Balancing your diet

This blog post is directed towards people who believe that eating a vegetarian diet has to be boring. I will be pointing out sources of food to include in your diet to give a balanced nutritional diet, meat, fish and poultry can still be added but should be consumed in moderation.

Avoid: Simple Carbs

Simple carbs are simple sugars with a chemical structure that is composed of one or two sugars. They are refined sugars that have very little nutritional value to the body, and therefore, it’s advisable that their consumption be limited to small quantities. In comparison to complex carbs, simple carbs are digested by the body more quickly, because they have a very simple chemical structure.

There are two types of simple carbs: monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides consist of only one sugar, and examples include fructose, galactose and glucose. Disaccharides consist of two chemically-linked monosaccharides, and they come in the form of lactose, maltose and sucrose.

Foods that contain simple carbs include table sugar, products with white flour, honey, milk, yoghurt, candy, chocolate, fruit, fruit juice, cake, jam, biscuits, molasses, soda and packaged cereals. Despite the fact that simple carbs do not contain enough essential nutrients, some foodstuffs such as fruits & milk are still good for you.

Incorporate: Complex Carbs

Complex carbs consist of a chemical structure that is made up of three or more sugars, which are usually linked together to form a chain. These sugars are mostly rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Due to their complexity, they take a little longer to digest, and they don’t raise the sugar levels in the blood as quickly as simple carbs. Complex carbs act as the body’s fuel, and they contribute significantly to energy production.

Similar to simple carbs, complex carbs are divided into two categories: oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. Oligosaccharides consist of a small number of monosaccharides, which does not exceed 10. They are important in the absorption of certain minerals and the formation of fatty acids. Polysaccharides are often made up of a large number of monosaccharides and disaccharides. Examples of polysaccharides include cellulose, dextrin, glycogen and starch.

Complex carbs are commonly found in vegetables, whole-meal bread and cereals. Examples of foods that contain complex carbs include spinach, yams, broccoli, beans, zucchini, lentils, skimmed milk, whole grains and many other leguminous plants and vegetables.

Complex carbs have a higher nutritional value than simple carbs. It may be confusing to differentiate simple and complex carbs due to the fact that complex ones contain certain elements of simple ones. Nevertheless, differentiating the two should not be a problem since their chemical structures are very different, and therefore, they can be distinguished by their nutritional properties. The consumption of simple carbs is not recommended, especially for diabetics.

Carbohydrates

The critical importance of complex carbs in a good diet cannot be overstated, Carbs are vital for energy ( duh ). They occur in the form of starches and sugars from grains and their products – flour, bread and pasta; in potatoes, pulses and to a lesser degree nuts; and in fruits and sugars.

The fibre component of carbohydrate foods is a bonus, and the less processing the food has undergone the more of it there will be.  The presense of fibre in complex carbs allows energy from sugars to be used by the body at an even rate, whereas refined sugars hit the bloodstream rapidly and are quickly used, leaving energy levels depleted. This is why yoy may feel elated and then lethargic in quick succession after eating sugary foods. Complex carbs, with their sustained release of energy, provide more stamina.

Foods Rich in Complex Carbohydrates (Examples)

  • Breads ( non white flour )
  • Potatoes
  • Rices ( white rice is the least complex, as the rice is bleached and loses nutritional value )
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Corn
  • Buckwheat
  • Rye
  • Dried beans
  • Oats
  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney & Lima beans
  • Lentils
  • Bananas
  • Pasta

Of course they are more as these are just examples… Once you understand the concept of what makes up a complex carb, they should be easier to identify.

Fibre

Fibre includes the cellulose and gums in fruit and vegetables. Animal products do not contain any fibre at all – there is none in dairy foods, fish, poultry or meat, despite their chewy texture. Among other things, fibre acts as a broom in the bowel by moving food along at such a rate that the potential for problems is minimized. It prevents constipation and lowers the risk of bowel cancer and other intestinal malfunctions. Because different types of dietary fibre have different functions, again it is important to vary the diet as much as possible.

