Has anyone ever told you that "you're
going to die of malnutrition"? How about "you have to eat meat for
a balanced diet"? The fact of the matter is that meat is not healthy
and vegetarians and vegans are usually healthier people, who suffer
from fewer cases of heart disease, fewer cases of cancer, and fewer
long term health problems. This has been proven time and time again
through thousands upon thousands of studies.
This chapter will attempt to give
a brief introduction to basic nutrition then move on to explore
all of the essential nutrients that a human needs to live a long
We will look at what these nutrients
are needed for and how to obtain them from vegetarian sources.
A Brief Introduction
Many people worry that when they stop
eating meat and fish, they might be in danger of some nutritional
deficiency. This is rarely the case, as all the nutrients you need
can easily be obtained from a vegetarian diet. In fact, research
shows that in many ways, a vegetarian diet is healthier than that
of a typical meat-eater.
Nutrients are usually divided into
five classes: carbohydrates, proteins, fats (including oil), vitamins
and minerals. We also need fiber and water. All are equally important
to our well-being, although they are needed in varying quantities,
from about 250g of carbohydrates a day to less than two micrograms
of vitamin 1312. Carbohydrates, fats and protein are usually called
macro-nutrients and the vitamins and minerals are usually called
Most foods contain a mixture of nutrients
(there are a few exceptions, like pure salt or sugar) but it is
convenient to classify them by the main nutrient they provide. Still,
it is worth remembering that everything you eat gives you a whole
range of essential nutrients.
Meat supplies protein, fat, some B
vitamins and minerals (mostly iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorous).
Fish, in addition to the above, supplies vitamins A, D, and E, and
the mineral iodine. All these nutrients can be easily obtained by
vegetarians from other sources.
Women need about 46-50g of protein
a day (more if pregnant, lactating or very active), men need about
56-63g (more if very active). Evidence suggests that excessive protein
contributes to degenerative diseases.
You may have have heard that it is
necessary to balance the complementary amino acids in a vegetarian
diet. This is not as alarming as it sounds. Amino acids are the
units from which proteins are made. There are 21 different ones
in all. We can make many of them in our bodies by converting other
amino acids, but nine cannot be made, they have to be provided in
the diet and so 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 cancelled
out by any excess in the other. We mix protein foods all the time,
whether we are meateaters or vegetarians. It is a normal part of
the human way of eating. A few examples are beans on toast, muesli,
or rice and peas.
It is now 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 don't 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
Carbohydrates are our main and most
important source of energy, and most of them are provided by plant
foods. There are three main types: simple sugars, complex carbohydrates
or starches and dietary fiber.
The sugars or simple carbohydrates
can be found in fruit 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 also the main cause of
Complex carbohydrates are found in
cereals/ grains (bread, rice, pasta, oats, 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 carbohydrates are 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
The World Health Organization recommends
that 50-70% of energy should come from complex carbohydrates. The
exact amount of carbohydrates that you need depends upon your appetite
and also your level of activity. Contrary to previous 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
Dietary Fiber or non-starch polysaccharide
(NSP), 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 colon cancer and diverticular disease.
FATS & OILS
Too much fat is bad for us, 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 of smaller units, called fatty acids.
Two of these fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic acids, are termed
essential as they must be provided in the diet. This is no problem
as they are widely found in plant foods.
Fats can be either saturated or unsaturated
(mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated). A high intake of saturated
fat can lead to a raised blood cholesterol level and this has been
linked to heart disease. Vegetable fats tend to be more unsaturated
and this is one of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Mono-unsaturated
fats, such as olive oil or peanut oil, are best used for frying
as the poly-unsaturated fats, like sunflower or safflower oil are
unstable at high temperatures. Animal fats (including butter and
cheese) tend to be more saturated than vegetable fats, with the
exception of palm oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter.
Vitamin is the name for several unrelated
nutrients that the body cannot synthesize either at all, or in sufficient
quantities. The one thing they have in common is that only small
quantities are needed in the diet. The main vegetarian sources are
Vitamin A (or beta carotene):
Red, orange or yellow vegetables like carrots and tomatoes, leafy
green vegetables and fruits like apricots and peaches. It is added
to most margarines.
