Most people are not very familiar with the fact that the whole food spectrum contains proteins as well as carbohydrates and fats, and not just one of them. Animal products have in their structure proteins and fats. Some plants are a sum of carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. It is true that some chemical compounds are more present than others. Still, no food contains just one type of compounds. Maybe we would not be so inclined to put labels where they do not belong anymore if we had more information on the subject.
People are not usually interested in what one eats until he or she decides to follow a vegetarian diet. Everyone is suddenly concerned about the individual’s protein intake once the news is spread. It is ignorant to assume that only meat contains proteins because the mass-media promotes it as the primary protein source. There is a billion-dollar industry based on meat consumption. This should make one wonder why there is not such an aggressive fruit and vegetable advertising as well. Animal products are regarded as good protein sources. Their abundance on the market makes the fact even more believable. Even so, they also contain saturated fats. Red meat, cheese and eggs can raise the cholesterol levels if consumed often. Fortunately there are healthier alternatives. It should not be a surprise that vegetarianism and veganism gain followers, given that many plants are packed with proteins.
Nutritionists and consumers associate meat, with its proteins, saturated and unsaturated fats and cholesterol with a negative image. Various research projects have reached the conclusion that meat consumption can lead to diabetes, colon cancer or liver diseases. Even so, no one seems willing to reduce the meat intake. Disregarding its life-threaten status would mean making a conscious choice to invite illness in our bodies. It is no wonder that children are struggling with weight gain and diabetes, given the abundance of fast food chains. Unfortunately, some of them continue with this unhealthy lifestyle even after becoming independent adults. A modification in the diet is the key to a healthy body. A replacement of animal products with fruits and vegetables even for a few weeks can lower the cholesterol levels, positively influence the digestion and produce notable changes in one’s mood. American and European studies have shown the impact a vegetarian diet had against obesity and diabetes. Their results indicated that high processed meat intakes were associated with the occurrence of type II diabetes; the risk was lower in vegetarians and the lowest in vegans.
The following are the most popular vegetarian and vegan protein sources. It is important to make an appointment and, together with a nutritionist, establish a dietary plan by one’s body type. Fruits and vegetables should be eaten in moderation, in spite of being healthier alternatives to meat and dairy. Specialists in medicine and nutrition state that a balanced diet includes meat, dairy and eggs in addition to fruits and vegetables.
Not only are beans rich in nutrients, proteins and antioxidants, they also contain prebiotics. These tiny chemicals are of real value for the intestinal flora as they help the gas elimination and beneficial bacteria growth. They also include fibers which take longer to be broken down by the stomach’s enzymes. This allows for a gradual energy release so that people feel fuller for longer. Except for the occasional bloating sensation, beans are full of benefits. They are useful in combination to nearly any vegetable, are cheap and can be found at the market in any season. Common types include kidney beans, black and green beans and dry beans.
One cup of green peas contains as much protein as a cup of milk(about 8 grams) and almost 100% of the daily vitamin C intake. Just like in the case of beans, they contain fibers. What is particularly interesting about green peas is that they provide a particular polyphenol type called coumestrol. Polyphenols are chemical substances with high antioxidant properties. Introducing foods containing polyphenols in the diet is beneficial against the danger of oxidative stress. Coumestrol, the green peas’ polyphenol, is currently regarded as a strong stomach cancer combatant. It is also found in soy sprouts, pinto beans and alfalfa sprouts. Various American health organizations recommend green peas consumption as part of a healthy diet. They can be included in raw salads, combined with other vegetables as a side dish or prepared as soups.
Chickpeas are another type of peas that have gained quite a lot of popularity. They are packed with proteins, minerals, and extremely versatile in the kitchen. 100 grams of chickpeas contain 19 grams of proteins. That is more than 30% of the recommended daily protein intake. They are rich in manganese, which benefits the skin and bones, and folates, a water-soluble vitamin B ideal for tissue growth. Chickpeas are also low in calories and can be cooked in plenty of ways. More famous in southern Asia, especially India where 30% of the population is vegetarian, chickpeas have started to be appreciated by westerners as well for their nutritional value and taste.
Soybeans and soy-based products
Soy is another plant rich in proteins. Soybeans are consumed by vegetarians and vegans but also by meat eaters because it contains all nine essential amino acid the body cannot produce by itself. Appreciated for its various uses, it is the basis for products such as soy milk, tempeh or tofu. The plant remains a controversial one, in spite of what its supporters claim. Given that some varieties are genetically modified, a diet rich in soy products may not be the most appropriate one. Some nutritionists direct their patients towards healthier choices. Soybeans contain large isoflavone amounts. Isoflavones are chemical compounds similar in structure with the human estrogen. A study on the subject of soy’s isoflavones and their impact on breast cancer pointed towards soy’s possible role in reducing the disease’s risk of occurrence. Most research is to be done in regards to the study’s accuracy. Critics claim that a soy product excess can lead to serious health issues. Aside from isoflavones, the plant contains phytates and enzyme inhibitors. Both elements either impede or block mineral and protein absorption. Opinions on the use of soy in a vegetarian diet are diverse and often contradictory. Soybeans are as nourishing as any other plant-based food if eaten in moderation.
Chia seeds are an easy and funny way of adding protein to the diet. Aside from containing iron and zinc, chia is the plant with the highest omega three fatty acid levels. Chia seeds are a good choice when one wants to replace fish with a vegetarian product. When soaked in liquids, they form a gelatinous outer layer. They can be sprinkled over salads, mixed with yogurt or turned into desserts.
Sesame, pumpkin, sunflower and poppy seeds
These seed varieties are both more commonly known and used than chia seeds. They may not be as nutritious, but represent great iron, magnesium and healthy fat sources. People should not disregard their efficacy just because they are not as exotic as chia seeds. There is a reason why medicine people have been using them for millennia to cure various diseases. Try mixing them in salads or integrate them in desserts.
Broccoli and asparagus
Both vegetables contain around 4 grams of proteins per cup, fibers and vitamin B analogs. Many vegetarian diet critics oppose this lifestyle because of a noticeable absence of foods rich in vitamin B. while not packed with it, broccoli and asparagus do contribute to the daily dose of nutrients, including vitamin B.
Seitan, made from wheat’s main protein-gluten, is another alternative to both meat and soy-based products. Chinese and Japanese people use it as a substitute for meat because its chewy, flavored texture resembles that of poultry. People with gluten sensitivity should avoid consuming seitan. There is a broad range of vegetables rich in proteins from which they can pick.
Spirulina is another popular super food. This blue-green alga is one of the first life forms on Earth. In millions of years of existence, it is understandable how it gained so many vitamins and minerals. If tomorrow the whole food spectrum were to be extinct and only spirulina and water remained, they would have been enough for the human species to survive. Spirulina contains only 8 of the nine essential amino acids, but is richer in proteins than most foods, red meat and poultry included. It contains Omega fatty acids, vitamin B 12 analogs and other substances with antioxidant properties. Spirulina is sold in drug stores either as powder or pills.
Other vegetarian foods containing proteins are hemp seeds, quinoa(the only plant, except for soy, that contains all nine essential amino acids), yellow corn, potatoes, spinach, oats, rice and couscous.
7. Michalak, Johannes, Xiao Chi Zhang, and Frank Jacobi. “Vegetarian Diet and Mental Disorders: Results from a Representative Community Survey.” The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 9 (2012): 67.PMC. Web. 1 Sept. 2016.