How Do Vegetarians and Vegans Make Up For Their Body Needs?
What Are the Basic Eating Principles of Plant-Based Diets?
With the great expansion of the food industry worldwide comes also the wide variation of healthy eating systems. Each eating system imposes a set of principles for its adopters to follow, so that they reach the desired short-term or long-term goals each diet pursues. For vegetarianism and veganism, there is a major change in the ordinary eating habits because a whole main category of food is completely excluded from the diet. Veganism is based on the rule that animal meat and all products derived from animals must be avoided. The only difference between vegetarianism and veganism is that for vegetarians, animal meat is avoided, but it is fine to consume animal-based dairies, while it is not for vegans. They rely solely on plants to get all their daily nutrient needs, which are also not consumed randomly but rather on a systematic basis to increase the healthiness of their diet.
Why Do Our Bodies Need Nutrients?
Good nutrition is essential for us if we want to have a healthy lifestyle. Our bodies need sufficient amounts of different macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to function efficiently and keep us alive. Carbohydrates are most frequently the main source of energy necessary to power your body and brain. Protein is what you need to grow your muscles and increase their mass, and you need fats to generate energy and absorb vitamins (which have many benefits, such as enhancing your immune system, strengthening your bones, and maintaining a healthy skin). And similar to vitamins, minerals are important for the body to keep a steady health and steer clear of any infirmities.
Can We Dispense With Animal-Based Products and Still Get All The Essential Nutrients?
We constantly satisfy all our needs of the essential nutrients from both animals and plants. But what if we permanently eliminate a whole group of foods from our diets? We know that vegetarians do not eat animal meat and vegans avoid dairies as well. So is it still possible to make up for the nutrients found abundantly in that group? Can vegetarians and vegans stick to their diet without running out of any of the essential nutrients? Studies say that such diets can perfectly compensate for the loss of nutrients resulting from not eating chicken, beef, fish, eggs, and dairies. Even though it is true that meats are a main source of protein, a vegetarian can still get their daily need of protein from green foods. The same thing applies for the other nutrients that we depend on to keep our bodies functioning well. There is a wide variety of options available for vegetarians and vegans to complete their diet and live a healthy lifestyle away from animal-based products.
How to Overcome Protein Deficiency on a Vegan Diet?
It is recommended that the normal person consumes around 0.8 grams of protein (per kilogram) a day. This means that for a person weighing 70 kilograms, a total of 56 grams of protein would be ideal. Pregnant women and people trying to build muscles may need more. Relying on animal meat makes it easier to meet this daily need since meats are full of proteins, but there are also protein-dense plant products that can replace animal products. There is a total of nine essential amino acids the body cannot make by itself and should be taken from food. Meat protein contains all the amino acids the body needs, but in a vegan diet, there are several plants that contain almost all the essential amino acids. You can also combine different plants in your meat-free meals to get a complete protein chain with all those nine amino acids. Beans, for example, contain most of those indispensable amino acids, but they lack one of them (called methionine). When you combine beans with corn, you create a complete protein with an adequate amount of each of the essential amino acids for a healthy diet that promotes the growth and proper functioning of the body.
Here is a list of the most important plant-based products that make up for the loss of protein resulting from the elimination of meats:
Quinoa is basically a healthy seed of a plant called goosefoot (and not a whole grain as many people might think). This seed is considered a source of complete protein (meaning it has all the amino acids we need), and it provides you with other nutrients as well. 100g of cooked quinoa contains 4.4g of protein (making it one of the favorite protein sources for vegetarians), 21g of carbs, 2.8 of fiber, and 1.9g of fats. Being dense in protein and fiber makes it a good choice for people wishing to lose weight, because such nutrients keep you full for a longer time.
Tofu (or sometimes called Bean Curd) is originally made from soy. It is prepared by condensing and curdling soy milk, then pressing the resulting curds into white blocks. This soy-based creamy food is an excellent protein source and a healthy choice at the same time. 100g of tofu have 8g of protein, 4g of fats, 2g of carbs, and 1g of fiber. All this while it only gives you around 70 calories. Tofu has several health benefits. It helps reduce risks of different types of cancer and maintain a good heart health. Moreover, tofu is considered to be versatile as you can have it raw or cook it in several ways as you please.
It is also one of the high-protein foods made from soy by fermenting soybeans. They are soaked and boiled and the surplus water is flowed out. Tempeh satisfies the vegetarian’s need of protein and contains a set of other healthy nutrients as well. If you consume 100g of tempeh, you get 17g protein, 8g fats, and about 7g carbs. It is also a good source of B vitamins. Tempeh helps lower your cholesterol levels and improve your gut health due to the probiotics in it. It is thus worthy to add it to your veggie diet if you want to avoid animal products while still getting the nutrients you need.
