by Jessica Cox
Following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is a choice that many choose to make. Whether it is a choice fuelled by humane concerns or just a downright dislike of meat, this type of diet results in a major shift in the intake of dietary protein. The vegetarian or vegan diet is often equated with the notion of a healthier lifestyle choice. It is perceived that to omit meat and other animal products from the diet automatically opens the door to glowing health. Unfortunately, in many circumstances this is not the case.
If a vegetarian diet or vegan diet is applied correctly it can be fabulously rich in nutrients, fibre and protein. Regrettably, many people who make the step to this style of eating do not understand the general mechanisms that create a healthy balanced diet. Therefore, they end up with major deficiencies in core macronutrients such as protein and vitamins such as B12 alongside minerals such as calcium and iron.
The general mistake that is made is the removal of major sources or protein such as meat, dairy and other animal products without replacing these foods with sufficient alternatives. The classic case in point of this would be a typical vegetarian/vegan diet that included a grain-based breakfast, snacking on fruit and nuts with a lunch and dinner of grains and vegetables. This looks good at first glance to some, yet there is a huge slice of the pie missing. The lack of protein in this common scenario results in some well-known signs and symptoms, which may be familiar to those who follow this style of eating.
Firstly, there is general feeling of malaise. Energy is low and the day feels like a struggle. You feel like you want to eat to get your energy levels up yet the food consumed does not seem to give you what you’re looking for. Often this is followed by huge sugar cravings; vegan biscuits, cakes, cookies, chocolate, you name it. These sugar cravings are due to the lack of protein being consumed and your body looking for energy for a ‘quick hit’. These sugary foods devoid of protein and loaded with sugar leave you more tired and can easily lead to unwanted weight gain.
The trick to a healthy diet devoid of animal products is consistent protein intake. Every meal and ideally even your snacks should include some form of protein in combination with your grains. Vegetarian protein sources lack some of the essential amino acids needed by the body to form complete protein. However, these missing amino acids are found in grains, which is why combining the two is so fundamentally important. Protein combining must be consistent with every meal to gain optimal intake of all amino acids. This is especially important during times of growth and pregnancy.
The general rule of thumb for a vegan is that 15% of vegetarian diet should consist of legumes, 30% of the diet should consist of grains and the diet should also include nuts and seeds for energy density and further protein. As a vegetarian, there is still the option of eggs and dairy products, which contain complete protein. These foods can be incorporated with meals to add additional (and more complete) protein.
Nuts and grains along with leafy greens are also an alternative source of iron and calcium, not to mention folate. Iron can also be found in dried fruit such as prunes and apricots. Calcium can be found in sesame seeds and spreads such as tahini and almond butter. The vegetarian diet still has an ample supply of dairy products that provide great calcium, along with the inclusion of eggs that contain iron. Unfortunately B12 is found in meats and will often become deficient in a pure vegetarian or vegan diet. It can be found in seaweed based foods such as nori, but these would need to be incorporated regularly into the diet and are not often eaten enough to maintain B12 levels. Supplementation is often needed here.
It is possible to have a broad and nutritious vegetarian or vegan diet. It just needs to be thought about before the jump is made into excluding major food groups. Done correctly if can open a world of new food experiences and tantalise the palette with new and exciting food possibilities.
Jessica is an accredited and practicing Nutritionist with a Bachelor Health Science (Nutrition). Jessica is available for consultations at Professional Therapists based in Brisbane City. Contact Jessica with any queries or questions at www.jessicacox.com.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Source great food ideas by following Jessica on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest (jescoxnutritionist) or Facebook