The old arguments that getting an adequate healthy diet without milk eggs and meat have all but evaporated into thin air. We still occasionally hear that one needs to have a good steak to be strong and healthy. But that now is just a hollow echo of days gone by. We still hear however, talk about “everybody needs milk” not in advertisements but sometimes from your doctor when he is talking to a post-menopausal woman about osteoporosis. So the jingle has changed from “everybody needs milk” to “everybody over 50 needs milk – especially women.” Give us a break health educators of America! Milk is made for a specific purpose – to feed growing babies. An infant’s weight would almost double by 5 months and expected to increase three times by the age of 1 year. And that should be mother’s milk, not cow’s milk! How is it that women, and men too, put themselves in an infant class, by drinking milk to maintain bone strength and prevent bone loss? Is that logical? Do we need to revert to something necessary for quick infant growth just because we have reached 50 years old?
Well then if we eliminate animal foods from our diet, how can we get adequate nutrition? How can we get enough calcium, protein, iron, omega 3 fatty acids without milk eggs cheese, fish, and meat? Let’s start by talking about protein.
How much protein do we need? The RDA (recommended daily allowance) is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight (or about 0.36 grams of protein per pound that we weigh). This recommendation includes a generous safety factor for most people. For example, a 75 kilogram, (165 pound) man would need about 60 grams of protein per day. If that person had one bagel, with 2 Tbs of peanut butter and one cup of oatmeal with a cup of soymilk for breakfast he would have 30 grams of protein right there. Then let’s say for lunch he had one cup of vegetarian baked beans, 5 ounces of tofu, one cup of broccoli, and 2 Tbs of almonds equaling about 31 grams of protein. Look! In just two meals he would get 61 grams of protein – from plant sources. Here are the facts: One cup of vegetarian baked beans has 12 grams of protein. Soybeans are a complete protein! Â½ cup of soybeans contains more protein than two large eggs. Corn and black beans together make a complete protein and can supply adequate amounts. Quinoa is also rich in essential amino acids, and is considered a complete protein. Â¼ cup of almonds contains more protein than an ounce of steak, and more than a large egg. Why worry about getting enough protein if you eat using nuts, beans and legumes?
How about getting enough calcium? Vegetarian plant sources of calcium can provide substantial levels of calcium with just a fraction of the calories of dairy products. For example, 1/4 cup of whole sesame seeds contains 351 mg of calcium, yet has only 206 calories. Four ounces of tofu (calcium-curded) provide almost 400 mg of calcium with only 86 calories. How about mixing a few tablespoons of sesame seeds in your cereal, on your salad, or buy it in a health sesame candy bar? Tofu properly seasoned is good with most any lunch or supper entrees. It also makes a good scrambled egg replacer. The greens are very high in calcium especially spinach, chard, kale and collards! A cup of cooked collard greens contains 351 mg of calcium. If all else fails 2 Tbs of blackstrap molasses contains a whopping 400 mg of calcium. The calcium RDA for a post menopausal woman is now 1200 mg. It could easily be obtained by adding a few of these powerhouses to your diet! The animal protein that comes with calcium in milk and cheese may offset or even cause a depletion of calcium in the body, by leaching the bones. Also the calcium in dairy products is not as easily absorbed by the body as plant sources; we say they are less bioavailable!
It has been wrongly thought that if a person did not get meat sources of iron, which is a component of red bloods in meat called “heme iron,” that they would be iron deficient, thus setting one up for iron deficiency. However, it was found in a study in the UK that individuals who followed a vegetarian/vegan diet had actually higher levels of iron than non-vegetarians. A 3.0 oz serving of chuck lean beef has about the same amount of iron as a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses. As highly touted as liver is for iron, please note that 2 Â¼ Tbs of blackstrap molasses has as much iron as 3.0 ounces of beef liver. And look at the iron content of soybeans. A cup of soybeans has 8.8 mg of iron – more than a serving of liver or beef. Why would anyone want to eat liver as this organ collects toxins for detoxifying them. For an iron boost, try eating tofu, lentils, spinach, soybeans, chickpeas and humus. If you eat soybeans you are getting your complete protein as well.
As far as B12 goes taking a daily supplement might not be a bad idea for those following a plant based diet. Since one only needs about 3 mcg per day, any small amount will be sufficient. This might be a good idea since it is found primarily in animal foods.
So in summary a wide variety of foods for those who are eating a vegetarian plant based diet will be sufficient to supply all their needs, with the exception of perhaps taking some vitamin B-12. Seeds, are important such as pepitas, sunflower, and sesame for mineral content, as well as protein. Also certain nuts are great too, such as Brazil nuts for selenium. One must be sure to get almonds, cashews, pecans, and walnuts for the omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and protein. With their high content of polyunsaturated fats, of both the omega 3 and 6 variety and their low lysine/arginine ratio they are especially good for the heart. Fruits, grains, nuts and vegetables will provide all the nutrition needed to sustain a healthy life. Also, if one is not getting enough sunshine, vitamin D supplementation is a great idea.