B Vitamins: This group of vitamins
includes B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine),
B12 (cyanocobalmin), folate, folic acid, pantothenic acid and biotin.
All the B vitamins except B12 occur in yeasts and whole cereals
(especially wheat germ), nuts & seeds, pulses and green vegetables.
Vitamin B12 is the only one that may
cause some difficulty as it is not present in plant foods. Only
very tiny amounts of B12 are needed. Vitamin B12 is added to yeast
extracts, soya milks, veggie burgers and some breakfast cereals.
Vitamin C: Fresh fruit, salad
vegetables, all leafy green vegetables and potatoes.
Vitamin D: This vitamin is
not found in plant foods but humans can make their own when skin
is exposed to sunlight. It is also added to most margarines. Vegans
who are very young, very old and anyone confined indoors would be
wise to take a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin E: Vegetable oil, whole
grain cereals, leafy greens.
Vitamin K: Fresh vegetables,
soybean oil, cereals and bacterial synthesis in the intestine.
Minerals perform a variety of jobs
in the body. Details of some of the most important minerals (Calcium,
Iron, and Zinc) are in the next section.
for the development and growth of bones and teeth, normal ~lotting
of blood and functioning of muscles. The body can't absorb calcium
without Vitamin D. Calcium can be found in: watercress, rhubarb,
beets, parsley, spinach, broccoli, chinese cabbage, raw onions,
raw celery, akra/ o, chives, raw cabbage, cucumbers, turnips, zucchini,
green beans, squash, artichokes, leafy green vegetables, tap water
in hard water areas.
CARBOHYDRATES are for energy,
heat and to assist in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins &
calcium. Carbohydrates can be found in: cereals, bread & flour
products, dried fruits, dried peas & beans, bananas, sugar,
COPPER is for the manufacture
of red bloodcells, bones, collagen, healing wounds, even creation
of RNA (Ribonulceic Acid). Copper can be found in: nuts & beans,
dried peas, wheat bran, whole wheat, molasses, mushrooms, avocados,
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS limit
the formation of excess cholesterol in the blood. They are sources
of the prostaglandins which regulate processes in the smooth muscles.
Essential fatty acids can be found in: corn, walnuts, vegetable
oils, peanuts, sesame, sunflower & safflower seeds.
FATS are necessary for healthy
skin, energy, heat and to assist in the absorption of fat soluble
vitamins and calcium. Fats can be found in: vegetable oils, nuts
& nut creams, cooking fats, nut butters, margarine, vegan white
FIBER keeps vascular system
in good tone, i.e. prevents troubles in the intestines, veins and
arteries. Fiber can be found in: citrus fruits, apples, potatoes,
peas, beans, broccoli, carrots and unrefined foods (especially cereals).
FOLIC ACID is used to synthesize
and break down amino acids. It also prevents, certain kinds of anemia,
assists growth can be found in: nuts, grains, oranges,; avocados,
all green vegetables, yeast extracts.
IODINE is for healthy growth
and development. Present in vegetables, but the, quantity depends
on how rich the soil is in iodine. Sea vegetables are a good source
of iodine for vegans. Other sources are: dried beans, aparagus,
green veggies, pineapple.
IRON is for proper formation
of red blood cells and regulation of body processes.
Vegetable sources of iron are not
as easily absorbed as animal sources, but a good',' intake of vitamin
C will enhance absorption. Iron can be found in: prunes, whole'
grain cereals, black treacle, raisins, nuts, leafy green vegetables,
sesame seeds, soya flour, pulses, cocoa, curry powder, wholemeal
bread, molasses, dried fruits (especially apricots and figs). Cook
in cast iron.
MANGANESE is necessary for
strong bones, healthy skin, the proper functioning of muscle and
nervous tissue. Manganese can be found in: legumes, nuts, fruits,
tea, alfalfa, chlorophyll, wheat germ, whole grains.
