Let’s hear it for fat: can a vegetarian diet be bad for you?

  • Proving that clarity in what I say is important – the response I got
  • Why we should all like a bit of fat
  • Surely there can be no argument to a bit of common sense?

It was time to turn my researchers gaze onto the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.

I thought I had made an interesting discovery when I started to look at the types of vegetarian fare available from High Street restaurants and takeaways.

My intention was to help people make informed choices and prevent them from being misled by preconception and flashy advertising.

Looking through the declared nutritional values of some of the vegetarian options on the menus I was surprised in most cases and revolted in others to see how much fat there is in something that most of us would consider a low fat option.

But boy did I get a response I wasn’t anticipating.

Firstly, I really don’t have an issue with vegetarians, vegans or vegetarian food – in fact our family eat a vegetarian meal once or twice every week. Some of my favourite curries are purely vegan and involve a lot of spinach, potatoes, cauliflower and lentils (not all in the same dish mind!).

If anyone read the newsletter and thought I was insinuating that I considered those who don’t eat meat as some kind of second class citizen then they deserve my unreserved and most heartfelt apology. I am a big fan of the food too.

Right, that was the first issue out of the mailbag, the next one was a real surprise to me as many people thought I was saying we shouldn’t have any fat in our diet – and that is something I would never say.

Since I first put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard to be more accurate) in 2005 I have consistently supported the view that we need fat in our diet, especially unsaturated fats and these come mainly from plant/vegetable sources plus a few oily fish.

If you look at the recipes I have described in previous letters you will see that I include vegetable oil (and occasionally olive oil), omega-3 rich fish and plenty of fat rich foods like dark chocolate, avocado and eggs.

I don’t describe fat free products at any stage.

Plus, I advocate using natural fats from other sources like real butter, whole milk/cream and even lard – I don’t think anyone could ever accuse me of not knowing how important a healthy dose of fat is.

The whole fat phenomenon

Finally, the thing that most people seemed to be upset by was that they thought I had equated the total fat in the products I mentioned with unhealthy.

Well having just read what I say about vegetarian/vegan food and how my philosophy on fat goes I hope I have dispelled this as a criticism.

But what I was talking about in the article was the fact that each and every one of those menu items I highlighted not only had a lot more total fat than I would have expected but that because of the paucity of the ingredients, the length of time they had to be stored and the way they were inevitably prepared, there was a major issue.

This issue is called trans-fats, the type which we should avoid at all costs.

There is always a lot of debate and disagreement when the topic of nutrition and diet starts to be aired but the one thing that everyone agrees on is that this type of fat is definitely bad news.

Its consumption has been linked to development of type 2 diabetes, inflammation (especially of the cardio-vascular system) and cancer.

Naturally occurring trans fats can be found in red meat and dairy products, and this is why they are advised to be eaten in moderation, but for vegetarian meals they should not be present at all, providing they are derived from fresh produce which has not been prepared and cooked at too high a temperature and/or with deep frying methods.

But in the modern world hydrogenated vegetable oil is widely used commercially to cheapen products and increase their shelf life, and these are basically pure trans fats.

That, good people, was my point.

The foods I was talking about came not from the outlet taking fresh vegetables and creating their own dishes but from a central frozen storage centre having been prepared well in advance and then nuked in a microwave or deep fried to within an inch of its life.

The trans fat count would be through the roof.

Thus, these are not healthy and naturally occurring fats which boost the supply of vitamins, help control stress and allow the body to repair itself… no they are bad, bad things which have no place in a vegetarian option.

I am sorry if I didn’t make that clearer at the time but I hope I have clarified the confusion I seem to have caused, and also defused the anger generated in some quarters.

I love vegetarian food, endorse eating healthy fats and understand that not everyone can cook the sort of meals they like to eat so have to source them elsewhere…

…I really don’t have an issue with any of this.

Do you?