The recommendation to eat less meat and more fruits, vegetables, and while-grain products suggestive of a vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism is a complex topic and cannot be covered in any depth in this text, but the following information may be helpful to those who are thinking in that direction.
Vegetable, in a broad sense, is a term used for foods that have a plant origin. If we look at our Food Guide Pyramid this excludes most foods normally found in the Milk and Meat Groups (which are primarily animal products) found near the top of the pyramid, but includes those in the Bread, Cereal, Rice,and Pasta Group, as well as the Fruit Group and the Vegetable group.
There are a variety of types of vegetarians. A strict vegetarian, known also as a vegan, eats no animal products at all. Most nutrients are obtained from fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Ovovegetarians include eggs in their diet, while lactovegetarians include foods in the Milk |Group, such as cheese and other dairy products. An ovolactovegetarian eats both eggs and ilk products. These latter classifications are not strict vegetarians, since eggs and milk products are derived from animals. Others may consider themselves vegetarians because they do not eat red meat, such as beef and pork products, although they may eat fish and other sea products. Others even add poultry to their diets. These individuals have been referred to as semivegetarians. In practice, then a vegetarian may range on a continuum from one who eats nothing but plant foods to someone who eats a typical American diet with the exception of red meat. The concern for obtaining a balanced intake of nutrients depends on where a vegetarian is on that continuum.
Although the individual who eats a typical American diet needs to be aware of sound nutritional principles, this knowledge is even more important for the vegetarian, particularly the vegan who eats no animal products whatsoever. If foods are not selected carefully, the vegetarian may suffer nutritional deficiencies of iron, calcium, riboflavin or protein.
The semivegetarian, ovolactovegetarian, and lactovegetarian may have no difficulty meeting nutrient requirements, with the possible exception of iron, so it is important that all classes of vegetarians include high-quality sources of iron in their diet. Because ovovegetarians do not consume dairy products, which are high in calcium and riboflavin, they need to include foods in their diet that are rich in these two nutrients. The complete vegetarian, the vegan, is most at risk for a nutrient deficiency, and therefore must plan her or his diet carefully to obtain adequate amounts of iron, calcium, riboflavin, and protein.
A major concern of the vegan is to obtain adequate amounts of the right type of protein. If you recall our earlier discussion, proteins are classified as either complete or incomplete. A protein is complete if it contains all of the essential amino acids that the human body cannot manufacture. Animal products generally contain complete proteins, while plant proteins are incomplete. However, certain vegetable products may also provide good sources of protein. Grain products such as wheat, rice, and corn, as well as soybeans, peas, beans, and nuts, have a substantial protein content. However, most vegetable products lack one or more essential amino acids in sufficient quantity. They are incomplete proteins and, eaten individually, are not generally adequate for maintaining proper human nutrition. But, if certain plant foods are eaten together, they may supply all of the essential amino acids necessary for human nutrition and may be as good as meat protein.
In order to receive a balanced distribution of essential amino acids, the vegan must eat vegetable foods that possess what is known as protein complementarity, in which a vegetable products low in a particular amino acid is eaten together with a food that is high in that same amino acid. Some examples are presented in table 6.20, which also includes ideas to incorporate dairy products. Grains and cereals that are low in lysine need to be complemented by legumes, such as beans, that have adequate amounts of lysine. The low level of methionine in the legumes is offset by its high concentration in the grain products. These types of food combinations are practiced throughout the world. Mexicans eat pinto beans and corn Chinese eat soybeans and rice. Though the proper selection of complementary foods, the vegan can get an adequate intake of the essential amino acids It is important for the vegetarian to eat protein, foods that complement each other (i.e. nuts and bread, rice and beans) so that all the essential amino acids are obtained in the diet. Eating complementary foods at one meal helps guarantee that they are properly utilized by the body.
Table 6.20 Combining Foods for Protein Complementarity
Milk and Grains
Pasta with milk or cheese, Rice and milk pudding, Cereal with milk, Macaroni and cheese, Cheese sandwich, Cheese on nachos.
Milk and Legumes
*Creamed bean soups,*Cheese on refined beans.
Grains and Legumes
Rice and bean casserole, Wheat bread and baked beans, Corn tortillas and refried beans, Pea soup and toast, Peanut-butter sandwich.
*Low fact, low sodium versions should be selected to minimize excessive saturated fat and sodium intake.
Although the vegetarian diet has not been proven to be healthier than a diet that includes foods in the Meat and Milk Groups, it is based on certain nutritional concepts that may help in the prevention of some degenerative diseases common to industrialized society. First, saturated fat content in a vegetarian diet is usually low; fats found in plant foods are generally monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Second, plants do not contain cholesterol, since this compound is found only in animal products. These two factors account for the fact that vegetarians generally have lower blood triglycerides and cholesterol than meat eaters, which may be an important mechanism in the prevention of coronary heart disease. Third, plant foods possess a high fiber content that haws been associated with reduced levels of serum cholesterol and the prevention of certain disorders in the intestinal tract. Fourth, plant foods, primarily fruits and vegetables, are rich in antioxidant vitamins and other phytochemicals that may play a role in the prevention of coronary heart disease or cancer. Firth, if the proper foods are selected, the vegetarian diet supplies more than an adequate amount of nutrients and is rather low in caloric content. Plant foods can be high nutrient density foods, providing bulk in the diet without the added Calories of fat. Hence, the vegetarian diet can be an effective dietary regimen for losing excess body weight.
Choosing to adopt a vegetarian diet is up to the individual and represents a significant change in dietary habits. Any one desiring to make an abrupt change to a vegetarian diet should do some serious reading on the matter beforehand. Once you have done some reading on vegetarianism, there may be several ways to gradually phase yourself into a vegetarian diet. You may become a partial vegetarian simply by eating less and meat. You may have several meatless days per week, or one or two meatless, meals each day (breakfast and lunch). For example, you may skip the ham or sausage at breakfast and have a big salad for lunch. You may with to substitute white meat, with its generally lower fat content, for red meat. Eat more fish, chicken, and turkey. You may wish to become an ovolactovegetarian, eating eggs and dairy products. These excellent sources of complete protein can be blended with many vegetable products or eaten separately. You may use the above methods as forerunners to a strict vegetarian diet, gradually phasing out animal products altogether as you learn to select and prepare vegetable foods with protein complementarity.
It should be emphasized, however, that the nonvegetarian who carefully selects foods from the Meat and Milk Group, including lean red meat, may attain the same health benefits as the vegetarian. In fact, a diet with small amounts of lean meat may be healthier than an ovolactovegetarian diet contains substantial amounts of high-fat cheese and whole milk. The major nutritional difference between a vegetarian and a nonvegetarian diet appears to be the higher content of saturated fats and cholesterol in the latter.
Selection of animal products with low-fat and low-cholesterol content helps to avoid this problem and also assures consumption of a very high quality protein. In Diet and Health, The Research Council did not recommend against eating meat, but recommended eating leaner meat in smaller and fewer portions.
In summary, the dietary recommendations presented in this chapter, in combination with a properly designed exercise program, represent two of the most essential keys to a Positive Health Life-style. They complement each other nicely relative to the reduction or risk factors associated with the development of such diseases as diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease.
As with a sound aerobic exercise program, sound nutritional habits need to be lifelong. The earlier in life you adopt such a sound exercise-nutrition life-style, the greater the possibility of preventing the onset of many of the chronic disease.
Make time to exercise, but also take time to eat right.