“So you’re a vegetarian? How will you get proper nutrition?” Vegetarians, novice and veteran, often encounter this question. Fortunately, the answer is simpler than many of our non-vegetarian friends or family think. As the meat-eater’s diet is made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, similarly, the nuts and bolts of a balanced vegetarian diet will follow a similar structure. The difference is that the vegetarians get their nutrients from plant-based foods.
Often, we eat too much of one type of food, resulting in an imbalance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. What is the recommended proportion of carbs, proteins and fats? Most research suggests that a person’s diet should consist of about 45-65% calories from carbohydrates, 10-35% calories from protein and 20-35% of calories from fat. These percentages vary according to body size and type.
Carbohydrates and proteins each provide 4 calories per gram while fat provides 9 calories per gram. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our bodies. A lack of carbs can result in fatigue as well as a loss of sodium, potassium and water in the body. When the body has excess carbs, it converts them to fat.
Carbohydrates come in two forms: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grain products, pasta, rice and certain vegetables. These foods are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber and are the best sources from which to obtain carbs. Simple carbohydrates are found in sugary foods. They give the body quick energy, but have very few vitamins and minerals and often have a lot of calories. Therefore, it’s best to eat simple carbs in moderation. Proteins are crucial to building, maintaining and repairing body tissue. They also aid in digestion and encourage a healthy immune system. Too much protein is stressful for the kidneys and can result in a loss of calcium. Too little can cause lethargy, unhealthy hair and nails, and insufficient nutrient transport.
Good sources of vegetarian protein include legumes, beans, soy products (soy milk, tofu, soy beans etc.) and low-fat dairy products. Fat, although often seen as the enemy to dieters, is essential to life. Fat is required for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, E, and K. It helps us feel full when we eat, protects our organs, helps in development of cell membranes, and insulates our bodies. Unfortunately, the wrong kind of fat can cause health problems like high cholesterol and heart disease.
Fats to avoid are saturated fats, found in meat, butter and some tropical vegetable oils, and hydrogenated fats, found in margarine and many processed foods. Beneficial fats include polyunsaturated, found in sunflower and soybean oil, and monounsaturated, found in olive, canola and flax oil. It is important for us to be aware of what we put into our bodies. It’s easy to get carried away with eating too many carbohydrates, too much saturated fat, or not enough protein. We need to look at each meal that we have, checking for the proper balance between these foods.
Information for this article taken from:
- Mead Johnson Nutritionals. 2003.
- Russell, Robert M., M.D. & Scep See You Now.
- Loomis, Howard, Dr., Carmen Castanada, M.D., PhD. Oct. 1999. "How Much Protein do You Need? The Doctor Willelated Symptoms Part 2." February 2002. The Chiropractic Journal.