Following a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet is very ‘on trend’ at the moment, with good reason.
It is believed that avoiding meat is healthier and better for the environment plus an increased awareness of animal rights make a vegetarian and vegan option more appealing.
Whatever your commendable reasons for adding more vegetables to your diet or even becoming vegetarian or vegan there are a few nutritional observations that you need to be aware of for instance whilst a vegetarian plant-based diet can provide higher amounts of certain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids and phytonutrients (nutrients found only in plants). There are drawbacks and common nutrients missing from a vegetarian/vegan diet.
Following a vegetarian diet is not as simple as taking meat out of your diet and replace it with ‘non-meat’ processed junk food. Adding ‘non-meat’ processed food in and meat out means that vegetarian diets can be built around cereals, grains and processed foods which are often lower in amino acids or have had important nutrients processed out.
Interestingly most vegetarians are simply not eating enough Veg!
What is missing from a vegetarian diet?
Nutritionists are aware that there are 5 common nutrients that are either low or missing from a plant-based diet
- Vitamin B12 is important for brain function and blood flow and is only found in animal foods and therefore adding a supplement is essential. Lack of B12 can include symptoms like fatigue, memory loss, disorientation and rapid heartbeat.
- Zinc is important for your gorgeous body’s immune system and symptoms of zinc deficiency can include slow wound healing and hair loss
- Calcium is found in green leafy vegetables, legumes and nuts but its absorption may be hindered in a plant-based diet, again add a supplement.
- Omega 3 fats are required to prevent chronic inflammatory disease and help with weight loss and they are generally low in non-meat eaters. Add hemp, flax, walnuts and seaweed to your diet.
- Vitamin D is important for your bone health and your immune system found in very little foods and therefore sunlight on the skin is the best source or adding shiitake mushrooms, or soy milk or even a supplement.Don’t miss related blog: Find out if you are eating enough Omega 3 rich foods?
Why is protein essential?
Protein is one of the most crucial nutrients to the human body and a little bit of protein can go a long way in improving varying aspects of your health. From the strength of your body to that of your hair, skin, and nails
Protein is also essential for healthy neurotransmitter function, along with your overall energy levels.
Animal products such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish, milk and cheese provide the most amount of protein while plant proteins rank lower.
Your recommended protein amount
If you would like to be techy the recommended minimum protein intake for a sedentary healthy adult is 0.8gram of protein per kg. However for optimal health and to improve your immune function, metabolism, to feel satisfied and to help with your weight and exercise performance this should be 1gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
- If you weighed 9 stone (57kg) or 126lbs and you would require 126 grams of protein
- If you weighed 10 stone (63kg) or 140lbs and you would require 140 grams of protein
This requirement would increase as your exercise intensity increased. The question is which plants carry the most amount of protein for you to obtain your recommended daily amount?
To make it simple:
- a lower percentage of protein in a food would be <12%
- an optimal amount of protein in a food would be >20%
Vegetarian and vegan diets looking to eat food with a higher protein content need to aim for food that is over 20% protein
- Broccoli 27%
- Spinach 39%
- Cucumber 14%
- Celery 17%
- Squash 24%
- Asparagus 34%
- Quinoa 14%
- Oats 17%
- Sprouted grain bread 20%
Nuts and Seeds
- Almonds 14%
- Walnuts 14%
- Flaxseeds 17%
- Hemp seeds 27%
- Peanut butter 15%
- Pumpkin Seeds 23%
- Lentils 30%
- Tofu 40%
- Kidney beans 25%
- Edamame 30%
- Hummus 18%
- Peas 26%
Soy – Soy foods are a good source of protein and provide excellent health benefits, but no more than two servings of soy a day, one is preferable. Eating a large amount of soy-based foods can compromise thyroid function especially when iodine intake is inadequate.
Increase your protein intake is good, varying it to add ALL 9 Amino Acids is ESSENTIAL
It is easier to gain all your 9 amino acids from animal products than you can obtain from many plant foods.
Some plant foods like quinoa, soy and chia seeds do contain all 9 essential amino acids and the good news is that each food has a unique proportion of amino acids. So if you vary your intake of vegetables you will obtain the correct overall amount of amino acids in your diet. A vegetarian/vegan diet needs planning and requires eating a diversity of plants including vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Essential amino acids
Your body has the ability to make 12 amino acids known as non-essential amino acids, however, 9 amino acids can only be supplied by your diet and are therefore essential. In addition, some of these amino acids that you consume are lost each day, so they must be replaced and eaten daily.
Essential amino acids are amino acids that are the building blocks of protein that our body can’t produce by itself. In other words, if you don’t eat them, you won’t get enough of them.
The 4 essential amino acids missing from most plant foods are lysine, tryptophan, methionine, and phenylalanine.
