Hello hello ! I’ve been wanting to write this article for a veeeeeery long time ; a small nutritional guide that can answer the following 3 questions: What does our body need? In which proportions? And how to avoid nutritional deficiencies?
When I talk about vegetarianism, several people tell me they’d like to try but they’re scared of the difficulty and time needed to think about what to buy and eat.
Firstly, why wait to be vegetarian or vegan to think about your diet? As many omnivores as vegetarians have nutritional deficiencies! And this is mostly due to the fact that vegetarians are generally better informed on their nutritional needs than omnivores, and take necessary precautions.
Finally, is it such a bad thing to take a little time to think about what you eat? At first, when I decided to be vegetarian, doing my groceries was a little more time consuming than before, but mostly because there were so many new products I didn’t know and wanted to try! And then, gradually, I started developing habits like before. Today, I often buy the same things and spend less time grocery shopping than before being vegetarian.
A human needs…
- 2 000 à 2 400 kcal per day for a woman
- 2 500 à 3 000 kcal per day for a man
These values vary according to several factors such as weight, muscular mass and physical activity.
The table below presents certain daily intakes:
|Basic constituants||Percentage of total energetic needs|
|Protein||0.8 – 0.9 g par kg de poids corporel|
|Calcium||1000 – 1200 mg|
|Iron||10 – 15 mg|
|Magnesium||300 – 400 mg|
The reason why animal proteins are so important is because they contain 8 essential amino acids. However, these same 8 amino acids can also be found in plants (they’re even better assimilated by the organism).
Then why is it such a big deal? Well, because most vegetable proteins contain only part of these 8 amino acids. That’s why it’s so important to eat different fruits and vegetables.
However, certain vegetables do have all of these 8 amino acids (in lesser quantities than meat): avocados, bananas, coconuts, hemp and quinoa.
Some of the best vegetable protein sources are:
- seaweed (chlorella, spirulina…);
- shitake mushrooms;
- flax seeds;
- dried beans;
- walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds;
- peas (particularly chick-peas);
- seitan (or wheat gluten);
Soybean is a species of legume native of East Asia. It’s seeds are naturally protein and oil-rich. It can lower cholesterol and provide high quality proteins.
It can also replace a multitude of animal foods like milk and cream. You can even make soy steaks and nuggets (their taste is surprisingly close to meat).
However, the plant also contains a high concentration in isoflavones, which can disturb one’s hormonal balance and be harmful to one’s thyroid. So, be careful not to eat to much.
Lipids are absolutely essential! They contribute to the structure and function of cellular membranes, as well as many other biological functions.
You can find “good” fat in :
- peanut, coconut and sesame oil;
- non-heated camelina, hemp, flax, olive, walnut, hazelnut and almond oil.
Flax and sunflower oil, as well as seeds and almonds are particularly rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential!
IMPORTANT: Trans fats, which can be found in certain margarines or industrial products, are bad for your health. They can increase bad cholesterol, provoke cardiovascular diseases… They’re also present in vegetable oils when heated, except for peanut, sesame and coconut oil. No more cooking with olive or sunflower oil!
As opposed to lipids, carbs are directly used by your body after ingestion. They are the main energetic nutriments for the organism and are essential for the well-functioning of your brain and muscles.
All carbohydrates are composed of glucose, fructose and/or galactose (the 3 smallest units of carbs). Carbs are separated into 2 families: simple carbohydrates (saccharose, maltose, lactose), and complexe carbohydrates (starch, glycogen, inulin, fibres).
Some good sources of carbs are:
- bananas ;
- whole pasta & rice;
Let’s not forget water, at the base of the food pyramid! Here are a few tips to keep yourself hydrated all day:
- drink a glass of tepid water in the morning, just after you wake up;
- always have water next to you;
- drink 1.5 to 2.5 litres of water a day for an adult.
Nutriments you should keep an eye on
When you adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet (or even if you don’t), certain nutriments need more attention then others, such as:
B12 vitamin (the one and only)
- why do we need it: it’s an essential vitamin for DNA as well as cellular growth and division. It’s therefore indispensable! However, it’s not synthesized by the human body and can be found almost only in meat and other animal products
- where to find some: vegans must absolutely find alternative sources of natural B12 vitamin (or cobalamin). You can try tablets (VEG1), drops, or even annual intramuscular injections. You can also find B12 in algues such as spirulina, but in much lesser quantities
Not to worry though, if you’ve recently stopped eating animal products, your body has stocks of B12 vitamin to last at least 3 years!
Sesame seeds are 5 x more concentrated in calcium than milk! You can also find calcium in flax seeds and hazelnuts.
All seaweeds are particularly iodine-rich. However, be vigilant: an excessive consumption of iodine can be harmful to your health! The daily intake in iodine is about 120 to 150 mg/day for an adult, and 70 mg/day for a child.
If you don’t like seaweed, you can also find iodine in broccoli, spinach or chickpeas.
Fatty acids (or omega-3 and -6) are extremely important for your health. The foods that contain the highest concentration in fatty acids are : peanuts, avocados, walnuts, colza and hemp oil, as well as chia seeds.
But the best source of omega -3 and -6 is flax oil: 1 spoon of flax oil (non-heated) contains the entire daily intake in fatty acids!
We talk a lot about proteins, maybe even too much. And sometimes it’s what prevents people from stopping meat altogether…
As mentioned above, you can find vegetable proteins in soy, peanuts, lentils…
Iron intervenes in the production process of red blood cells. An anemia can be caused by an important loss of blood or a “food imbalance” (industrial foods, GMOs, bad intestinal absorption an excessive consumption of coffee, the or antibiotics). The symptoms can be cracks at the corner of the mouth, bad healing, brittle nails and hair, fatigue, headaches…
Sources of Iron are: legumes, cereal, chanterelle, certain herbs, sesame and pumpkin seeds, quinoa…
Furthermore, it’s recommended to eat at least one starchy food and one legume per day (I still have some work to do here :p).
Finally, if you eat a little of “everything”, cook mostly unrefined products, and avoid industrial/transformed foods as much as possible, you probably have nothing to worry about 🙂
For your information, I did most of my research for this article in a little book called “Guide Nutritionnel Vegan” from Sonja Reifenhäuser.