Commonly asked questions by the curious aspiring vegetarian!
I have noticed in our clinic a very steady and constant rise in the number of people wanting to reduce the amount of animal protein in their diet. Most people are unsure of the health benefits, even questioning if there are any benefits at all, asking if they will be malnourished and apart from the animal ethics, if there are really any health benefits at all going vegetarian. My word there are!
Many are fearful of ending up with deficiencies if they give up animal flesh, and a lot of people are often not able to make the changes they would like, simply due to a lack of knowledge. But i am here to tell you, as with anything when it is new, yes it will be a little time consuming developing this new understanding an awareness of what to eat and what you can combine- but it will also be fun! There is an array of foods out there in “vego land” you are yet to even discover. It will mean new foods to try, new restaurants, new flavours and new understanding. Once you start to talk to fellow herbivores and become aware of the benefits to the environment you will be actively contributing to, along with your renewed feeling of extra energy, then the transformation from flesh chewing omnivore to spritely crunchy herbivore will be welcome.
Its ok float in and out of vegetarianism, we have a name for that too- Flexitarian- of course! A lot of people are flexitarian without even knowing it. If you can have just 2 meat free days a week you will be doing yourself and this glorious globe we call Earth irrefutable benefits.
At the rate the human population is increasing, it is already a well know fact that sustainability of the current demands on our animal kingdom cannot continue. We simply cannot breed animals fast enough to keep up with our increasing human population and appetite for them. Thankfully- with this steady increase in the population, there is also a steady increase in consciousness and an awareness – respect, if you will, for the life of these living breathing and feeling creatures.
Q: Will i become iron deficient if i give up red meat? No. There are two types of iron- Heme and non heme.
Heme Iron comes from red meat the most, however white meat, included fish such as salmon also contain heme iron.
Non Heme Comes from predominantly plant sources, nuts, beans lentils etc. Yes, it is easier for the body to absorb heme Iron from red meat, the absorption rate of heme iron being almost twice as much as non heme, but that is no problem, it just requires a vegetarian be aware of their diet, being mindful of obtaining enough iron contain foods
Q: I have been told vegetarian sources of Iron are not absorbed into the body.
Not true. There are factors known to inhibit non heme iron absorption, but you will still absorb a good percentage. This is where you need to be aware of the reduced absorption rate and compensate in a healthy manner.
Q: What will inhibit me absorbing iron?
Found in nuts seeds bean legumes and grains. This is also why we recommend you always soak your nuts seeds beans legumes and grains prior to eating and cooking. You can read more on the health benefits of soaking your legumes nuts and seeds easily on the net.
Predominantly found in leafy greens within the Amaranthaceae family. Poor old spinach gets a beating for its high oxalic acid content, however there are many other vegetables and foods containing high oxalic acid, the list is quite extensive. Nuts and seeds for example, however soaking them will alleviate this problem. Tea and coffee also contain oxalic acid and will reduce iron absorption. Just be sure to have variety of different vegetables in your diet.
A mineral that will always inhibit absorption- just be aware and try not to combine the two minerals of Iron and Calcium to much with meals. In fact- try to combine iron absorbing minerals.
Q: What will increase absorption of Iron?
Simply starting your meal with a chunk of Pineapple, vitamin c containing pineapple will increase absorption- a commonly found fruit in the fridge during the summer months. The digestive enzymes found in pineapple will also help digest your food.
Capsicum, citrus, berries, tomatoes and peas are all high in Vitamin C.
Q: Will i get Iron overload by cooking with an Iron Skillet?
No- in fact using a heavy old skillet is a great idea. Combined with cooking Vitamin C rich foods in your skillet and you onto a winner.
Q: What are the most common deficiencies i should look out for when going vegetarian or vegan?
You want to be sure you are still getting your complete amino acid profile of proteins now you are not getting what is termed you “1st class” protein from meat.
Vegetarian sources of complete proteins are foods such as: Quinoa, Chia, Buckwheat, spirulina and hemp seed. You can always combine your proteins to make up a complete protein, such as- combining rice and beans.
Be mindful of Calories- simply getting enough calories can be challenging for some in the early stages of becoming vegetarian.
Omega 3 fat of EPA &DHA. Found in fish sources. Your body is able to slowly make EPA & DHA from ALA found in vegetarian foods such as flaxseed, chia seed, hemp seeds, seaweed, eggs and spirulina however the conversion from ALA over to DHA & EPA is slow. It is hard to pick one nutrient off this list I am giving you and to name it as most important to watch, being careful to obtain more than enough into your diet, however lots of ALA for adequate conversion is one that I would consider.
Vitamin B12– Found in fish and crustaceans and dairy foods. If you are going Lacto- Ovo vegetarian, where you continue to eat eggs and diary, then you are fine. However, if you are thinking of going vegan, In that case you must pay careful attention to Vitamin B12- id recommend supplementing. Speak to your health care practitioner about this one as B Vitamins are often best taken in combination.
Calcium – found in legumes leafy greens & sesame seeds (Tahini). Parsley is super high in calcium. And good old Chia seeds- in my opinion, a staple in the panty. If you weighed equal mass of Chia seeds to volume of milk- Chia seed have more calcium than milk!
Zinc– Seeds seeds seeds. Pumpkin and sesame are high sources. Tahini- made of sesame seed will become another common feature in your vegetarian pantry.
When making any new changes to your diet, especially when considering the total elimination of a particular food, it is strongly recommended you pop in to see a health care professional- a Nutritionist or Naturopath can give you the correct foundations to being your new health kick- or perhaps long term life style! And dont forget- there is always flexitarian!