Eating mostly plants is the basis of most health information but many believe excluding meat from our diet is unhealthy. If you’re considering going vegan, vegetarian, plant-based – the Australian Dietary Guidelines will help you plan a well-balanced diet to provide a wide variety of foods to meet nutritional needs for good health. Vegetarianism is strongly connected to the yogic principle of ‘ahimsa’ which is to do no harm.
Choosing to be vegetarian or vegan will do you no harm if you follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines provide the foundation for you to eat the right amount of nutrients by helping you choose foods from the five food groups for a healthy diet. They also provide through the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, advice on how many serves of these food groups you need to consume everyday depending upon your age, gender and physical activity.
what can i eat? variety is key
The Australian Dietary Guidelines describe the types and amounts of foods, food groups and dietary patterns that aim to:
- Promote health and wellbeing
- Reduce the risk of diet-related conditions
- Reduce the risk of chronic disease.
A summary of the guidelines is as follows:
This food group is an important source of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and phytonutrients. Most vegetables, legumes and beans are low in energy (kilojoules) relative to many other foods, keeping us full for longer and helps with weight maintenance.
Choose from a variety of seasonal vegetables based on the type and colour:
As with vegetables, choose a variety of seasonal fruits to increase your intake of nutrients and minerals to enhance your health.
Canned fruit and juices are also included in this food group but fresh is best as it provides more nutrients and fibre.
The grain food group consists of wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, millet, quinoa and corn.
Wholegrain cereals contain the three layers of the grain including bran and germ layers which contain more vitamins, minerals and fibre than refined cereal foods (such as white bread, white flour and biscuits) because many of the important nutrients occur in the outer layer of the grain which is lost during processing.
For vegetarian diets, wholegrain foods are important as a source of iron and zinc.
When choosing grain/cereals:
- Look for wholegrain or wholemeal
- Multigrain breads are made with white flour and various whole grains added
- Wholemeal foods are made from wholegrains which have been crushed to a finer texture. Wholegrain and wholemeal foods are nutritionally similar.
MEAT AND ALTERNATIVES
This food group provides a wide variety of nutrients including protein, iodine, iron, zinc, vitamins, especially B12, and essential fatty acids.
Non-meat options such legumes, nuts and seeds provide many of the same nutrients as meats, poultry, fish and eggs. These alternatives are essential in vegetarian and vegan eating patterns to get enough of the key nutrients found in this food group.
This group includes soy proteins such as textured vegetable protein (TVP) and tempeh.
Nuts and seeds (30 grams = 1 serve) are a suitable alternative to meat products and can be consumed whole, ground or in paste form. Nuts and seeds may help reduce the risk of heart disease and are not associated with weight gain if total energy intake (kilojoules) is controlled.
MILK, YOGHURT, CHEESE AND ALTERNATIVES
As a vegan diet does not include dairy products, add non-dairy sources of calcium on a daily basis.
Fortified plant milks including soy, rice and almond milk are a suitable nutritionally adequate alternative to cows’ milk. Check the product label for fortification with added calcium and vitamin B12.
Other plant sources of calcium include:
Calcium-fortified soy products, hard tofu, almonds, tahini (sesame seed paste) and green leafy vegetables including Asian greens (such as bok choy, Chinese broccoli) and kale.
The following alternatives contain about the same amount of calcium as a serve of milk, yoghurt or cheese:
100g almonds with skin
60g sardines, canned in water
½ cup (100g) canned pink salmon with bones
100g firm tofu (check the label as calcium levels vary)
WHAT KIND OF VEGO ARE YOU?
A vegetarian diet is based on plant foods. Even being vegetarian is not as simple as not eating meat, there are various sub categories:
Vegan – only plant foods are included
Lacto – dairy foods are included
Ovo-lacto – dairy foods and eggs are included.
By eating a wide variety of plant-based foods from the five food groups, careful planning of vegan/vegetarian includes:
Vitamin B12 (especially vegan diets)
Calcium (especially vegan diets)
Whether you eat meat or eschew animal proteins the key to any healthy diet is variety and keeping foods as whole an untampered as possible. Remember, you could be classified a vegan by eating only beer and Oreos (but this is NOT recommended!)
For more information of the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the five food groups visit: