Vegetarian Diet

What does it mean to be Vegetarian

Vegetarianism is a term that has been used since the 1800s to describe a ‘vegetable diet’. This seems fairly late considering being vegetarian itself originates from the 7th century BC. The western world may not have caught on to vegetarianism as quickly as maybe other regions but it’s now catching on fast. According to The Vegetarian Society, in 2012 there were 1.2 million vegetarians in the UK; this has since risen to 4 million! A consumer trends report by market research company Mintel found a steady increase in the vegetarian diet with 20% of 16-24 year olds now trending towards saying no to meat.

So why are so many more people choosing a vegetarian diet?

Well interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be just one answer:

  • Health: perhaps unsurprisingly this features high on the list. Vegetarians are thought to have a lower risk of heart disease and some cancersi, something recently highlighted by the World Health Organisation, which draws links between processed meats and colorectal cancer.
  • Ethics: with ever more information at our finger tips via the internet and available through journals and books, we are all becoming increasingly aware of the impact we are having on the planet. Couple this with the increased media attention on topics such as animal cruelty, ethics is thought to be influencing many to make lifestyle and dietary changes.
  • Religion: Hindus and Buddhists tend to follow a vegetarian diet. Some other religions are not as strict, but avoid specific types of meat.
  • Dislike of taste or texture: some people just simply don’t like the taste or texture of meat.

You may be clear on your reason for choosing a vegetarian diet but have you thought about what type of vegetarian you are, there’s quite number of variations?

One size doesn’t fit all, what type of vegetarian are you?

If you follow The Vegetarian Society’s traditional style of the diet you include plant food and avoid any meat, game, poultry, fish and crustacean.

However, there are different styles and adaptations to the vegetarian diet that you may prefer:

Flexitarian/semi vegetarian: combining both plant food and a reduced amount of animal food intake. This is a popular choice as a starting point to ease into a more strict vegetarian diet.

Lacto vegetarian: includes honey and dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese and no other animal based foods. The lacto ovo version would also include eggs.

Pescatarian: includes fish, dairy, eggs and honey but avoids meat.

Whilst vegetarianism is largely considered a healthy diet choose, some food alternatives may include refined or processed foods making them less of a healthy option, so watch out! If you’ve got questions don’t forget to get in touch with one of our experts, we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.


i) Lap Tai Le. Nutrients. 2014 Jun; 6(6): 2131–2147.


Getting the best from your vegan diet

Following a vegan, plant based diet is a great way to be healthy with all the added fibre and nutrients, but beware of the dietary pitfalls, especially with some of the clever marketing techniques and tempting treats to catch your eye.

Let us give you the low-down, so you can make the best choices:

  • Nature knows best – Eat foods that could be planted and picked. If a food is processed, such as vegan cheese, chocolate and pasta, avoid it. Processed foods tend to contain sugar and artificial trans fats (bad fats) that provide ‘empty calories’ (with little to no nutritional value).
  • Follow a predominantly raw food based diet as nutrients such as vitamin C tend to be damaged by heat. Raw foods also contain natural digestive enzymes to break food down making you less bloated, win win!

Don’t forget some of the nutrients that care for you may not be as freely available in a vegan diet, but don’t worry we have some tips to get around this too:

  • Vitamin D – this is actually a limitation in all diets and yet it is crucial for bone development, mood and the immune system. You can get a small amount by having mushrooms, the other option is sunshine. In the UK, our friend the sun can be a little antisocial hiding behind the clouds, therefore a daily supplement of 1,000iu is recommended for the days we aren’t tanning ourselves in the summer rays.
  • Vitamin B12 is only really available in seaweed, you may want to get the Japanese cookbook out and get your sushi on. On the days you don’t fancy that, aim for a vitamin B12 supplement. It can be a common deficiency for vegans, related to low energy, anaemia, depression and high homocysteine (inflammation).

Keep an eye on your iron and calcium intake too, although you are unlikely to be deficient.