Unprocessed Bran contains large amount of phytic acid, which inhibits the uptake of iron. This is a major concern to those non meat eaters, so do not over do it.

Foods Rich in Fibre (Examples)

  • Dried beans and peas
  • Breads ( wholewheat. whole grain + wholewheat, avoid white flour and enriched flour )
  • Fresh green beans and peas
  • Cabbages
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes ( especially in their jackets )
  • Spinach
  • Corn
  • Rolled Oats
  • Nuts ( Hazelnuts, Peanuts, Pine nuts, Almonds )
  • Hulled Hemp seeds
  • Cereals such as Oats and Wheat ( if wholegrain – germ and husk included )
  • Products made from Whole Grains ( e.g. wholewheat bread )
  • Dried fruits
  • Fresh fruit ( especially apples, bananas and oranges. It is important to eat the whole fruit and not just drink the juice. )

A Note About Sugar

Excessive amount of sugar in the diet interfere with the body’s ability to metabolise fat. If you eats lots of sugar, the fat you eat will be stored more readily as a body fat instead of being burned off with physical activity. Like all good things, sugar is fine in moderation. Cane sugar, however, is valueless in terms of vitamins and minerals. A sweet tooth can always indulge itself in the many delicious fruits available in season: their sugar content comes accompanied by fibre and other nutrients. Fruits are also more filling than other forms of sweet foods so their is less danger of overeating.

READ labels. When you are at the supermarket, take the time to read the labels. You’ll be surprised at how much salt, sugar, oil and additives some foods contain. For example, you might think that all brands of ketchup are the same, but some contains cheap sugar replacements such as HFCS ( high fructose corn syrup ) while others do not.

Protein

Protein is essential for cell growth, tissue repair and reproduction, and to manufacture the substances that protect against infection. The truth is that most people in Western Societies eat far more protein than they need ( unless one is bodybuilding this is the exception ), and if there is too much protein in the diet, it is converted to body fat. Deriving protein from vegetable sources has a distinct advantage: the high fibre content of food like legumes and grains puts the brake on overeating.

Food Combining and “Complete” Protein

Protein is made up for 23 different amino acids, substances that combine to make what is termed a “complete” protein. Digestion breaks down complex proteins from food into these simpler units so they can be used by the body to build up proteins of its own. Complete protein is what is needed by the human body.

The body can make most of them itself if the diet is adequate, however, eight essential amino acids can’t be made by the body and can only be obtained directly from food. Protein from animal sources- meat, fish, poultry and dairy products ( milk, cheese, yoghurt ) provides all the essential amino acids and is therefore termed “complete”.  Although cheese and eggs are complete proteins, overloading on these sources of protein will introduce too much fat into the diet.

Food combining comes into play here, for example combining a pulse and a grain e.g. rice and beans , as the body marries these two foods which aren’t complete on their own to form complete proteins. These foods don’t even have to be eaten at the same time- within a few hours of each other will do. In most societies, ways of combining complementary proteins have evolved in the indigenous diet. Think of dhal and rice, beans and corn, hummus and pitta bread- all are combinations of a pulse and a grain. Other combinations include:

  • Peanut butter sandwiches on wholemeal/grain bread
  • Baked beans on wholemeal toast
  • Split pea soup and a Bread roll
  • Brown rice and Chickpeas
  • Rice and Tofu
  • Lentil patty on a bun
  • Pasta and Cheese
  • Beans and vegetables
  • Vegetable pies: Potato, Spinach

Non- Animal Sources High in Protein (Examples)

  • Tofu
  • Soya Bean Products
  • Wheatgerm
  • Oatmeal
  • Hemp
  • Moringa
  • Nuts and Seeds ( Pumpkin, Squash & Watermelon seeds, Peanuts, Almonds, Sunflower seeds, Flax seeds, Pistachios )

Vitamins & Minerals

Non meat eaters miss out on some essential nutrients easily because of the absence of meat. Vegetarians can still obtain these from dairy foods and eggs which will generally ensure enough protein, riboflavin, calcium, iron, and other vitamins & minerals. Obviously this wouldn’t apply to vegans. Taking vitamin and mineral supplements is a waste of time if your diet is inadequate as they are unable to used effectively by the body in the absence of the right kinds of foods.

