A balanced vegetarian diet can supply all the nutrients needed for good health.
Vegetarian eating is not new. For thousands of years many cultures have lived on vegetarian diets. The worldwide trend today is toward vegetarian living, and the advantages of a vegetarian diet are more widely recognised and contribute to improved health in many instances.
For healthy growth and activity the human body needs:
Carbohydrates – Protein – Fats – Vitamins – Minerals – Fibre – Water
Have balance and variety in your diet, and include enough calories from cereals, legumes & fruits to get the carbohydrates and maintain a healthy weight. Try to avoid the over fatty/sugary foods where possible. Don’t forget that everybody should drink 6-8 glasses of water per day and take regular exercise.
Most vitamins and minerals are easily provided by a vegetarian diet, although some minerals are more readily absorbed if you remember some key factors.
- Iron absorbtion from plant sources is enhanced by vitamin C, so include a source of both in the same meal. Coffee and tea inhibit iron absorbtion.
- Zinc absorbtion is improved by the fermentation used to make bread or tempeh, but variety also helps.
- Vegans may benefit from B12 fortified foods.
- Eat a variety of foods from the 4 major food groups every day:
- Vegetables packed with nutrients, they provide vitamin C, beta-carotene, riboflavin, iron, calcium, fibre; Dark green leafy vegetables such as silver beet, spinach, broccoli; Dark yellow and orange vegetables such as carrots, squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkin for extra beta-carotene. (Get 5 servings per day) and Fruits rich in fibre, vitamin C, and beta carotene. Choose whole fruit over fruit juices to get the benefit of the fibre.
- Breads, cereal foods, rice and other grains includes bread, rice, pasta, hot or cold cereal, corn, millet, barley, cracked wheat and tacos. Grains are rich in fibre and other complex carbohydrates, as well as protein, B vitamins and zinc.
- Milks and dairy products, soya milk.
- Protein foods, nuts, legumes, meat substitutes includes chickpeas, beans, peas, lentils, tofu, tempeh, TVP. These are all good sources of fibre, protein, iron, calcium, zinc and B vitamins.
- Prepare meals with minimal added fat and salt, and especially avoid saturated fat.
- Look for pre-prepared foods, drinks and snacks that are low in fat, salt and sugar.
- Maintain a healthy body weight by regular physical activity and by healthy eating.
- Drink plenty of water each day.
Adapted from: “Food for Health: Report of the Nutrition Taskforce” Department of Health, New Zealand.
A word about soy foods
Evidence has been mounting that soy foods may have a role in preventing heart disease and cancer, and significantly reduce blood cholesterol levels. Over 25 clinical studies have demonstrated that by replacing animal protein with soy protein, or even adding soy protein to your diet, you can significantly lower the level of cholesterol in your blood.
Soya beans are very high in protein, are rich in lecithin, vitamins B and E, iron, trace elements and minerals, are also one of the few foods that contain all 22 of the health giving amino acids, and they are now recognised world wide as an important protein substitute. Soya beans are also remarkably versatile being made into soy milk, textured vegetable protein (TVP), bean curd or tofu, soya flour, and tempeh. Tofu is bland, so it takes on the flavour of the dish e.g. soy sauce or tomato etc. Some soy milks and tofu products are also fortified with B12 and calcium (check the labels).