Lentils are a type of small legumes that comes in different colors like green, yellow, red, and brown. It is one of the staple foods in many countries and is usually cooked as a soup or cooked with rice or bulgur in some countries, or by itself. Lentils are an easily accessible source of protein for vegans as they are widely available in markets. Every 100g of lentils contain 9g of protein, 0.4g of fats, with 20g of carbohydrates (including 8g of fiber). They are also a good source of potassium, iron, and magnesium. Lentils assist in improving your cholesterol and blood flow in the body.
5. Peanut Butter
100g of peanut butter (or around 6.5 tablespoons) are comprised of approximately 25% protein, making it an ideal plant-based source of protein for vegans, not to mention the combination of other nutrients which will only add to its nutritional value. Peanut butter is already a favorable choice for many people to have on breakfast. One thing to keep in mind is that although peanut butter is nutritious and filling, you should still consume it sparingly if you do not want to gain an excessive weight, since 100g would give you 588 calories.
Oats are a whole grain that is packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Per 100g of oats, you get around 17g of protein, which makes it an excellent vegan-friendly protein source. You can also try the oat milk which is a non-dairy alternative to cow’s milk. The antioxidants in oats help lower the blood pressure and improve the blood flow in vessels, and the good amount of fiber (10.5g) play a role in lowering bad cholesterol for a better heart health. Most people boil oats in either water or milk and consume this nutritious food on their breakfast.
Best Vegan-Friendly Vitamin Sources
Vegetarians and vegans can easily find many plant-based vitamin sources on which they can comfortably depend to meet their daily recommended intake of the essential vitamins. Our bodies do need vitamins in small amounts in order to stay healthy and work properly. Fortunately, the vitamins your body needs can be found in a wide variety of foods. Here is a list of the most popular vitamins and their sources that can smoothly fit into the vegan diet:
Vitamin A is fat-soluble vitamin that is available in both animal meat and plants. But since animal products are not vegan-friendly, a vegan can get their daily need from vitamin A (which is 900 mcg for men and 700 mcg for women) from carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and squashes. This vitamin helps preserve your eye health and reduce the risk of having a vision loss. It also supports the defense mechanisms in the body, helping you fight and prevent infections.
You have most probably been told at least once that you should drink a glass of orange juice to get rid of cold or flu. That’s because citrus fruits in general have this vitamin in abundance. Vegans need not worry about finding enough veggie sources of vitamin C since it is already found in several vegetables and fruits. In addition to citruses, you can get it from different types of berries, kiwi, watermelon, mango, papaya, peppers and broccoli.
Although there are not many vegan-friendly sources of vitamin D available out there, vegetarians and vegans can still get this vitamin from mushrooms, some plant-based milks (like soy milk and almond milk), orange juice, oatmeal and some types of cereal. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and regulate its levels. It also plays a role in improving the immune system and memory, and its deficiency in the body may lead to muscle weakness and fatigue.
Vitamin E is one of the fat-soluble vitamins, which means that the body absorbs it and stores it till it is needed. This vitamin is abundant in some vegetable oils, such as soybean oils, sunflower, corn, safflower, and wheat germ oil. Additionally, a vegan can get this vitamin from almonds, peanuts, and soya. Some of its benefits include its ability to protect body cells from damage since it is an antioxidant. It also boosts the immune system and enhances your skin health.
Vitamin K is naturally found in several plants. For a vegan diet, the best sources of vitamin K include spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cucumber, cabbage, and kale. Vitamin K is very important for the process of blood clotting (promoting wound healing) and it helps keep our bones strong. Its deficiency leads to having a poor bones health and easy bleeding. For every kilogram of body weight, an adult needs about 1 microgram of vitamin K a day.
Vitamin B12 exists mainly in animal-based products so it is a little bit harder for a vegan to meet his body’s need of this vitamin, and therefore, vegans exhibit a higher risk of having a B12 deficiency. There are not many plant-based vitamin B12 sources, so vegans can include nutritional yeast and some plant milks (almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, and coconut milk) in their diet. It is not a vitamin that a vegan can take the risk of having low levels of; its deficiency can lead to anemia and to becoming tired and feeling weak as a result.
