World Vegetarian Day was founded in 1977 by the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS) and October 1st is the start of Vegetarian Awareness Month.
Much has been said about the benefits of a vegetarian diet, both to human health and the health of the planet. Many studies over the years have shown that vegetarians tend to have lower rates of coronary heart disease, lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, lower the rate of cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
However, many vegetarians make the mistake of thinking that all they need to do is omit meat and fish for their diet to be automatically healthier. That is not so! What you put into your diet is much more important than what you leave out. We all need to ensure that we are taking in as wide a range of nutrients as possible, and vegetarians and especially vegans may need to work even harder to ensure that their nutritional needs are being met.
We divide the nutrients required by the human body into two categories – the Macronutrients, and the Micronutrients.
The Macronutrients – Fat, protein, carbohydrate
- Fat– Essential Fatty Acids are, as the name implies, essential for health, and we cannot create them within our body – we need to take them in via our food. The Omega 3 fats are particularly important for energy and mood, hormone health, cardiovascular health, cognitive function, nerve function, insulin sensitivity, weight metabolism, inflammation control, to lubricate joints, skin, hair and to promote feelings of satiety (fullness). Also important for providing fat-soluble Vitamins – A, E, K & D. The most nutrient dense source of Omega 3 fats is from oily fish but vegetarian sources of Omegas 3, 6 & 9 are found in Dairy produce, Nuts, Seeds, and Oils made from nuts and seeds, Flax Seed, Echium Seed (in supplement form) and Avocados.
- Protein – the building blocks of the body, essential for creating and building new cells, DNA & RNA and for healing/repairing damaged cells throughout the body. Also important for metabolism, energy and blood sugar regulation and feelings of satiety. An important source of iron and the B Vitamins especially Vitamin B12, as well as a variety of Essential Amino Acids. Vegetarian Sources of protein: Dairy Produce, Eggs, Tofu, Nuts, Seeds, Beans, Pulses/Lentils, Avocado, Quinoa, Spirulina & Blue Green Algae.
- Complex carbohydrate – converts to glucose which is used as a source of energy. The brain, in particular, uses 75% of this glucose. Complex carbs are also a source of fibre, important for digestive health, to naturally lower cholesterol, to stabilise blood sugar, and to create feelings of satiety. Sources of complex carbohydrate: Vegetables, Fruit, Whole Grains such as Brown Rice, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Millet, Wheat, Rye, Barley, Spelt etc, Beans, Pulses/Lentils.
- Over 40 different vitamins
- Antioxidants and Phyto-Nutrients
- 100 or so Minerals and Trace Elements
- *Essential Fatty Acids (see above re fat)
- *8 Essential Amino Acids (from protein – see above)
- 12 Non-Essential Amino Acids (from protein – see above)
(*When nutrients are labelled “Essential” it means that they are essential for our health, but we cannot manufacture them ourselves – we need to get them from our diet).
To ensure you meet your nutritional requirements check that you are eating:
- Protein, healthy fats, and a small number of complex carbs at each meal. This combination will rev up your metabolism and keep you feeling fuller for longer
- Eat a rainbow of at least 5 colourful vegetables per day and no more than 2 low sugar fruits (berries, citrus, apples, pears).
- Eat a portion (3 tablespoons or a palmful) of whole grains per day e.g. oats, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, or starchy carbs such as sweet potato, squash, pumpkin.
- Drink 2 – 3 litres of non-sweetened, non-caffeinated fluid per day but don’t drink with a meal as too much fluid at this time can dilute your stomach acid
- Vegetarians/vegans may be low in certain key nutrients so consider getting your Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Folate, Iron and Ferritin levels checked with your GP and if low, take a supplement
- Take a vegan Essential Fats Supplement such as EchiOmega based on Echium Seed
- Get yourself a good Vegetarian/Vegan cookery book and experiment with new ideas/recipes
Finally, our food demonstrations at Homefield will give you lots of ideas of how to make healthy, easy, nutrient dense vegan foods so come and be inspired!