NICOTINAMIDE is for healthy
digestion, good skin condition, and growth. Nicotinamide can be
found in: soya, peanuts, flour & bread, yeast, rice, pulses,
PROTEIN helps growth and the
repair of body tissues. Also for energy, their physical properties
may be changed by cooking and food preparation generally. Protein
comes from several sources. Nuts: hazels, brazils, almonds, cashews,
walnuts, pine kernels etc. Seeds: sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, linseeds.
Pulses: peas, beans, lentils, peanuts. Grains/ Cereals: wheat (in
bread, soy flour, pasta etc), barley, rye, oats, millet, maize (sweetcorn),
rice, gluten flour, bakers yeast, brewers yeast. Soya products:
tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, veggieburgers, soya milk.
TRACE ELEMENTS are essential
accessories to vital processes and to action of other nutrients.
Trace elements can be found in: carrots, watercress, dried apricots,
prunes, tomatoes, cabbage, green peas, all green vegetables and
VITAMIN A is for growth in
children, plays a part in the way the eyes receive light, and protects
moist surface tissues (bronchial tubes, etc.). Vitamin A can be
found in: peppers, parsley, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, spinach,
mangoes, chives, squash.
VITAMIN B1 (Thiamine) is for
growth, appetite, digestion, and the nervous system. Vitamin B1
can be found in: bread and wheat products, pulses, yeast (brewers
is best), Brazils and peanuts (uncooked), wheat germ.
VITAMIN B2 (Riboflavin) is
for vitality, healthy skin, the release of food energy, growth and
good sight. Vitamin B2 can be found in: yeast, lentils, rye, mushrooms,
parsley, broccoli tops, green vegetables.
VITAMIN B12: Vitamin B12 is
needed for cell division and blood formation. Plant foods do not
contain vitamin B12 except when they are contaminated by microorganisms.
Thus, vegans need to look to other sources to get vitamin B12 in
their diet. Although the minimum requirement for vitamin B12 is
quite small, 1/1,000,000 of a gram (1 microgram) a day for adults,
a vitamin B12 deficiency is a verv serious problem leading ultimatelv
to irreversible nerve damage. Prudent vegans will include sources
of vitamin B12 in their diets. However, vitamin B12 deficiency is
actually quite rare even among long-term vegans. Vitamin B12 also
aids growth of nerve cells and the prevention of certain kinds of
anemia. A deficiency results in pernicious anemia.
The requirement for vitamin B12 is
very low. Non-animal sources include GrapeNuts cereal (1/2 cup supplies
the adult RDA) and Red Star T-6635+ nutritional yeast (1-2 teaspoons
supplies the adult RDA). It is especially important for pregnant
and lactating women, infants, and children to have reliable sources
of vitamin B12 in their diets. Other sources include: brewers yeast,
bakers yeast, rice bran, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, cornflakes,
pinon nuts, soy milk, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, and peanuts. Higher
to lower levels found in: edible seaweeds, hijiki and wakame, mushrooms,
nutritional yeast, tempeh, miso, syrup, sour dough bread, parsley,
beer, cider, wine, yeast, tofu, supplemented fortified foods, some
yeast extracts, soya-based textured vegetable proteins, soya milks
VITAMIN C is famous for healing
wounds, prevention of scurvy, boosting the immune system, maintaining
stamina, forming strong blood vessels, and aiding resistance to
infection. Vitamin C can be found in: bell peppers, guavas, peppers,
broccoli, watercress, parsley, radishes, asparagus, brussel sprouts,
chives, strawberries, papayas, canteloupes, oranges, grapefruit.
VITAMIN D builds bones &
teeth, prevents the destruction of vitamins C and A, and aids growth.
Vitamin D can be found in: mild exposure to sunlight, sunflower
VITAMIN E is for growth, muscle
tissues, normal reproduction. Possibly retards aging. Vitamin E
can be found in: wheat and rice germ, whole wheat grains, soybean
oil, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, legumes.
VITAMIN K regulates clotting
of blood. Vitamin K can be found in green leafy vegetables.
ZINC plays a major role in
many enzyme reactions and in the immune system. It also aids in
fighting infections. Zinc can be found in: nuts & seeds, wheat
germ, brewers yeast, whole grains, yellow & green veggies, yellow
fruits, pumpkin & sesame seeds, lentils, wholegrain cereals.
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