Top Five Essential Minerals and their Vegan-Friendly Sources
Some minerals are critically necessary for the body to keep functioning in a wholesome manner. You should consume foods rich in minerals in order for your body to remain healthy and perform its different tasks competently. Luckily, many foods are mineral-dense and vegan-friendly at the same time. Vegetarians and vegans can easily find vegetables and fruits packed with all the essential minerals. These are the most vital minerals along with the green sources in which they copiously exist:
Calcium is an ingredient that is always associated with bones health and also muscles functionality. It is actually stored in bones and teeth. For muscles to move and nerves to carry signals between the brain and any part of your body, you need to get a sufficient amount of calcium every day (which is around 1000 mg for most adults). Now although we always see how dairies are rich in calcium and how they can significantly boost the bones in TV ads, calcium is also abundantly found in plants, including certain leafy vegetables such as okra, broccoli, and cabbage, in addition to other vegan-friendly foods like soybean, lentils, certain nuts (e.g. Brazil nuts and almonds), and certain grains (e.g. teff and amaranth).
Iron is a mineral that is essential in the process of carrying oxygen in the blood to the different body organs and in building up the body and developing it. A lack of iron in the body can lead to iron deficiency anemia, which is accompanied by symptoms such as extreme fatigue, dizziness, and pale skin. Iron deficiency is very common nowadays, so your daily intake of iron should not go below 8 milligrams (for male adults) and 18 milligrams (for female adults). In a plant-based diet, iron can be obtained from blackstrap molasses, pumpkin seeds, sesame, beans, spinach, dried fruits, and tomato paste.
Potassium plays a major role in functioning the nervous system and muscles, and in managing blood pressure levels. It is also important for preserving heart health because it helps the heart pump the blood properly. A vegan can get the potassium his body needs from potatoes, bananas, kidney beans, mushrooms, Swiss chard, watermelon, dried apricots, and avocados. The importance of this mineral in the body cannot be underestimated. If you go low on potassium, you may notice symptoms like weakness and fatigue, and your muscles may start cramping or aching. You could also experience heart palpitations.
Vegan-friendly sources of zinc include legumes (chickpeas, beans, and lentils), nuts (pine nuts, cashews, and walnuts), seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame, and sunflower seeds), whole grains (oats and quinoa), and tofu. The significance of Zinc lies in its ability to enhance the immune system, so it decreases your risks of disease and illness. This mineral also speeds up the wound healing process and may help heal your acne. Running low on zinc may lead to a growth and development impairment in infants and children, hair loss, weight loss, and to having a weakened immune system.
This is one of the essential minerals for the body, and vegans do need to supply their bodies with a sufficient amount of iodine. It improves thyroid function and keeps it healthy. By producing and controlling thyroid hormones, thyroid regulates the body’s metabolic rates and promotes the heart’s health. Its deficiency may result in having a goiter and gaining weight. The patient may become much more sensitive to cold and may feel weak as well. In a veg diet, iodine can be found in dried seaweeds (e.g. nori, wakame, and kombu), iodized salt (you can boil your pasta in iodized salt), prunes, and lima beans.
What Motivates People To Cut Down On All Animal-Based Products?
Statistics say that in 2020, the percentage of people who stopped consuming animal-based products (i.e. both vegans and vegetarians together) in the world was around 8% (78 million). In the United States, although it is hard to know the exact number, but it was reported that around 8% of the American population were vegetarians in 2020. This percentage might not seem like much, but by comparing it with the previous years, we see a gradual increase in the numbers every year. It is clear that veganism and vegetarianism are gaining more acceptance and popularity by time.
In India itself, around 38% of the total population are vegetarians, which makes it the country with the highest percentage of vegetarians in the world. Regardless of the reasons why people in India may choose to switch their diet and become non-meat consumers, vegetarianism there is gradually gaining more appreciation and more Indians are abstaining from animal meat by time.
Now if there are dozens of diets out there to pick one from, then why do some people choose to make such a big change in their eating lifestyle and become vegetarians or vegans? Unlike what some people might think, it is not only the health concerns that encourage people to switch to these diets; there are several factors that push people to start cutting out all animal products and live a green life. Here are the main reasons why people consider going veggie:
Maintaining a Better Health
Being a vegetarian translates to having an improved overall health and gaining some health advantages that a meat consumer cannot have. Avoiding animal-based food and consuming more high-fiber fruits and vegetables means lowering the risks of having heart disease. Animal-based products generally have a bigger amount of fats than plant-based products, so by consuming only green foods, you can lower your intake of fats while still having a filling amount and keep your heart healthy. Fats in animal meat have also been incontrovertibly correlated with other health conditions and issues. Some studies showed that the vegetarian diet can reduce the risks of different types of cancer, like cancers common in females and cancers of the digestive tract organs.
