This week we celebrate International Vegetarian Week with a range of blogs, interviews and recipes. Why not take the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets, and how to create nutrient-dense meals? A great place to start is the interview below, where our Naturya Ambassadors Louise and Nikita, who are both qualified nutritionists, set the record straight on two common myths about not consuming meat.
Myth 1- Does a vegetarian diet provide enough protein to maintain a healthy lifestyle and reach your fitness goals?
Nikita: There are many misconceptions surrounding veganism, building muscle and the effects on athletic performance. Firstly, it’s important to point out that the human body’s primary source of fuel is glucose. Complex carbohydrates, which are naturally found in all plant foods and broken down into glucose, are my favourite fuel. They are usually high in dietary fibre, which is essential for maintaining good gut health.
A vegan/vegetarian diet often contains more carbohydrates compared to an omnivorous diet, making energy more readily available for use. Therefore, with richer energy stores, you will be able to utilise the energy more efficiently to push yourself further and perform better.
It is also believed that animal protein is superior to plant protein for building muscle. Animal protein is considered a complete protein as it provides the full range of essential amino acids, whereas most plant proteins are incomplete as individually they do not provide all the nine essential amino acids the body cannot produce itself. However, there are several delicious complete plant protein sources you can still include in your diet such as buckwheat, hemp, quinoa and soy.
To make a complete protein from diverse plant sources, which is also effective in building muscle, a combination of different plant proteins such as nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes is required.
Another misconception is that a vegan/vegetarian diet does not provide enough protein to build muscle. Depending on the individual’s fitness goals and/or genetics, one should consume between 0.8-1.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight. For the average adult weighing 80kg, one would need to consume 0.8 x 80kg = 64g of protein per day. Fortunately, plant foods are a rich source of protein and can be found in grains, soy, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes and also provide many other nutrients that are associated with several improved health outcomes compared to traditional meat diets.
Louise: There are indeed so many good sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans to choose from:
- Lentils, chickpeas, and beans
- Cereals (wheat, oats and rice)
- Soya products (tofu, soya drinks and textured soy protein, such as soya mince)
- Nuts and seeds
- Natural, plant-based protein blends such as Naturya’s Plant Superprotein which comes in 3 delicious flavours and is enriched with superfoods to help boost your vitamins and minerals intake
For those on a vegetarian diet, I also recommend consuming organic eggs and lower-fat dairy products (milk, cheese and yoghurt).
Myth 2- Can you get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs from non-animal sources?
Louise: With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegetarian and vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs to be healthy.
If your diet isn't planned properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients on any type of diet. Vegetarians need to make sure they get enough iron and vitamin B12, and vegans enough calcium, iron and vitamin B12. Women are thought to be at particular risk of iron deficiency, including those on a vegetarian or vegan diet. So, here’s how to boost your intake of these nutrients:
Although meat is the best source of iron, other good sources include:
- Pulses - beans, lentils and peas
- Nuts and seeds including almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds.
- Dried apricots
- Dark-green vegetables like watercress, broccoli and spring greens
- Wholegrains like brown rice and quinoa
- Cereals fortified with iron
- Superfoods like Maca, Mulberries, Goji berries and Lucuma powder
As long as you remember to regularly include these foods in your diet, you should be getting enough iron.
This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, so it can be difficult to get enough B-12 on a vegan diet. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may go undetected in people who eat a vegan diet. This is because the vegan diet is rich in a vitamin called folate, which may mask a deficiency in vitamin B-12 until severe problems occur. For this reason, vegans need to consider vitamin supplements, vitamin-enriched cereals and fortified soy products. A fantastic vegan source of B-12 to try is organic Chlorella powder.
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids suitable for vegetarians and vegans include:
- flaxseed oil
- rapeseed oil
- soya oil and soya-based foods (such as tofu)
- Chia seeds
- Hemp protein
Do you want to know more?