A few weeks ago, my chiropractor did this crazy test on me called a bioimpedance analysis. Apparently, I need to eat more protein and put on two kilograms of muscle. Otherwise, I’m fine.
It got me thinking about healthy eating on a quasi-vegetarian diet. Frankly, I sometimes think that we should focus on healthy cooking just as much as we focus on tasty cooking – especially for ‘everyday’ eating. (Having said that, I have a (not scientifically derived) theory that pretty much anything made at home, from relatively unprocessed natural food, is good for you on some level.)
I have a book called The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook. To be honest, the recipes contained within it are pretty uninspiring, but it has a useful section at the start that is all about nutrition for vegetarians.
- Everyone needs protein in their diet for cell growth, tissue repair and a whole lot of other functions.
- Each protein in your body is composed of 23 amino acids (though this exact number varies slightly in the different books).
- Your body can make all but eight of these. These are the ‘essential’ amino acids. Together, these are referred to as a complete protein. (Again, the actual number of essential amino acids varies in different books. One book said there were nine.)
- Animal protein sources (meat, eggs and milk etc.) contain all eight (or nine) essential amino acids.
- Vegetable sources do not. Each group of vegetarian food (e.g. dairy, nuts/seeds, pulses, and grains) contains some, but not all eight/nine essential amino acids.
- However, when eaten together, vegetarian food sources can combine to create a complete protein meal.
- One book I have says that the soy bean is a complete protein (i.e. it has all essential amino acids) but another book says that it is just nearly complete. (Quinoa and buckwheat are also nearly complete.)
- Amino acids can not be stored for very long by the body. However, the books also vary with regards to exact the time periods in which a complete protein needs to be consumed. Nutrition for Dummies says that all essential amino acids must be eaten at the same meal. The Essential Vegetarian says that all must be eaten within a few hours of each other. Nutrition Now says that all essential amino acids only need to be eaten within the same day.
Regardless of the exact details, the principle to be drawn from all this is the same: vegetarian diets should be varied. It is a good idea to combine different food groups in each meal. This makes sense, doesn’t it?! It’s why we like to eat rice with our vegetable stir fry; pitta-bread with our felafels; and milk and yoghurt with our museli.
This also makes sense in terms of general cookery principles. If we vary the colour, texture and tastes in one meal, we are more likely to create something that is appealing, satisfying and nutritionally balanced. I imagine this variation and balance concept applies to non-vegetarian food as well, in terms of getting a good range of other important nutrients.
This week, I plan to make a chickpea/cous-cous (pulse + grain) or lentil/fetta (pulse + dairy) salad to take to a Christmas party. Please return later in the week to see my complete protein vegetarian creations…
Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist! But all this information is an accurate reflection of the books that I have read.