Here are a few vegetables and fruits with their protein grams & the amino acid they contain:
Brussel sprouts: 1 cup, 6 gm, low in leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine
Spinach: 1 cup chopped, 6 gm, low in methionine
Broccoli: 1 cup spears, 6 gm, low in methionine
Potato: 1 med with skin, 4 gm, all amino acids in proper ratio
Asparagus: ½ cup, 2 gm, all amino acids in proper ratio
Apricots: dried ½ cup, 3 gm, low in methionine
Peaches: dried ½ cup, 3 gm, low in tryptophan and lysine
EASY RULE: GRAIN with LEGUME
- Grains and cereals (wheat and rice) are low in lysine and loads of tryptophan
- Legumes have limited tryptophan and yet adequate lysine
Where to find your amino acids:
Leucine is needed for muscle strength and growth and also referred to as a BCAA (brand-chain amino acid). Leucine helps regulate your blood sugar by moderating insulin into the body during and after exercise and can even help prevent and treat depression by the way it acts on neurotransmitters in the brain.
Good plant-based sources include:
seaweed, pumpkin, peas and pea protein, whole grain rice, sesame seeds, watercress, turnip greens, soy, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, figs, avocados, raisins, dates, apples, blueberries, olives and bananas.
Isoleucine is another BCAA that specifically helps your gorgeous body produce energy and haemoglobin.
Plant-based sources include:
rye, soy, cashews, almonds, oats, lentils, beans, brown rice, cabbage, hemp seeds, chia seeds, spinach, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cranberries, quinoa, blueberries, apples, and kiwis.
Lysine is responsible for the production of carnitine (a nutrient responsible for converting fatty acids into fuel to lower cholesterol). It also helps the body absorb calcium for even further bone strength and collagen production. Deficiency can lead to nausea, depression, fatigue, muscle depletion and even osteoporosis.
Plant-based sources of lysine include:
beans, watercress, hemp seeds, chia seeds, spirulina, parsley, avocados, soy protein, almonds, cashews, lentils and chickpeas
Methionine helps with the formation of creatine, needed for optimal cellular energy.
AND form cartilage in the body through the production sulfur which essential to the production of bone cartilage. Deficiency may lead to arthritis, damaged tissue, and poor healing.
Plant-based sources of sulfur include:
sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, Brazil nuts, oats, seaweed, wheat, figs, whole grain rice, beans, legumes, onions, cacao, and raisins.
Phenylalanine is important in the body because it turns into tyrosine once ingested, which is another amino acid that’s needed to make proteins, brain chemicals, and thyroid hormones. Not obtaining enough of this amino acid can result in brain fog, lack of energy, depression, lack of appetite, or memory problems.
Good sources include:
spirulina and other seaweed, pumpkin, beans, rice, avocado, almonds, peanuts, quinoa, figs, raisins, leafy greens, most berries, olives, and seeds.
Threonine supports a healthy immune system, heart, liver, and central nervous system health. It also helps maintain a balance of proteins within the body to assist in overall repair, energy, and growth. This amino acid also helps the body’s connective tissues and joints in good health by producing glycine and serine in the body, two essential amino acids needed for healthy bones, skin, hair, and nails. In the liver, it helps with fatty acid digestion to prevent fatty acid build-up and liver failure.
The highest sources of this amino acid are:
watercress and spirulina (which even exceed meat), pumpkin, leafy greens, hemp seeds, chia seeds, soybeans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and sunflower butter, almonds, avocados, figs, raisins, quinoa, and wheat. Sprouted grains are also excellent sources of this amino acid as well.
Tryptophan is vital to a healthy nervous system and helps make you feel sleepy and relaxed. It is a requirement for your brain health, sleep, muscle growth and repair, and overall neurotransmitter function.
It is animal-based foods like turkey, milk, and cheese. Tryptophan also converts to serotonin once in the brain, which creates a happy feeling tied to lower levels of stress and depression.
Plant-based sources that include high amounts of tryptophan include:
oats and oat bran, seaweed, hemp seeds, chia seeds, spinach, watercress, soybeans, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, parsley, beans, beets, asparagus, mushrooms, all lettuces, leafy greens, beans, avocado, figs, winter squash, celery, peppers, carrots, chickpeas, onions, apples, oranges, bananas, quinoa, lentils, and peas.
Valine is needed for optimal muscle growth and repair. It’s also responsible for endurance and the overall maintenance of good muscle health.
High sources of valine include:
beans, spinach, legumes, broccoli, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, soy, peanuts, whole grains, figs, avocado, apples, sprouted grains and seeds, blueberries, cranberries, oranges, and apricots.
This amino acid helps transport neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) to the brain and also helps overall muscle health within each muscle cells. It even helps detoxify the body by producing red and white blood cells needed for overall health and immunity.
Good plant-based sources of histidine include:
rice, wheat, rye, seaweed, beans, legumes, cantaloupe, hemp seeds, chia seeds, buckwheat, potatoes, cauliflower and corn.
If you are interested in finding out about your protein intake from your veg use this vegan protein calculator Vegan Protein calculator from veg
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