Are Vegetables for Vegetarians?

Does a vegetarian diet mean eating more veggies?

A healthy vegetarian and a healthy meat eater should both be eating their veggies. So why do we so often associate these nutrient dense colourful powerhouses exclusively with a vegetarian diet?

Despite one containing the majority of the word ‘vegetable’, the defining factor separating these two dietary choices is not whether you eat your vegetables or not. It’s in the protein.

Protein is an essential macro-nutrient made up of long chains of amino acids. These amino acids are the ‘building blocks’ for your body. From your DNA to your skin, hair, muscle, blood, immune system … proteins are very important.

Some amino acids are produced naturally in our bodies. However, there are nine amino acids (known as essential amino acids) which our bodies can’t produce and must be sourced from our diets.

For some, animal products are the primary source of protein, with meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese and yoghurt containing the nine essential amino acids. 

For others, there are veggie sources of protein. Whole grains, nuts and seeds, tofu, lentils and legumes (such as beans and chickpeas) are plant-based proteins that can replace animal products. These are all excellent sources of protein, however most don’t contain all nine essential amino acids. By eating a mixture of different plant-based protein you get the full range. For example, baked beans with wholegrain toast or chickpeas with rice provide a range of amino acids.

These plant-based protein foods are excellent sources of fibre and many beneficial nutrients. Even if we eat animal products, these plant-based foods are worth including for the health benefits they offer as part of a varied diet.

Animal products also contain higher quantities of some vitamins and minerals such as iron, B12 and calcium. These nutrients must be gained from other sources if avoiding meat and dairy. However, these nutrients don’t define the dietary choices.

As for how we label our dietary choices, I don’t think a ‘plant-based-protein-arian‘ is going to take off anytime soon. So, for now we’ll stick with vegetarian. But remember, even if you eat meat, you should also be eating your veggies.

#healthyeating #plantbasedfoods #vegetables #protein

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