The health benefits do not stop there. Living a veg life reduces the possibility of having type 2 diabetes and helps prevent it in healthy people, especially if the vegetarian eats low-glycemic foods which will help regulate the sugar levels in blood and keep them steady. Moreover, non-meat consumers get to maintain a lower blood pressure than meat consumers. Meats tend to have a higher amount of sodium, fat, and cholesterol, which may negatively affect your blood pressure. Some vegetables and fruits, on the other hand, tend to have good amounts of potassium necessary for easing tension in the walls of your blood vessels, and consequently lowering the blood pressure levels. Similarly, decreasing the consumption of animal products will reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Saying “No” to Animal Cruelty
Long ago, it was possible to see some typical farms where animals could be well-treated and properly taken care of. Nowadays, animal farming has significantly changed. Animals do not get to live a peaceful and a fulfilled life free of suffering but rather a dreary one full of abuse. They are put in tight areas or cages where they cannot move freely and are occasionally given stimulants, antibiotics, and hormones to make their bodies grow faster and to fatten them up. Such cruel farming practices only aim to raise the food industry’s profits without providing the minimum acceptable levels of animal welfare. Then in the end, more animals are slaughtered only to add more variety to our food menus so that we choose which animal’s flesh will please us every day.
Choosing to avoid all animal-derived products and becoming a vegetarian helps lower the needless cruelty practiced on animals, since the animal industry will start shrinking and less animals will be slain. Veganism is thus an ethical movement that strives to ensure the humane treatment of animals and encourages people to show the compassion towards them. Next time you see different meat products on the restaurant menu, keep in mind that having less of these means protecting and sparing more animals.
Pursuing a Sustainable Planet
Did you know that producing one kilogram of beef results in the emission of around 27 kilograms of carbon dioxide? The animal industry is greatly affecting our planet only to provide more food options, which as we have seen, could be perfectly replaced by plant-based counterparts. Producing and processing animal-based foods causes much more greenhouse gases to be released in the air than veggie foods. According to one report studying the effects of replacing animal products with green ones on our planet, emissions caused by the food industry would decrease by 70% by 2050 if we all follow the vegan diet. It is not only the carbon dioxide that concerns us, but the other possibly more dangerous gases that are released as well. Now even though the amount of methane released differs from one type of meat to another, processing any type of meat will still contribute to the destruction of the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer. Beef production itself forms 65% of the total methane emissions from livestock industry. Methane is known for its potent toxic effects on the environment, and is often spoken of in climate change discussions.
The negative environmental consequences we bring about by refusing to eat an animal-less diet are not limited to only harmful factory gases, but extend to include the excessive usage of water and the huge brutal land bulldozing necessary to produce more forage and fodder crops for livestock. Half a kilogram of beef protein could require around 2500 gallons (and might reach 4000 gallons) of water, while the amount could be much lowered if we produce the same amount of protein from legumes. And when more lands are cleared for livestock production, we are more likely to get greater levels of deforestation. Take dairy milk as an example. A study by BBC indicated that for every glass (or 200 ml) of dairy milk, we need seven thousand square foot of land, while it is ten times smaller the land required to produce one glass of oat milk.
If we are ever wishing to conserve our recourses and provide sustainability for our planet, then switching to a veg diet is one of the best shortcuts to doing so.
Healthy Tips to Start Cutting Out Meats and Become a Vegan
When the idea of becoming a vegan first comes to your mind, it could intrigue many questions about how you are going to handle living a life without some of the delicious meaty dishes you are so used to having, and what the steps of starting this plant-based diet are. However, it is not that too hard to get used to veganism as long as you are making sure you are satisfying your daily body needs of protein, vitamins, and minerals. You are obviously going to enrich your body with the right amount of nourishing vegetables and fruits, in addition to a set of healthy vegan supplements that can make up for your body’s daily need of nutrients.
You do not have to start too big; better short but steady steps than long unbalanced ones. Switching to a new diet is not going to be easy at first and this is totally normal. Restrict your meat consumption by removing some meat dishes from your daily diet or assigning meatless days. Set achievable goals that you can accomplish and build on to move forwards.
Also, plan your meals ahead so you know exactly what you are going to pick from the supermarket. This way, you will not find yourself forced to break your diet and end up ordering fast food when you do not have time to think about what to cook. Consider adding variety to your healthy meals and start learning new vegan recipes so you do not get bored of having the same things over and over. If you ever need a snack to satisfy your craving and make you full, have only vegan-friendly ones.