A vegetarian/vegan diet can be a healthy option as long as adequate protein is being consumed. The diet should consist of fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, and for nonvegan’s eggs and dairy.
The Importance of Protein
- Protein is the building block for muscles, hair, nails, skin, bones, and other body structures especially your heart and brain. It plays an important role in the function of the immune system and in the production of hormones.
- Protein is made up of amino acids, essential and non-essential. The essential amino acids we must acquire through our diet whereas the non-essential amino acids our body can synthesize.
- Animal foods and by-products (meat, fish, dairy, poultry, and eggs) are a complete source of protein as they contain all the essential amino acids that the body needs.
- Plant foods (pulses, grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds) lack one or more of the essential amino acids but become complete when combined.
To obtain complete protein from vegetable sources, combine legumes with grains or legumes with nuts and seeds in the same meal. This will give you sufficient levels of all the essential amino acids.
- Legumes (are the edible seeds from pea and bean plants) e.g. green peas, beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils, soybeans and lupin.
- Grains whole or cereal (cereal is a milled grain) e.g. barley, buckwheat, maize (corn), millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, spelt and wheat.
Complete proteins – milk, eggs, fish, poultry, meat
Incomplete proteins – grains, legumes, nuts & seeds, vegetables
Complete protein – legumes + grains
Complete protein – legumes + nuts & seeds
Deficiency Risk – Plant Food Sources
- IRON – Legumes and green leafy vegetables including broccoli, lettuce, spinach, and kale. To improve iron absorption from vegetable sources consume vitamin c rich food with your meal. Vitamin C is found in abundance in many fruits and vegetables including citrus fruits, berries, capsicum, broccoli, and tomatoes.
- VITAMIN B12 – Fermented foods (such as tempeh & miso) and brewers yeast.
- VITAMIN B2 – Mushrooms, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and brewers yeast.
- FOLIC ACID – Legumes, broccoli, whole grains, almonds, walnuts, avocado, and brewers yeast.
- ZINC – Oats, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds, and walnuts.
- CALCIUM – Almonds, green leafy vegetables, legumes, and sesame seeds.