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Balanced Diet for Vegetarians
We are not here to gloat about the advantages of vegetarianism. Or to say vegetarianism is a not a diet, it is a philosophy. It is all about what you choose to eat.
The basic principle is here to eat healthy. The kind of energy and protein supply you get from meat is probably lacking in a vegan diet. You may be worried that you won't get all the nutrients you need it. But as long as you eat a variety of foods, there are a few things you need to take care of.
Getting the Nutrients
Energy – Vegetarians tend to have similar energy intakes to non-vegetarians in the adult population, although the energy content of vegan diets is often lower. Although meat and dairy products tend to be excluded, energy intakes are usually maintained through consumption of energy dense foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and foods prepared with vegetable oils, such as pastries, cakes and biscuits.
Protein – Protein is essential for growth and repair as well as the synthesis of enzymes and hormones. Meat and dairy products are excellent providers of “high biological value” protein which generally contains a full range of the essential amino acids that can only be provided by the diet. Most vegetable proteins are lacking in at least one essential amino acid and are often described as “low or lower biological value” proteins. However, a person consuming a wide range and variety of vegetable proteins should be able to obtain all the amino acids they need.
Fat – Vegetarians very often have fat intakes similar or slightly less than meat eaters as they can obtain the fat they require from food such as vegetable fats, nuts, cakes, chocolate and other processed foods.
Carbohydrate – The carbohydrate intake from most vegetarian diets is usually similar or slightly higher to that of mixed or “omnivorous” diets.
Vitamins – Vitamin A is found primarily in animal foods and fortified foods such as fat-spreads, however, it can also be made in the body from provitamin A. Vitamin D status does not differ greatly amongst vegetarians and omnivores since it can be made within the body after exposure to sunlight and therefore dietary sources are of less importance. Vitamin E intakes are generally adequate and are frequently higher in vegetarians than omnivores as they eat more vegetable oils, wholegrain products and nuts which are providers of this vitamin. Vitamin K status is usually good in vegetarians, due to high intakes of foods containing vitamin K such as green leafy vegetables – for example broccoli, cabbage and lettuce.
Vitamin C, folate and thiamin intakes are generally higher in vegetarians and vegans than omnivores due to high intakes of foods such as fruits, vegetables and cereals. Riboflavin intake may pose a potential problem since dairy products and meat are among the main providers of this vitamin and therefore supplements may be required if sufficient dietary intake is not possible. Vitamin B12 is also not found in any significant amount in plant foods. Milk is a good provider of vitamin B12 therefore if consumption of milk is permitted they should not experience problems.
Minerals – The intake of minerals depends very often on the foods consumed. Although higher intakes of iron, copper, potassium and magnesium have been observed in vegan subjects, lower intakes of selenium, calcium and iodine have also been noted. Zinc intakes may also be lower, particularly in female vegetarians.
Calcium – Calcium for vegetarians who don't eat milk products. If you don't get your calcium from milk products, you need to eat a lot of other calcium-rich foods. Calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, soy milk, and orange juice are good choices. Calcium-fortified means that the manufacturer has added calcium to the food. Other foods that have calcium include certain legumes, certain leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and tofu. If you don't use calcium-fortified foods, ask your doctor if you should take a daily calcium supplement.
Selenium – Selenium is an important part of a number of body enzymes and is found in a number of foodstuffs such as meat and meat products, nuts, seeds and grains. Vegans may be at risk of selenium deficiency, and the addition of good providers of selenium to the diet is advisable such as nuts (and eggs if vegetarian).
Iodine – Iodine is an essential trace element needed for normal mental and physical growth and development. While lacto-ovo-vegetarians usually do not suffer from iodine deficiency due to the consumption of milk which is a rich source of iodine, vegans may be at risk of deficiency. Vegans should be encouraged to use iodine supplements to prevent deficiency.
Potassium – Potassium is essential for the proper functioning of cells including nerves. Vegetarian diets often provide more potassium than omnivorous diets as vegetarians consume a wider variety of potassium containing foods, such as fruit (bananas), potatoes, vegetables and juices.
Omega-3 fatty acids – If you don't eat fish or eggs, you need to find other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, certain leafy green vegetables, soybean oil, and canola oil.
What to Eat
Eating fruits and vegetables at the peak of freshness is also a boon to your health as well as your wallet. You’ll benefit from all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants these colorful plants have to offer, and since there is often an abundance of fruits and vegetables during the harvest season, you’re more apt to find bargains at the grocery store.
All grains start out as whole grains, which means they still contain the germ, endosperm, and bran. The bran is full of filling fiber, which keeps you full, while the germ and endosperm contain beneficial antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other healthful compounds.
For fiber, eat the skin. Whether it’s an apple, pear, or potato, most of the fiber is in the skin. Read the Nutrition Facts labels for cereals. While 5 grams of fiber is good, 8 grams or more is better. Cook vegetables briefly. The longer vegetables cook, the more fiber they lose. Try steaming them until they are crisp-tender to retain most of the fiber content. Also, snack on raw vegetables. Salads, with their vegetables and seeds or nuts toppings, make a good high-fiber option.