Our favourite vegetarian foods – and why they’re worth a try

Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise worldwide. And as medical experts and nutritionists proclaim the heath benefits of choosing a diet that’s lower in animal fats and highly-processed meat, many people are opting for a few meat-free days each week or month.

In the main, increasing your consumption of veggie mainstays is good news for your health.

Keep your diet varied (ingredients, colours, textures) for a good balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), essential vitamins and minerals.

Here are some of our favourites foods. We love them because they’re delicious, nutritious, versatile and easily available all year round.

Chickpeas

Why they’re good for us

Packed with protein, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphate and manganese
Good for vitamin C and vitamin K
Richest food for vitamin B-6
High in fibre

Why we love them

Chickpeas come dried and tinned – or try growing your own. They’re the main ingredient of hummus, which is nearly as quick to make as to buy (whizz together tinned chickpeas, tahini/sesame paste, garlic and lemon juice, plus salt, cumin and olive oil to taste). And they work brilliantly in rice dishes, traditional Italian cooking, vegetable curries and tagines.

Chickpea flour – “gram” or “besan” flour – makes fantastic vegetable fritters. You can also make socca (or farinata), delicious flatbreads in the style of Southern France and Italy.

And our favourite – use the liquor from tinned chickpeas (called aqua faba) to make egg-free meringues!

Watercress

Why it’s good for us

Iron-rich and vitamin C rich – the perfect pairing
Good source of folic acid, vitamin K and vitamin A
High in calcium, zinc and magnesium

Why we love it

Tastier than spinach, more peppery than rocket, watercress adds punch to salads (try nutrient-rich walnut, orange and rocket) and sandwiches calling for green leaves. Bake it into tarts and pies with eggs, cream and cheese. Stir-fry or wilt it to serve as a vegetable side dish. And enjoy watercress soup hot or cold.

Watercress also makes a great base for homemade pesto. Use almonds instead of pine nuts, plus garlic and extra virgin olive oil, for a quick and nutritious sauce.

Oats

Why they’re good for us

Contain soluble fibre
Good source of protein, vitamin B6, zinc and iron
Rich source of magnesium
Contain folate and potassium

Why we love them

Soluble fibre keeps you full and can lower cholesterol. So start your day with original health food Bircher muesli – oats soaked in apple juice with grated apple and yoghurt. Add them to smoothies to boost protein and fibre. Stir a few handfuls in when you’re making bread or cakes to add fibre– especially if you’re using white flour.

Oats can even be used to thicken soups and stews. Blitz oats to flour in your food processor if you’re not sure about the texture. Use oat flour to replace up to 25% of plain flour in cooking. Bake spoonfuls of mixed oat flour, mashed banana and dried fruit for easy gluten-free, egg-free cookies.

Dried fruit

Why they’re good for us

Good source of iron, fibre and potassium

Why we love them

It’s all about variety. Dried fruit is so diverse, from so-called “superfoods” like acai berries and goji berries to old-fashioned raisins. We like to have a mix on the go (preferably with some nuts and seeds mixed in) as a great alternative to highly processed sugary snacks. Keep some in your desk drawer or your bag to avoid temptation.

They’re an excellent way to add natural sweetness to cooking. We love them in Middle Eastern-style savoury rice dishes, for a pop of sweet to complement the spice.

Oranges

Why they’re good for us

High in vitamin C, folate, calcium
Good source of potassium, B vitamins and soluble fibre
Low in fructose (which people with IBS and on the FODMAPS diet avoid)

Why we love them

Chop them into fruit salads, caramelise them, turn them into sorbets. Oranges are refreshing however you eat them. And orange juice, the more recently squeezed the better, is also brimming with nutrients. Drink it with iron-rich foods to get your best iron boost.

To get the most from your orange eat the whole thing, pith, skin and all. If that seems a little unpalatable, try orange and almond cake. For this amazingly simple recipe you boil (or microwave) then blend whole oranges adding eggs, sugar and almonds. The result is a rich, moist cake – no-one would ever believe it’s also good for you.

Three tips if you’re thinking about trying vegetarianism

  • Be inspired – Buy a recipe book by someone you love or that contains recipes you really want to make
  • Be prepared – Use meal planners and recipe guides to ensure you get the right balance of nutrients
  • Be practical – Think about why you’re doing this. How will you cope in restaurants, or somewhere where vegetarianism isn’t readily understood?

EW_186x186_microsite_Sep2016