  • Iron is important to reduce risk of anaemia, a healthy diet rich in green leafy vegetables, tofu and beetroot can help to maintain iron levels.
  • Calcium intake may be lower, however, vegans seem to utilise what they have better. An animal based diet can be acidic leaching calcium from the bones, therefore reducing the strength of the bones!

Beating the common cold and flu

Have you noticed the red noses and croaky voices recently? As autumn sets in it seems the cold and flu are doing the rounds again. I have come up with a list of ingredients to keep in your cupboard and fridge for the coming winter months to keep your immune system on top form ready to fight off any invaders.

Elderberry increases immune activity to show 93% more rapid recovery from influenza1 . The berry contains a rich level of vitamin C which is supportive for the immune system and plant properties called flavonoids such as quercetin and anthocyanins which have health benefits. These flavonoids ‘blunt’ spikes on the outside of viruses such as the common flu to stop it from entering the cells to reproduce2 .

Cinnamon and cloves both work as a nice antibacterial against any bacteria3 , the cinnamon has the additional benefit of reducing muscle pain4 .

Manuka Honey has antibacterial activity that inhibits the growth of Streptococcus pyogenes, the bacteria that causes sore throats.

Oranges and lemons are rich in vitamin C to work as a natural antiviral, the lemon also supports digestion which is often sluggish during a cold.

Ginger works as a natural antiviral5 fighting against the flu6 . Ginger is also commonly used for nausea which can be a common side effect of the common cold or flu.

The ingredients are easy to add to your diet, ginger sprinkled on fruit or an all time winter favourite is lemon, honey and hot water.

For your friends or family in front of the fire for the Halloween and Christmas season, you can serve up a warm glass of alcohol free mulled wine. You can even show off with your knowledge of why this tasty festive drink is going to help keep them fighting fit through the winter.

Alcohol free mulled wine

Serves 2


  • 400g of elderberries
  • 1.25 litres of water
  • 2 cinnamon stick
  • 50g raisins
  • 10 cloves
  • 3 large oranges
  • 3 tablespoons of manuka honey
  • ¼ lemon
  • 1 piece of ginger root (grated)


  1. Grate the zest from the oranges and lemon, and then juice them with the elderberries and add the cloves.
  2. Place all the above into a large saucepan.
  3. Add the water, honey, cinnamon sticks, grated ginger and raisins.
  4. Heat the mixture for 20 mins, try not to let it simmer.
  5. Remove from the heat and drain through a sieve into a large punch bowl.
  6. Your wine is now ready to serve.

What makes mulled wine good for the immune system:

When you are making this drink for a festive event for your friends, you can tell them what is so great about this yummy concoction to keep them feeling great.


  1. Kong. Pilot Clinical Study on a Proprietary Elderberry Extract: Efficacy in Addressing Influenza Symptoms. J Pharmacol Pharmacokin. 2009; 5: 32-43.
  2. Mumcuoglu. 1995. Sambucus nigra (L), Black Elderberry Extract: A breakthrough in the treatment of influenza. RSS Publishing.
  3. Singh HB, Srivastava M, Singh AB, Srivastava AK. Cinnamon bark oil, a potent fungitoxicant against fungi causing respiratory tract mycoses. Allergy 1995;50:995–9. Soliman KM & Badeaa RI, Food Chem Toxicol, 2002, Nov;40(11): 1669-75.
  4. SHOKRI MASHHADI, N., GHIASVAND, R., ASKARI, G., FEIZI, A., HARIRI, M., DARVISHI, L., BARANI, A., TAGHIYAR, M., SHIRANIAN, A., HAJISHAFIEE, M.. Influence of Ginger and Cinnamon Intake on Inflammation and Muscle Soreness Endued by Exercise in Iranian Female Athletes. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, North America, 1, mar. 2013. Available at: . Date accessed: 12 Oct. 2015.
  5. Denyer CV, Jackson P, Loakes DM, Ellis MR and Young David AB, Isolation of antirhinoviral sesquiterpenes from ginger (Zingiber officinale), J Nat Prod 1994;57(5):658-662.
  6. Mondal S, Varma S, et al. Double-blinded randomized control trial for immunomodulatory effect of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2011; 136(3):452-6.

