THE thought of no meat, eggs, milk or even honey is hard for many of us to imagine.
But it could be the key to losing weight, looking younger and living longer, according to Gladstone nutritionist Jacqueline Smith.
"The benefits of a vegetarian or meat free diet include a longer life, with vegetarians on average living seven years longer than meat eaters and vegans living up to 15 years longer," she said.
"A vegetarian or vegan diet is high in antioxidants because of the high fruit and vegetable content.
"Antioxidants protect our cells from damage by cancer-causing free radicals, such as pollution and smoking, and help reduce the signs and effects of ageing."
The 28-year-old made the decision to become vegetarian about eight years ago while she was studying nutrition at university.
"I met an amazing and inspiring lady that is now one of my best friends," she explained.
"The foods she cooked and prepared were vastly different from anything I had tasted before - whole food, prepared from scratch and mostly vegetarian."
And she has never looked back.
"It was exciting learning a new way of cooking and discovering new foods and ingredients," she said.
"I also started feeling much better, full of energy and more alive when eating this way."
Jacqueline did her research before going "full vego" and read as many books on the topic as she could get her hands on.
In the end, her decision had a lot to do with health and sustainability, but Jacqui said her biggest motive was about animal cruelty and factory farming.
"I am a huge animal lover and could not bear the thought of an animal dying or being hurt for me to enjoy a meal," she said.
Six months ago, Jacqueline decided to go a step further and become vegan, which means cutting out absolutely all animal products.
She said staying true to this strict and limited diet wasn't as hard as you would think.
"I absolutely love to cook," she said. "All my friends and family could tell you that I am never far from the kitchen."
She is currently in the middle of writing a cooking book filled with all her favorite allergy-friendly recipes.
"The emphasis is on food that is healthy and most importantly tastes amazing," she said.
"I do not believe there is a point to eating food which does not taste good."
While her love for cooking means eating at home is never a problem, Jacqueline said eating out could be a different story.
"I found being vegetarian was pretty easy. Nearly every restaurant, cafe or pub I went to would cater for this, but having gone vegan six months ago has made this more difficult," she said.
"In cities it is very easy - I have been on three trips to Melbourne in the past year and it is very easy down there. Every restaurant has multiple options and they don't look at you like you're an alien!
"Gladstone is a little more difficult but I have found most places to be really accommodating. A few places have had the chef come out and talk to me about what they can make or change to suit my diet, which has been really nice."
Jacqueline said it was important to note a vegetarian or vegan diet, like any other, must be well planned in order to prevent certain diseases and maintain good health and wellbeing.
"The benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet include lower risk of chronic disease including heart disease, colorectal, ovarian and breast cancers, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure," she said.
"This is because a healthy vegetarian diet is typically low in fat, and high in fibre, vitamins and minerals.
"However, it is important to keep in mind a vegetarian diet can be high in fat if it includes excessive amounts of fatty snack foods, fried foods and high dairy intake."
She recommends consulting a doctor before transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
"It is a good idea to ensure you are eating a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to prevent any deficiencies in your diet," she said.
"I have never had iron deficiency, but generally I can feel within myself if I have not been eating as well as I should have and will feel this in lack of energy."
Jacqueline said it was basically about being aware and listening to what your body was telling you.
A typical day from Jacqueline's food diary
7am - Glass warm water with half lemon juice. Fresh green juice.
8-9am - Raw muesli (home-made with oats, sultanas, dates, apricots, walnuts, almonds, coconut, ground flaxseed, ground sunflower seeds) soaked overnight in almond milk. Topped with fresh fruit.
11am - Raw food slice (dried fruit, nuts, seeds, coconut and cacao powder. Put through a food processor and then press into a baking dish, then put it into the fridge for a couple hours to set. It's high in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals and fills you up, plus it's delicious!
12-1pm - Brown rice risotto with pumpkin topped with cashews and pumpkin seeds plus green salad.
3pm - Raw food slice or smoothie or fresh fruit.
5pm - Veggie sticks with hummus (carrots, cucumber, celery, red capsicum).
7pm Asian noodle salad with sesame seeds, tofu (and sometimes a sprinkle of cashews).
A few of my favorite smoothie combinations are:
- Fresh pineapple juice, banana (fresh or frozen), coconut milk and fresh or frozen mango
- Fresh or frozen mango, fresh passion fruit, fresh orange juice and fresh apple juice
- Almond milk, strawberries, raspberries (or any berries of choice) and coconut milk
Check out Jacqueline's vegetarian recipe website here.