Some people choose to follow a vegetarian diet, representing the consumption of foods of plant origin (cereals, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds).
However, there are several forms of vegetarian diets:
– vegetarians consume only plants, excluding meat, milk, eggs and other animal products from the menu;
– Lacto-vegetarians drink milk and consume dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese;
– lacto-ovo-vegetarians add eggs and milk to their menu;
– semi-vegetarians include fish or chicken in the menu, but do not consume red meat; – macrobiotic vegetarians have a diet based on cereals, especially brown rice, vegetables, fruits and soy; white fish may also be included; this type of diet avoids the consumption of meat, chicken, eggs and dairy products.
If well documented, a vegetarian diet is healthy and provides the nutrients a person needs. As a group, vegetarians have a lower risk of developing:
– coronary artery disease;
– prostate or colorectal cancer;
– type 2 diabetes;
Many believe that vegan diets do not provide enough protein. They are made from amino acids. Although the human body can reproduce some of the amino acids, nine of them (called essentials) must be obtained from food. Animal protein sources (milk, eggs, meat, fish and seafood) contain these essential amino acids. Plants contain amino acids in different amounts, so vegetarians need to consume as much variety of vegetables as possible to make sure they provide the daily essential amino acids needed.
For example, vegetables (dried beans, peas, lentils) have a low content of sulfuric amino acids (such as methionine), but are rich in other amino acids called lysines. Cereals have the ratio of these two amino acids reversed, so their consumption with vegetables is beneficial, improving the quality of the ingested proteins.
Some typical examples of foods that contain complementary proteins are:
– beans and tortillas;
– black beans and rice beans;
– chilli and corn bread;
– stick with hummus (bean paste and sesame seeds).
It is not necessary to combine these foods with each meal, but their consumption will provide the daily protein requirement.
Proteins are not the only nutrients difficult to obtain in vegetarian diets. Vegetarians must also provide the daily necessities of the following substances:
– Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is found only in sources of animal origin, such as milk, eggs and meat; true vegetarians should either consume foods enriched with vitamin B12 (such as fortified soy milk) or take a supplement containing this vitamin;
– iron: iron from plants is not as well absorbed as meat; it is important to consume vegetables and green plants and not to overdo it with cheese (a poor source of iron); consuming foods rich in vitamin C will improve iron absorption;
– calcium: vegetarians who do not consume milk or dairy products must take calcium from other sources; calcium enriched soy milk is one of these; there are other sources such as seeds and nuts and some vegetables;
– zinc: zinc from plants is slightly absorbed; zinc sources are whole grains, vegetables (beans and lentils), soy and plants;
– Vitamin D: vegetarians who do not consume milk or dairy products have no place to buy vitamin D; however, soy milk or cereals enriched with vitamin D are a good source of vitamin D; also the body produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun; nutritional supplements can be useful if none of the above foods are consumed or when the person is not exposed to enough sun.
Vegetarians can follow the directions of nutritionists, like the ones below:
– For meat you can use the following substitutes (28 g meat administered in 2 to 3 daily snacks);
– half cup (118ml) of dried beans cooked;
– 1 egg or 2 egg whites;
– 30 ml of nuts or seeds;
– 113 g of tofu;
– 30 ml of peanut butter;
– for milk or dairy products one can use the list with the number of snacks, indicated by nutritionists; if milk is not consumed, calcium enriched soy milk, vitamin D and B12 can be used; one cup of soy milk (237 ml) at a snack is sufficient; you can also use soy cheese enriched with vitamins.
For the other food groups, the nutritionists’ indications mentioned above are used. It is advisable to use whole grains as much as possible, and daily consumption of a bowl of green vegetables brings enough iron in the body.
The vegetarian diet can easily fit into the principles set by nutritionists for a healthy diet:
– consumption of a wide variety of foods: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are used as substitutes for meat and if desired dairy products and eggs;
– choosing a diet rich in flour, vegetables and fruits: foods should be consumed as close to the natural, fresh and unprocessed, and should be avoided or minimized long-term food intake;
– choosing a diet with a moderate amount of fat and low in saturated fat and cholesterol: if a vegetarian person consumes milk, dairy products and eggs then they should choose their skinned version; it should also limit the intake of cheeses, other high fat dairy products and eggs, as they generally contain high amounts of saturated fat; these products should not be used as the main source of protein, as they would replace other sources of protein such as vegetables, nuts, seeds containing iron;
– fat consumption should not be restricted to children younger than 2 years; older children can introduce foods high in unsaturated fats (such as nuts, seeds, nut or seed butter, avocado, vegetable oils, dairy products and eggs) that provide them with the necessary nutrients and energy for their age.- choose beverages and foods that have a low sugar content: the consumption of high-sugar or high-processed foods must be reduced. True vegetarians should introduce a source of vitamin B12 (enriched foods or nutritional supplements) into their diet. You should also introduce a source of vitamin D if your sun exposure is poor. If a parent wishes to educate their child in the spirit of a vegetarian diet, the following recommendations should be followed:- children who consume only breast milk should be given iron supplements after the age of 4 to 6 months (this is not necessary if it is added to the diet of children of this age cereals enriched with iron);- If the child is not exposed to enough sun, a dietary source or nutritional supplement of vitamin D should be added to his diet;- Children naturally breastfed by vegetarian mothers should be given a supplement of vitamin B12, if the mother does not receive foods enriched with this vitamin.
Organic foods are meat, eggs and dairy products from animals that have not been given antibiotics or growth hormones and have consumed only organic feed. Organic foods are products obtained without the use of pesticides, radiation and without being genetically modified, and their production emphasizes the use of biodegradable resources and the conservation of water and soil. However, organic products contain pesticides, but in much smaller quantities than those found in ordinary foods. They represent an alternative source of food for those concerned with the use of pesticides in agriculture.Organic farming is a benefit for the environment. The international forums have established some general principles for the production of organic foods. It is still debated whether organic foods are tastier and richer in nutrients than conventional ones.
Vitamins and minerals
Certain population groups require specific nutrients, such as:- infants and children, which may require iron, vitamin D and fluoride supplements;- girls and women, may require calcium and folic acid supplements;- people recovering from an illness or accident, who have a chronic illness or who cannot consume a series of foods;- individuals over 50 years: because those over 50 years are deficient in the absorption of vitamin B12 and calcium in food, it is recommended to supplement them. Nutritional supplements cannot replace a balanced diet. These do not contain all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals found in foods. For most people, a balanced diet provides all the nutrients to maintain health, so nutritional supplements are not required. These supplements should be recommended by a nutritionist.
Conditions in which diet plays an important role in treatment include:
– diabetes mellitus;
– heart failure;
– coronary heart disease;
– chronic kidney disease;
– ulcer-necrotic colitis;
– high blood pressure;
– cystic fibrosis;
– food allergies;
– food intolerance (including lactose intolerance);
– celiac disease or gluten intolerance;
Additional information about these special diets can be obtained from doctors or nutritionists.