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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June, 2004, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
The end of the salad days?
The Young Ones' Neil
The Young Ones' archetypal student vegetarian Neil
With almost a quarter of Britons who claim to be vegetarian admitting to regularly eating red meat, are entirely meat-free diets on the wane?

One in five so-called vegetarians admitted eating poultry and over half ate fish, research by the TNS Family Food Panel found on Tuesday.

The survey found just 42% of people who professed to be vegetarians adhered to the traditional definition, eating no red meat, fish or poultry.

British Dietetic Association spokesman Sue Baic said the "vegetarians" eating some meat and fish were likely to be those who had chosen the diet for health reasons.

"People following a vegetarian diet for ethical reasons, I doubt they would include those foods," she said.

Lean meat

She suggested that more people were becoming aware small amounts of meat and fish were not bad for them.

"There is a lot of information about oily fish being good for you - that is why people are consuming that. I think people are well aware of the benefits.

"The vegetarians that are following the diet for health reasons realise it is possible to get very good lean cuts of meat nowadays," Ms Baic added.

There has been a big rise in the number of 'meat reducers' and the vegetarian food market continues to increase
Tina Fox
Vegetarian Society
A Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey in 2003 suggested Britons were becoming better informed about nutrition - 37% said they were eating more healthily than a year earlier.

The FSA identified increases in the number of people aware of the need to reduce salt intake and eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and a fall in the number of people eating ready-made meals.

Sarah Stanner, of the British Nutrition Foundation, said: "A lot of people want to do something about their health, but it is quite a radical change to go from an omnivorous diet to a vegetarian one."

'Whole hog'

She pointed out that lentils, pulses and beans can provide the protein previously offered by meat, but admitted: "That's quite a radical change in most people's eating habits. Some people won't want to do that, so perhaps they don't go the whole hog.

"I think it's to do with people's tastes and how easy they find it to adapt to a strict vegetarian diet."

Paul and Linda McCartney
Celebrity veggies promoting meat-free burgers in 1991
There had been a "misconception" red meat was unhealthy when it was actually "one of the most important sources of iron in our diets", she said.

On the other hand, many vegetarians ate lots of cheese and cream sauces resulting in a diet high in fat.

"You cannot assume that by taking meat out of your diet you are going to be healthier. It depends on what you replace it with. People cannot just take something out of the diet and not replace the nutrients.

"You get good and bad vegetarian diets and good and bad omnivorous diets."

Vegetarian Society chief executive Tina Fox said the TNS survey highlighted a general increase in the number of people eating some meat and fish as part an increasingly vegetarian diet - a portion of whom would call themselves vegetarian.

Veggie future

"There has been a big rise in the number of 'meat reducers'. The vegetarian food market continues to increase," she said.

"Food issues are much higher up the agenda and people are getting more health-conscious. They are more concerned about their food, more concerned about how things are reared. People are buying organic produce. People are more concerned about what they put in their mouths."

TNS found 4% of Britons said they were vegetarians - a figure that has remained static in recent years - but Ms Fox said she was optimistic about Britain's "meat reducers".

"There are more people that are shifting towards vegetarianism. They are the future of vegetarianism - they might take the final step later on," she said.

The TNS Family Food Panel studied the food consumption of 11,000 people across Britain.

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