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Vegetarianism is the belief in and practice of eating exclusively vegetable foods and abstaining from any form of animal food. To what extent this definition applies, in reality varies, what it refers to is a strict vegetarian or a vegan. Lacto-vegetarians include milk and other dairy products in their diet. Lacto-Ovovegetarians eat milk, dairy products and eggs. A vegan, excludes animal flesh (meat, poultry, fish and seafood), animal products (eggs, dairy and honey), and the wearing and use of animal products (eg. leather, silk, wool, lanolin, gelatin). The vegan diet consists totally of vegetables, vegetable oils, and seeds.
A very wrong misconception prevailing over the ages is that vegetable protein is inferior and that to get the required protein, one must eat non-vegetarian diet. The truth of the vegetarian diet is that if the proper amino acids are eaten daily or over a few days there is no need to fear that vegetable protein is inferior. Protein is protein and amino acids are amino acids whether they come from a cow or a soy bean.
In order to get the best nutritional value from foods, it is essential that a mixture of foods is eaten at each meal. To get a general idea here’s a small list, which can be compiled as follows:
- Wholegrain breakfast cereal
OR Milk or milk substitute
OR Whole meal bread or toast and margarine.
- Mashed bean stew and rice
OR Lentil and vegetable soup and bread
OR mashed nut roast
- And vegetables, cooked or raw
- And fruit, yoghurt or milk pudding.
- Whole meal bread and margarine
- And cheese, lentil pate or peanut butter
- And vegetable or bean soup
- And salad, vegetables
- And fruit, yoghurt or milk pudding.
Foods that provide complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and other components are linked to good health, mainly by lowering the fat content in the diet. This guideline is consistent with the scientific evidence that supports the health benefits of diets with more complex carbohydrates and a variety of fiber-rich foods. Most of the calories in your diet should come from grain products, fruits and vegetables. These include bread, cereals, pasta, rice and potatoes. Dry beans are included in the meat group but can also count as servings of vegetables. Plant foods are generally low in fats, depending on how they are prepared and what is added to them.
Fiber is found only in plant foods. Eating a variety of fiber-containing foods is important for proper bowel function and can reduce the risk of chronic constipation, bi-ventricular disease, heart disease and some cancers.
Here’s a list of the available food sources for various nutrients that are essentially required for the proper functioning of one’s metabolism:
- Calcium è dairy products; dark green vegetables such as broccoli, collards, kale, mustard, and turnip greens; legumes; fortified soy milk; almonds and sesame seeds
- Iron è legumes; raisins; whole and enriched grains; leafy green vegetables
- Zinc è the same as iron except raisins
- Vitamin C è citrus fruits; broccoli; cabbage; green peppers; tomatoes
- Riboflavin è dairy products; dark green leafy vegetables; legumes; grains
- Vitamin D è fortified milk
Some foods which may be combined to provide a good balance of amino acids are:
- Cereal + Milk as breakfast cereal and milk
- Pasta + Cheese as macaroni and cheese
- Rice + Milk as rice pudding
- Wheat + Peanuts as peanut butter sandwich
- Beans + Wheat as baked beans and brown bread
- Peas + Rye as split pea soup and rye bread
- Beans + Corn as refried beans and tortillas
- Soybeans + Seeds/Nuts as trail mix
Choose a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grain food products, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products or fortified soy substitutes and a limited number of eggs. Additionally, the following recommendations are made:
- Keep the intake of low nutrient-dense foods, such as sweets and fatty foods, to a minimum.
- Choose whole or unrefined grain products whenever possible, instead of refined products.
- Use a variety of fruits and vegetables, including a good food source of vitamin C to enhance iron absorption.
- If milk products are consumed, use low-fat varieties.
- Limit intake of eggs to 2 to 4 yolks per week to ensure that cholesterol intakes are not excessive.
- For vegans, use a fortified food source of vitamin B12, such as fortified soy milks or breakfast cereals, or take a vitamin B12 supplement.
- For infants and children, ensure adequate intakes of iron, vitamin D, calcium and energy.
- Consult a registered dietitian or other qualified nutrition professional.
The following are guidelines, based on food groups, for selecting daily vegetarian menus:
- Milk, milk products, and fortified soy milk
- 4 servings for adults. Additional servings for teens, children, and pregnant or lactating women.
- Supplies calcium, riboflavin and protein.
- Protein-rich foods, includes legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as milk and eggs.
- 2 servings legumes and 1 serving nuts for adults. Additional servings of nuts for pregnant or lactating women.
- Supplies protein, iron, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin.
- Whole grain and enriched breads and cereals.
- 6 servings.
- Supplies iron and several B vitamins.
- Fruits and vegetables.
- 7+ servings.
- Supplies vitamins A and C and iron. Include 1½ servings of a dark green; 3 of vitamin C rich; and 3 others. Dark greens include romaine lettuce, loose leaf lettuce, broccoli, kale, beet, collard, mustard or dandelion greens. Vitamin C rich foods include citrus, potato, melon, tomato, raw cabbage, strawberries, broccoli, sweet peppers and spinach.
- Fats as vegetable oil or margarine.
- 1 to 2 tablespoons daily.
- Supplies essential fatty acids and vitamin E.