A vegetarian diet is a plant-based diet that includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other plant-based foods that are low in fat.
World Vegetarian Day is observed every year on October 1st. Founded by the American Vegetarian Society in 1977 and accepted by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978, it aims to spread awareness about the benefits of a vegetarian diet and encourage people to become vegetarian.
A vegetarian diet is a plant-based diet that includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other plant-based foods that are low in fat. Experts say that vegetarians do consume less saturated fats and more vitamin C, fibre and some minerals than meat-eaters and generally have better cholesterol levels. However, excess calorie intake even with a vegetarian diet can lead to increased BMI and weight gain.
While a lot of Indians follow a vegetarian diet, studies suggest that most Indians in the rural and urban areas are deficient in proteins. In fact, protein-energy malnutrition is one of the major public health problems in India.
Proteins play an important role in muscle building and are responsible for the synthesis of hormones and enzymes, maintaining acid-base balance and energy production in the body. The recommended daily requirement for protein is about 0.8 grams per kg of body weight.
A deficiency in proteins may lead to wasting of muscle tissues, anaemia and fluid build up in the body. In children, it can cause slow growth.
Here are some sources of protein you can include in your vegetarian diet:
Pulses, including lentils, peas and beans, are a great source of protein for those who do not have meat or dairy. Various pulses have different amounts of protein in them for example 100 grams of chickpeas has about 8.4 grams of protein while the same amount of kidney beans and red lentils have about 6.9 and 7.6 grams of protein, respectively. Apart from proteins, pulses also have iron and fibre. The National Health Service UK suggests having 80 grams of pulses per day as a part of your five daily portions of fruits and vegetables.
Soy and rapeseed
Soy is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids that your body needs. Obtained from the soybean plant, it is considered to be one of the best dietary proteins, next only to animal protein. The best part about soy is that you can take it in the form of tofu, soymilk, soybean oil, soy flour or whole soybean. Apart from being an excellent protein source, soy foods are low in saturated fats and high in fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats. They also contain a good amount of minerals and B vitamins.
A new study conducted at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), Germany, indicates that rapeseed (a seed belonging to the cabbage family) may be an even better plant-protein source than soy. It contains essential amino acids and has comparable effects on heart health and metabolism as soy. However, rapeseed provides more satiety and better insulin response than soy.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are yet another good source of plant-based protein. Most nuts have almost similar macronutrient (protein, carbs and fats) composition but the protein content may vary slightly. For example, while walnuts have about 8-14 grams of protein per 100 grams, the same amount of almonds, cashews and pistachios have over 21 grams, 18 grams and 20 grams of protein, respectively. Similarly, just about a tablespoon of chia seeds or flax seeds can give you about 2 grams of protein. However, both nuts and seeds are high in calories so overeating may lead to weight gain. Instead of binging on just one type, try sprinkling a variety of nuts and seeds on your curries or salads.
For more information, read our article on Vegan diet.
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