Q: I want to be a vegetarian but am worried about not getting enough iron in my diet. What should I eat to avoid anaemia?
A: Iron-deficiency anaemia is a common concern, especially for women following a vegetarian diet. Iron is a mineral needed for making red blood cells, which transport oxygen around the body; a low intake can lead to the condition, with symptoms including tiredness and fatigue. Dietary iron can be found in two forms: haem iron (from animal sources), and non-haem iron (from plant sources).
As a veggie, you should be able to get enough iron by having a varied and balanced diet that incorporates good sources of the mineral, so there’s less need to worry. These include wholemeal bread, green leafy veg, tofu, beans and pulses, dried fruits, nuts, seeds and quinoa, as well as some fortified breakfast cereals, such as wholegrain bran flakes. You could add chopped dried apricots and almonds to your morning porridge; make a salad of leafy green veg, three tablespoons of chickpeas and some sesame and pumpkin seeds for lunch; and for dinner, cook a dhal with red lentils, spinach and turmeric – all provide iron. Consult your GP before making a significant change to your diet.
Q: I’m always rushed off my feet and, while I know I’m not meant to, I often end up skipping breakfast. Why is that bad for me?
A: It’s often assumed that skipping the first meal of the day will help you to lose weight. But that’s not the case. Research shows that people who successfully lose weight are more likely to routinely eat breakfast. This first meal of the day helps with appetite control – so by simply eating it, you’ll be less likely to snack on the fatty or sugary foods that can take you off track. But it’s not just eating breakfast that’s important – it’s what you eat.
Oats are an excellent choice for weight loss, because they’re high in fibre – and a fibre-rich breakfast will keep you feeling fuller for longer, and less inclined to snack. If you prefer toast or cereal, choose wholegrain varieties of those. Breakfast can also help you to get the nutrients you need to stay healthy. Milk and yogurt contain calcium, for example – and that’s important for healthy bones and teeth.
Q: What are the easiest ways to get my 5-a-day? Why is this figure important and should I be eating even more?
A: Lots of people find it hard to keep to the recommended 5-a-day, but there are ways to make it easier for yourself. Eating a minimum of five servings of fruit and vegetables a day is important to help you get your daily intake of essential nutrients. Try to eat a variety: each one contains its own combination, so mix it up as much as you can (but remember, potatoes don’t count). A study has shown that eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day is even better for your health, but the current 5-a-day is based on the evidence of many scientific studies.
If you aren’t currently eating your 5-a-day, you won’t be the only one, as only 30 per cent of adults meet the target. Increase your intake of the good stuff by keeping snacks such as carrot or celery sticks to hand. Aim to have a couple of portions of vegetables with your main meal of the day, too.