The body needs vitamins from the B group to metabolise food and to allow proper functioning of the nervous system. These come from wholegrain foods, nuts & seeds, peas, beans, leafy green vegetables, potatoes, fruits, avocados and yeast extract.

Vitamin B12 – or Cobalamin, is the largest and most complex vitamin currently known to man. A slight deficiency of vitamin B-12 can lead to anemia, fatigue, mania, and depression, while a long term deficiency can cause permanent damage to the brain and central nervous system. Vitamin B12 can only be manufactured by bacteria and can only be found naturally in animal products, however, synthetic forms are widely available and added to many foods like cereals. Vitamin B12 can be consumed in large doses because excess is excreted by the body or stored in the liver for use when supplies are scarce. Stores of B12 can last for up to a year.

Examples of foods with high content of B12:

  • Dairy Foods
  • Eggs
  • Yeast Extract
  • Seaweeds
  • Fortified Soy Products
  • Fish ( Mackerel, Salmon, Herring, Tuna, Sardines )
  • Crustaceans ( Crab, Crayfish, Shrimp & Lobster )
  • Fortified Cereals ( All Bran )
  • Red Meat ( Beef, Lamb )

Vitamin B1 – Thiamin, or Thiamine, is an essential nutrient required by the body for maintaining cellular function and consequently a wide array of organ functions. Deficiency of vitamin B1 leads to wholesale degeneration of the body, particularly the nervous and circulatory systems, and eventually death. Further, deficiency of vitamin B1 can lead to development of beriberi and/or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Symptoms of both include severe fatigue, and degeneration of cardiovascular, nervous, muscular, and gastrointestinal systems. Over-consumption of vitamin B1 is unknown and studies show that amounts taken well in excess of the DV can actually enhance brain functioning. The current percent daily value for vitamin B1 is 1.4mg.

Examples of foods with high content of B1:
  • Yeast Extract
  • Sesame Butter (Tahini) and Seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Dried Herbs and Spices ( Sage, Paprika, Rosemary, Thyme
  • Nuts ( Pine, Pistachios, Macadamia, Pecans )

Vitamin B2 – or Riboflavin, is an essential vitamin required for proper energy metabolism and a wide variety of cellular processes. A deficiency of riboflavin can lead to cracking and reddening of the lips, inflammation of the mouth, mouth ulcers, soar throat, and even iron deficiency anemia. Riboflavin, Vitamin B2, is a water soluble vitamin that is well regulated by the body, thus overdose is rare, and usually only occurs during vitamin B2 injection. The current DV for Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) is 1.7mg.

Examples of foods with high content of B2:
  • Yeast Extract
  • Cheese ( Roquefort, Brie, Limburger, Caraway, Blue, Goat, Romano, Swiss )
  • Fish ( Mackerel, Atlantic Salmon, Trout )
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sun dried Tomatoes
  • Wheat Bran
  • Almonds
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Soya Beans

VItamin B3 – or Niacin, is an essential vitamin required for processing fat in the body, lowering cholesterol levels, and regulating blood sugar levels. A deficiency of niacin leads to pellagra, a condition characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, inflammation of the mouth, amnesia, delirium, and if left untreated, death. Even a slight deficiency of niacin can lead to irritability, poor concentration, anxiety, fatigue, restlessness, apathy, and depression. Niacin, Vitamin B3, is a water soluble vitamin that is well regulated by the body, thus overdose is rare, and only occurs when niacin is taken in the form of supplements. An overdose of niacin is seen in the form of skin rashes, dry skin, various digestive maladies. A long term overdose can lead to liver damage, elevated blood sugar levels and type II diabetes, as well as increased risk of birth defects. The current DV for Niacin (Vitamin B3) is 20mg.

