When we talk about a “diet”, we often mean a weight-loss regime.
Many people who are perfectly happy with their weight are on “diets”, though, which aren’t intended to limit total food intake but to exclude certain types of food.
I’m going to give you the run-down on a few popular diets that involve eliminating certain foods, the reasons why people may adopt each, and some tips for catering for guests on each of these diets:
- Vegetarian (no meat)
- Vegan (no meat and no products from animals, e.g. eggs, milk)
- Raw food (no cooked food at all, often combined with veganism)
You’re probably familiar with the concept of a vegetarian diet – eating no meat. True vegetarians count any dead creature as meat, though semi-vegetarians relax this (for example, pescetarians eat fish). In the UK and US, most vegetarians will eat eggs and milk.
Common reasons for adopting a vegetarian lifestyle are:
- Ethical: Many vegetarians believe that eating animals is morally wrong.
- Health-related: A diet which excludes meat tends to be low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and a diet high in fruit and vegetables offers extra fiber, vitamins and minerals.
- Environmental: It takes much more energy to produce meat than vegetables. Animal farming is a heavy contributor to global warming and pollution.
If you’re having a vegetarian round for dinner, here are some tips:
- Serve dishes which are not traditional American/British foods. Meals in the US/UK are often based around meat, whereas other culinary traditions include many dishes which are meat-free.
- Check whether your guest eats eggs and milk products.
- Examine food labels to check that the ingredients you’re using are fully vegetarian (the rennet used to make cheese coagulate, for instance, is commonly from calves’ stomachs).
A vegan diet can be seen as a vegetarian diet taken a stage further. Vegans eat no meat, nor do they eat any products that come from animals, such as eggs, milk and honey.
Common reasons for adopting a vegan lifestyle are:
- Ethical: Vegans generally believe that it is wrong to exploit and use animals for our gain.
- Health-related: A vegan diet has similar health benefits to a vegetarian one, though some adherents report increase energy from adopting a diet that excludes all animal produce.
- Environmental: Keeping farm animals to produce eggs and milk products still requires far more resources than just growing grain, fruit and vegetables.
If you’re having a vegan round for dinner, here are some tips:
- Choose a dish which is vegetable-based, such as a vegetable curry, or pasta with a tomato and vegetable sauce.
- Include some plant-based protein: beans, nuts or soya. Quorn is not suitable for vegans as it uses egg white as a binder.
- Remember that cream, ice-cream and most cake products are out due to containing milk and/or eggs. A fresh fruit salad with sorbet could make an alternative dessert.
Raw Food Diets
The raw food diet has become increasingly popular over the past decade. Unlike vegetarian and veganism, it doesn’t necessarily involve eliminating animal products (though the majority of raw foodists are also vegetarian or vegan).
Common reasons for adopting a raw food diet are:
- Weight-related: Most people lose weight easily on a raw food diet.
- Health-related: Enzymes in foods are killed when cooked, and raw foodists believe that avoiding cooking foods means that these enzymes can assist in the digestive process.
If you’re having a raw foodist round for dinner, here are some tips:
- Check whether they are 100% raw. Anyone who eats over 60% raw food is deemed a “raw foodist”. You may have some leeway on what you can serve.
- If catering for many non-raw guests, try serving a supper buffet that includes plenty of salads, fresh fruits, and raw nuts (check labelling). Olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar are all suitable raw salad dressings.
- Be very cautious if serving raw fish or meat – the risk of food poisoning is high.
If you follow any of the above diets, tell us about your experiences in the comments. What health benefits (if any) have you seen? What tips would you offer to someone who was interested in trying it?