NUTRIENTS AND A VEGETARIAN DIET
All the nutrients you need can be easily obtained from a well-balanced vegetarian diet. In fact, research shows that a vegetarian diet is far healthier than that of a typical meat-eater. As a general rule, as long as you eat a variety of foods including grains, fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses, nuts or seeds, a small amount of fat, with or without the dairy products, your diet should be healthy and you will be getting all the nutrients you need.
For new and old veggies alike, here's some useful information for reference...
Nutrients are usually divided into five classes:
All are important to our well-being, although they are needed in varying quantities, from 250g of carbohydrates a day, to less than two micrograms of vitamin B12.
Most foods contain a mixture of nutrients (there are exceptions, like pure salt or sugar), but it is convenient to classify them by the main nutrient they provide.
Meat supplies protein, fat, some B vitamins and minerals (mostly iron and zinc). Fish, in addition to the above, supplies vitamins A, D and F.
All of these nutrients can be easily obtained from vegetarian sources.
Women need about 45g of protein a day - more if pregnant, lactating or very active. Men need about 55g - again more if very active, although most people eat much more than this anyway.
Vegetarians obtain protein from the following foods:
Grains and Cereals
You may have heard that it is necessary to balance the complementary amino acids in a vegetarian diet. Proteins are made of units called amino acids. There are 20 different ones in all. We can make many of them in our own bodies by converting other amino acids, but eight cannot be made, they have to be provided in the diet and for this reason they are called essential amino acids.
Single plant foods do not contain all the essential amino acids we need in the right proportions, but when we mix plant foods together, any deficiency in one is canceled out by any excess in the other.
We mix protein foods a lot, both meat-eaters and veggies. It is a normal part of the human way of eating. Examples are beans on toast or muesli.
It is known that the body has a pool of amino acids, so that if one meal is deficient, it can be made up from the body's own stores.
Because of this we do not have to worry about complementing amino acids all the time, as long as our diet is generally varied and well-balanced. Even those foods not considered high in protein are adding some amino acids to this pool.
Carbohydrate is our main and most important source of energy, most of it is provided by plant foods.
There are three main types:
1. Simple sugars
2. Complex carbohydrates or starches
3. Dietary fiber.
The sugars or simple carbohydrates can be found in fruit, milk and ordinary table sugar. Refined sources of sugar are best avoided as they provide energy without any associated fiber., vitamins or minerals and they are the main cause of dental decay.
Complex carbohydrates are found in cereals/grains (bread, rice, pasta, barley, millet, buckwheat, rye) and some root vegetables, such as potatoes and parsnips. A healthy diet should contain plenty of these starchy foods as a high intake of complex carbohydrate is now known to benefit health. The unrefined carbohydrates, like wholemeal bread and brown rice are best of all because they contain essential dietary fiber. and B vitamins.
The World Health Organisation recommends that 50~70 per cent of energy should come from complex carbohydrates. The exact amount that you need depends upon your appetite and also your level of activity. Contrary to popular belief, a slimming diet should not be low in carbohydrates. In fact, starchy foods are very filling in relation to the number of calories that they contain.
Dietary fiber., or non-starch polysaccharide (NSF) as it is now termed, refers to the indigestible part of a carbohydrate food.
Fiber. can be found in unrefined or wholegrain cereals, fruit (fresh and dried) and vegetables. A good intake of dietary fiber. can prevent many digestive problems and protect against diseases like colonic cancer and diverticular disease.
Too much fat is bad, but a little is necessary to keep our tissues in good repair, for the manufacture of hormones and to act as a carrier for some vitamins.
Like proteins, fats are made up of smaller units called fatty acids.
Two of these fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic acids are "Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)" because they are not produced by the body and as must be provided in the diet.
They are widely found in plant foods.
Fats can either be:
- Unsaturated (monounsaturated or polyunsaturated).
A high intake of saturated fat can lead to a raised blood cholesterol level and heart disease.
Vegetable fats tend to be unsaturated and animal fats saturated.
Monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or peanut oil, are best used for frying as polyunsaturated fats like sunflower oil are unstable at high temperatures.
Vitamin is the name given to several unrelated nutrients that the body cannot synthesize, either at all or in sufficient quantities. The one thing that they have in common is that only small quantities are needed in the diet.
The main vegetarian sources are listed as follows:
Red, orange or yellow vegetables like carrots and tomatoes, leafy green vegetables and fruits like peaches. It is added to most margarine.
This group of vitamins includes B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cyanocobalamin), folate, pantothenic acid and biotin.
All the B vitamins except B12 occur in yeast and whole cereals (especially wheat germ), nuts, pulses, seeds and green vegetables. Vitamin B12 is the only one which might cause some difficulty as it is not present in plant foods. Only very tiny amounts of B12 are in fact required and vegetarians usually get this from dairy produce and free-range eggs.
It is sensible for vegans and vegetarians who consume few animal foods to incorporate some B12 fortified foods in their diet. Vitamin B12 is added to some yeast extracts, soya milks, veggie burgers, bread and some breakfast cereals.
Fresh fruit salad vegetables, all leafy green vegetables and potatoes.
It is also added to most margarine. and is present in milk, cheese and butter. These sources are usually adequate for healthy adults. The very young, the very old and anyone confined indoors can compensate with a vitamin D supplement especially if they do not consume dairy products.
Vegetable oil, wholegrain cereals and free-range eggs.
Fresh vegetables, cereals and bacterial synthesis in the intestine.
Minerals perform a variety of functions in the body. Some of the most important minerals are listed below.
Important for healthy bones and teeth, with teenagers tending to need slightly more intake than adults. Found in dairy produce, soy beverages, leafy green vegetables, kale, broccoli, tofu processed with calcium, breadand other grain products, tap water in hard water areas, legumes (peas and beans), nuts and seeds (especially sesame seeds), dried fruits, cheese, vitamin D helps calcium be absorbed.
It is particularly important for teenage girls to ensure an adequate intake of iron. Iron is needed for the production of red blood cells. Found in leafy green vegetables, tofu, wholemeal bread, whole grains, molasses, eggs, dried fruits, lentils and pulses. A good intake of vitamin C (found in citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli, peppers, dark-green leafy vegetables, and potatoes with skins) will enhance absorption of vegetable sources of iron.
Plays a major role in many enzyme reactions and the immune system. Found in green vegetables, cheese, sesame and pumpkin seeds, lentils and wholegrain cereals.
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