Examples of foods with high content of B3:
  • Yeast Extract
  • Bran ( Rice & Wheat )
  • Fish (Anchovies, Tuna, Swordfish)
  • Paprika
  • Peanuts
  • Sun dried Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Sesame & Sunflower seeds
Vitamin B5 – or Pantothenic Acid, is an essential vitamin required by the body for cellular processes and optimal maintenance of fat. A deficiency of vitamin B5 is rare, however, when it does occur is usually seen in the form of irritability, fatigue, apathy, numbness, paresthesia, and muscle cramps. It can also lead to increased sensitivity to insulin, or hypoglycemia. Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin B5, is a water soluble vitamin that is well regulated by the body, thus overdose is rare, and may only be noticed in the form of slight digestive complaints or diarrhea. The current DV for Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) is 10mg.
Examples of foods with high content of B5:
  • Bran ( Rice & Wheat )
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Whey Powder
  • Mushrooms
  • Caviar
  • Fish
  • Avocados
Vitamin B-6 – (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine) is a water soluble vitamin necessary for the proper maintenance of red blood cell metabolism, the nervous system, the immune system, and many other bodily functions. Over time, a deficiency in vitamin B-6 can lead to skin inflammation (dermatitis) depression, confusion, convulsions, and even anemia. Recent studies also suggest that a diet low in vitamin B6 increases risk of heart attack. Conversely, too much vitamin B6 taken from supplements can lead to nerve damage in the arms and legs. The DV for vitamin B6 is 2mg per day.

Examples of foods with high content of B6:

  • Bran (Rice and Wheat)
  • Chili Powder
  • Pistachios
  • Garlic ( Raw )
  • Fish ( Tuna, Salmon, and Cod )
  • Molasses and Sorghum Syrup
  • Hazelnuts Or Filberts

For a complete list of vitamins and minerals and top sources see here.

Kinds of Fat

Saturated fats – these solidify at room temperature. Most animal fats are saturated. Some examples are lard, butter and dripping. Saturated fats are thought to raise the level of the harmful type of cholesterol in the blood and lower the amount of the beneficial type.

Polyunsaturated fats – these include vegetable oils safflower, sunflower, corn and soya bean oil. These lower the overall amount of cholesterol in the blood. Large quantities of polyunsaturated fats can also oxidise to form free radicals in the blood. These are responsible for tissue damage and contribute to the formation of plaque on the artery walls. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables reduces this effect as these foods contain antioxidants.

Monounsaturated fats – these kinds of fats reduce the levels of bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol in the blood which protects against heart disease. Large amounts of monounsaturated fats occur in olive and canola oils.

“Hero Foods”

Some foods have been called the heroes of a vegetarian diet because they are rich sources of certain essential nutrients which meat eaters obtain in abundance. Including these in your diet will help to ensure there are not any deficiency problems.

  • Lentils – contains fibre, protein, complex carbohydrates, B Vitamins, potassium, magnesium and zinc.
  • Soya Beans – they have the best quality protein of all pulses, some B Vitamins, polyunsaturated fat and fibre.
  • Rolled Oats – contains protein, thiamin, niacin, iron, fibre and carbs.
  • Eggs – iron, phosphorus, vitamins B12, A & D and protein.
  • Wheat Bran – excellent source of soluble fibre, iron, thiamine and niacin.
  • Milk, Yoghurt & Cheese – provides calcium, phosphorus, protein, and vitamin A. Milk and Yoghurt retain the B vitamins which are removed during the processing of cheese.
  • Spinach – contains fibre and most of the vitamins and minerals normally found in meats.
  • Yeast Extract – concentrated source of B vitamins.

The point of this long post is to inform you of all the unprocessed foods that supply vitamins and nutrients; while using these foods can moderate the intake of meats and create a balanced diet to keep as much impurities out of the body as possible.

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