Did you start the new year as a vegetarian? Whether it's due to being appalled of the way animals are treated or because you've realised that a highly carnivorous diet so many of us follow is not sustainable in the long run, going vegetarian can be a fantastic experience - as long as you make sure you get the nutrients you need.
To ensure you get the best advice possible, we spoke to nutritional therapist and hebalist at the Nutri Centre, Elouise Bauskis, to find out how to get the essential nutrients in an all vegetarian diet.
Elouise explained: "A vegetarian diet can be good for many people, and it's especially recommended to those who are 'acidic' or 'inflammatory'. A vegetarian diet can help to 'alkalise' the body which in turn has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body's chemistry. Acidity and inflammation provide the environment which encourages many Western disease states such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis and cancer."
But in order to reap the benefits of a vegetarian diet, eliminating meat and/or fish, you must inform and educate yourself on why and how you will replace this in your diet. Here are Elouise's top tips on eating well and getting the nutrients you need as a vegetarian.
The importance of the 3 P's: Protein, Pulses and Phytic
PROTEIN is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of every cell in the body! When following a vegetarian diet, you need to know how to obtain good protein from your food. Combining pulses with wholegrains will provide you with a complete amino acid profile that is an alternative to animal protein.
Consume PULSES every day! These include lentils, peas and all kinds of beans (soybeans, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, white beans, adzuki, and pinto). These are packed with protein and complex carbohydrates including plenty of fibre, calcium, iron, vitamins and precious minerals.
Pulses contain anti-nutrient factors including PHYTIC acid that prevent your body from absorbing the nutrients the food contains. Sprouting, soaking or souring reduces anti-nutrients. It is ideal to soak pulses (overnight at least for beans) in order to reduce the phytic acid. By reducing phytic acid, you can more than double your body's absorption of key minerals, as well as aiding digestion and often improving the taste. Any soaking is better than no soaking! Drain and rinse well.
Remember to mix it up!
Don't make the mistake and eat a lot of beige food, such as pasta and bread. Good wholegrains to combine with pulses include millet, oats, rice, and buckwheat. Quinoa (pronounced 'keenwah') and amaranth are excellent to use in place of rice or cous cous. They are actually seeds not grains, and are high in protein, minerals and nutrients, whilst being gently alkalising as well!
You need to consume a wide variety of foods daily in order to provide yourself with all of the vitamins, minerals & phytonutrients necessary for optimum functioning. Consume a rainbow of variety of fruit and vegetables per day, ideally between 8-12 servings. Include some raw food daily as this is full of enzyme activity!
If consuming soy, it's ideal that you have fermented soy in the form of tempeh and miso. The traditional way to consume soy is the best way!
Where is the protein?
Look at every meal you are going to eat and ask yourself, 'where is the protein?' and make sure the meal contains it. Also ask yourself, 'where is the good fats?' Good sources are from flaxseed, hemp, chia, coconut, avocado, nuts and seeds.
Eggs (free-range and organic only) are an excellent source of protein, that can be enjoyed on a daily basis. Other protein sources include houmous, tahini, nut butters and 'milks', nuts & seeds (unsalted and unroasted to preserve the beneficial omega oils).
Vital vitamin B12
You need to be acutely aware of your Vitamin B12 intake (or lack-of with a vegetarian diet) and just how crucial B12 is for the proper functioning of the nerves, the energy release from food and the production of red blood cells. It is essential to supplement this in order to avoid B12 deficiency, which can take years to occur, but then by the time you are presenting with deficiency signs, the damage may have already been done! The best form of B12 is the Methylcobalamin form, which is much more absorbable and usable than the Cyanocobalamin form.
Limit your intake of processed food
We're not big fans of processed foods and try to avoid them as much as we can. Besides cooking from scratch is so much more fun! When moving on to a veggie lifestyle, it's advisable to avoid processed vegetarian foods as much as possible. Elouise explains: "Imagine ALL of the processing these foods have gone through in order to create them! Check the list of ingredients to see how long it is - the more ingredients, the worse the processing generally."
Include good quality protein powders in your diet as a way to enhance your protein intake. Excellent for breakfast, add some flaxseed oil and lecithin granules to make it a more balanced meal.
Superfoods to the rescue!
Consume daily some green superfoods such as Spirulina, chlorella, blue green algae, Barley grass and Wheat grass. These are foods that 'flood' the body with easily absorbable and usable nutrients. They are gently cleansing, alkalising and detoxifying. Start slowly and build up your dosage over time.
So which supplements are recommended?
BioCare's Vitasorb B12, £4.85 for 15ml liquid
Purple Balance's raw protein powder powders, from £8
MitoGuard from Biocare, £29.95 for a month's supply
All products are available from The Nutri Centre stores nationwide and online at www.nutricentre.com.
There you have it. Your beginner's guide to vegetarianism. Anything you would like to add? Leave us a comment below.