairy products
  • Iron deficiency
  • High-fat or salty, processed vegetarian foods

Read about Wilfred's traditional diet and how to eat well as a meat-eater

Read about Chris' fish-lover's diet and how to keep your heart healthy

Read our introduction to different diets and healthy eating

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