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Vegetarian and Vegan Eating

Jaya Mohan

Following a balanced vegetarian and vegan diet can be a wonderful and healthy way of eating. These popular styles of eating, if carried out correctly, can have many benefits for both the animal world and human health.

There are many different reasons why people decide to follow vegetarian or vegan style of eating. Vegetarians avoid eating meat and fish but do allow eggs and dairy products in their diet. Vegans, however, abstain from the consumption of any animal produce including meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, and in some cases avoid using any animal by- products ,including honey, leather and wool.

Some people turn to these types of diets for health reasons. Vegetarian diets are very beneficial for those who have a high risk of cardiovascular disease since omitting red meat can greatly reduce saturated fat cholesterol intake. The vegan diet is also believed to be beneficial to anyone suffering from cancer as some animal products contain arachidonic acid, a substance that may fuel cancer cells.

For others,the switch is more for humane or ethical reasons. Whateverthe reason, these popular styles of eating, if carried out correctly, can have many benefits for both the animal world and human health.

Understanding Protein Requirements
Following a balanced vegetarian and vegan diet can be a wonderful and healthy way of eating. What you need to understand is that you are seriously restricting the intake of one major food group-protein. On average, an adult requires 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. Being rich in protein, animal products are an efficient way to ensure that our daily requirements are met. Choosing to follow a diet that contains only plant foods, which contain a lower percentage of protein, means you need to be more aware of where your daily protein requirements will be coming from.

During digestion,enzymes break down the protein content of the food we have eaten into polypeptides,then dipeptides,then peptides and finally into the smallest units of proteins-amino acids. There is a total of 22 amino acids,and over half of these are synthesized by our body. Out of 22, there are eight essential amino acids. These are special in the sense that our body cannot generate or synthesize them from other amino acids. The only way our body can obtain these essential building blocks is through our diet.

The Essential Amino Acids:
1. Isoleucine
2. Leucine
3. Lycine
4. Methionine
5. Phenylalanine
6. Threonine
7. Tryptophan
8. Valine

Combining of Proteins
Proteins are classified into two groups: complete proteins and incomplete proteins. Complete or quality proteins are rich in all the essential amino acids; these proteins include all the animal products-meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Incomplete proteins, which include all plant foods are lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids. For example, cereal(granola) grains are lacking in lysine, rice is lacking in methionine and threonine,pulses(legumes) are missing in methionine and tryptophan, corn is lacking in tryptophan and threonine and soya beans are missing in methionine.

To enable our body to have all the necessary ingredients to generate every type of body protein and to repair and generate new body cells and tissues, a daily intake of all the essential amino acids needs to be achieved.How do we ensure that our body gets a full intake of the eight essential amino acids whilst being a vegetarian or vegan? It’s easy - we Combine proteins!! We know that pulses, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and lentils all contain different essential amino acids. Protein combining involves eating a combination of two or more plant proteins in one meal so that the full spectrum of essential amino acids is achieved. For example, eating a vegetable curry with brown rice and lentil dal; peanut butter on rye toast or a stir-fry with tofu and cashew nuts would supply the full range of proteins.

By combining your plant foods you can increase the quality of your protein by atleast 50%, enabling your body to receive the full spectrum of essential amino acids. Another really easy way to increase your intake of essential amino acids is to add a heaped teaspoonful of mixed ground sesame, flax, hemp, sunflower and pumpkin seeds to your breakfast cereal or salads. As seeds and nuts are relatively high in protein compared to other plant foods they are an important component of vegetarian and vegan diets.

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