Why we’re talking about Ahiflower®

Ahiflower® is the trademarked name of a British grown flower that was originally known as Corn Gromwell. This pretty plant with its deep green leaves and pure white flowers has recently found its way to stardom in the media. This is due to the essential fatty acids (EFAs), especially omega 3, its seed provides, making it a great addition to the vegan and vegetarian diet.

The plant contains essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6 in a balance and form that doesn’t disrupt nature’s balance. A form that doesn’t suit nature’s balance is high levels of omega 6 in the form of LA and omega 3 in the form of ALA. These forms of fat compete with each other in the system to be processed which can strain our nutrient reserve – more will become clear on this later.

The great thing about this new form of fats is that the plant was initially classed as a weed, as it grows in abundance and is easily sustainable in most conditions. This makes it a great source that does not need aggressive agricultural farming methods. An area roughly the size of Twickenham rugby pitch will produce 200 kilograms of Ahiflower® oil; the same amount would require 200,000 oily fish such as sardines.

Looking for omega supplements on a vegan or vegetarian diet:

When looking for EFAs on a plant based diet, there is quite a bit to think about to make sure you are getting the best. Omega 3 seems to be the most challenging to achieve, not from the lack of plant foods that provide it, but from the lack of plant foods that contain the active form Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) that your body can utilise.

The most active form of omega 3 that our body uses is EPA and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) which is readily available from two food sources; fish and algae.

What makes EPA and DHA so important?

  • Immune system, especially important in reducing autoimmune conditions
  • Joints, it works similarly to oil on the hinge of a door, but on your joints instead to keep you supple
  • Reducing dry eye, a common complaint that people get from overusing computers (did you know that when you use a computer you blink roughly 8 times compared to the usual 15-20 times per minute?)
  • Cardiovascular system, by reducing clotting of the blood to allow circulation
  • Mind function, your brain is made up predominantly of fat therefore it can be good for memory, mood and concentration
  • Weight loss, yes that’s right, fat doesn’t make you fat, that’s an old wives tale. Fat metabolises fat to keep you slim

You can get omega 3 from plant sources such as linseed oil but they provide omega 3 Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). The body can change ALA into fats that you need, but the amount it produces is very small (6% EPA and 3.8% DHA). Ahiflower® is completely different, its low level of ALA is completely compensated for by containing a high level of another fat called Stearidonic Acid (SDA). At least 30% of SDA will end up being EPA in the body.

From the diagram below you can see how much less strain this puts on the body to form EPA without needing additional nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6.

The natural omega 3 pathway in the body is described below:

Omega 3 Pathway

A teaspoon of Ahiflower® oil would provide 840mg SDA and 1.8g of ALA, this would provide roughly 400mg of EPA, this matches about half the level you would get from fish oil! Other plant sources don’t even come close to matching this.

Let’s not forget the other important fatty acids

The Ahiflower® also contains omega 6 Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA) and Linoleic Acid (LA) and omega 9 oleic acid (OA).

The GLA level in the plant oil is particularly important for skin and hormonal health. GLA doesn’t disrupt the body’s natural omega 3:6 ratio as the system doesn’t require cofactors zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 to convert GLA to an anti-inflammatory called prostaglandin 1 (PG1).

Certain high levels of animal fats may form prostaglandin 2 (PG2) which is an inflammatory marker. Too much inflammation in the system is linked to many health conditions such as eczema and poor cardiovascular and mental health through poor circulation.

The LA does require cofactors zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 but the combination of omega 6 GLA with LA and the omega 3 being in the form of SDA makes this less of a strain on the system and more likely to result in an anti-inflammatory response. Examples of plant foods that provide mainly LA as their omega 6 source are safflower and sunflower oil.

The natural omega 6 pathway in the body is described below:

Omega 6 Pathway

Ahiflower image by Fornax (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons