Guest post by Clare Graham
Controversial nutritionist Robert Atkins once said, “I think that if a person wants to remain vegetarian, they’re just going to have to go hungry.” Of course this is far from being the case; although definitive figures are hard to come by it is estimated that up to 5% of Australia’s population are vegetarian. That would equate to a lot of hungry people if Mr Atkins was correct. It is not just about being hungry though; it is about ensuring a nutritionally balanced diet is available. Do that, as a vegetarian, and your eating habits can be healthier than those of meat eaters.
The Psychology of the Vegetarian Choice
Having said that vegetarians can have a completely healthy, nutrient filled, diet it is important to note that the psychology behind following the vegetarian path can be a factor. There are a multitude of reasons for people choosing not to eat meat, including those of ethical, religious and environmental origin. There are also some people who view vegetarianism as a means of losing weight; it is in this scenario where issues can arise. As with any weight reduction plan problems can occur when eating behaviour becomes abnormal. In August 2012 “The Sydney Morning Herald” featured a report on the links between vegetarianism and eating disorders in which it revealed that a study by the “Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics” found that individuals with eating disorders were considerably more likely to have been vegetarian or to still be vegetarian with weight issues as their motivation. In these cases there is often a need for assistance and intervention from experts such as those listed in the Illinois Anorexia Treatment Resources. In Australia information and assistance is available from the National Eating Disorders Collaboration. Vegetarianism as a lifestyle choice is gaining in popularity worldwide and it is important to be vigilant about any potential health issues.
The Nutrition of the Situation
This is the case no matter what the reason for the vegetarian outlook. Meat eater or nor we all have nutritional requirements each day to ensure that our body remains healthy; so what foods provide these nutrients in the case of vegetarians?
The human body needs iron to produce haemoglobin which carries oxygen in the blood and maintains the muscle protein myoglobin. The body also uses iron to produce enzymes that are involved in digestion, nerve function, and energy transfer. There are two types of iron in the human diet haem iron, which is in meat, and non-haem iron which is in food of vegetable origin. Even for meat eaters non-haem iron makes up the majority of iron intake. It is important to remember that vitamin C should be included in diet alongside iron as it assists the absorption of iron by the body.
Average adult woman (19-50) = 14.8mg per day
Average adult man (19+) = 8.7mg per day
Food Sources of Iron
- Pulses including chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans.
- Sprouted seeds and beans such as sunflower seeds, aduki beans, and alfafa.
- Green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale, and broccoli.
- Nuts, especially almonds and cashews.
- Dried fruit such as raisins, dates, and apricots.
There are several uses for protein in the human body; it is fundamental to cell renewal and growth. Collagen is a protein that makes up a large part of the skeleton and the nails and hair are forms of protein. It is not just about the structure of the body though, but its processes as well. Hormones, enzymes and haemoglobin are all forms of protein that help the body work. Proteins are made in the body by combining amino acids. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the proportion of amino acids in a person’s diet is correct.
Dietary Requirements = 45g per day
Average adult (19+) man = 55g per day
Food Sources of Protein and Amino Acids
- Plant origin food such as nuts, beans, and peas.
- Dairy products such as milk, cheese and eggs.
- Soya in the form of milk, tofu, or miso.
Becoming used to getting all nutrition from non-meat sources can be complicated for those deciding to become vegetarian; the Australian Vegetarian Society exists to offer support and advice in areas such as recipes, cooking classes, and dieticians. The Society aims to encourage the growth of vegetarianism whilst ensuring that those who chose to become vegetarian remain healthy.
Claire Graham worked as a nutritionist for a decade before deciding to combine her love of helping people keep healthy with her passion for writing. This also allowed her to work from home and raise her two beautiful daughters. When not writing, she spends her time researching and evaluating new ideas, so she can offer the best advice possible.
The content is Claire’s opinions only, readers will need to research or consult other experts in addition to following suggested dietary requirements in this article.