Vegetarian. To be or not to be…

The role of Protein in the body:

The word Protein comes from the Greek word “Proteos” (Πρωταρχικος- Προτερος), meaning “The first one”, “The most important one”. There you have it.

Protein is in fact the body’s most important block. It is made from many combinations of Amino Acid blocks. All of our organs are built from proteins, such as the skin, the muscles, the hair etc. Many hormones are proteins and the immune system, the digestive system and blood rely on proteins in order to work normally.

Amino Acids.

Amino acids are the building blocks of Protein. The body needs about 21 amino acids in order to function properly and therefore they are called “Essential amino acids”. 12 out of the 21 amino acids are synthesized by the body’s biological mechanism but 9 of them cannot be synthesized by the body. These 9 amino acids are: Tryptophan, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Valine and Histidine.

These essential amino acids can only be obtained through food. Food sources that contain all of these 9 essential amino acids in one, are called “Complete Protein” or “High quality Protein” foods.

These foods are predominantly animal proteins, including red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy.

Some variations of Vegetarians:

Vegetarians (or Lacto-Ovo vegetarians): Are those that do not eat meat, poultry or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy products.

Pescatarian (or Pescetarian) : Maintain a vegetarian diet -no meat, no poultry, with the exception of fish or other sea foods such as shrimps, lobster etc.

Pollotarian (Pollovegetarian): Is someone that will not eat read meat or fish but will eat Poultry, such as chicken or turkey.

Vegans: Do not eat meat, poultry, seafood and fish or any products derived from animals, including eggs, milk, honey etc

Raw Vegan / Raw food diet: A raw vegan diet consists of raw foods that have not been heated above 46 degrees Celsius. Raw foodists believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost a significant amount of their nutritional value and are harmful for the body.

How Vegetarians do it?

Incomplete Protein sources:

Incomplete proteins are the proteins that do not contain all 9 essential amino acids, but they might contain 5 or 6 or even 8 (soy), so they must be combined or supplemented with other proteins. Incomplete Protein sources include:

– Nuts

– Legumes

– Grains

– Vegetables

Combine two or more incomplete proteins and you have a complete protein. For example: Rice and beans, spinach with almonds.

Plant Proteins Vs Animal Proteins:

Humans are omnivores. The human body has been designed in such a way that can have a diet composed of both plants and animal materials. In other words, our body is prepared and well able to consume and digest meat.

Animal proteins are more similar to our proteins, thus the bioavailability (absorption by the gut) is more readily and rapidly than plant proteins, meaning that the amino acids derived from animal based proteins are more readily available for our own protein synthesizing reactions which allows them to operate at full tilt.

Vegetarian diets often include large amounts of cereal grains and legumes, both of which are low in bioavailable nutrients (the nutrients don’t get easily absorbed).

Vegan diets on the other hand, are almost completely devoid of certain nutrients that are crucial for physiological function. Many studies have shown vegetarians and especially vegans to be deficient in B12, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, long-chain fatty acids EPA & DHA and fat soluble vitamins such as A &D.

My position.

As a Dietitian, I believe that complete prοteins are the A and the Ω of a healthy body.

Do I believe that non-vegetarians are better than Vegetarians? No. However, I do believe that people who have made a choice to exclude any kind of animal protein should be aware of the potential dangers. Being a vegetarian is fine as long as there is wisdom and responsibility. Supplementing with vitamins and minerals could be a good idea in order to avoid any deficiencies.

What I do not accept is when food becomes a religion.

Giovanna De Angelis Terzaki

The Carbohydrate cycle

Carbohydrates are- in simple terms- sugars and starches. They are absorbed from the digestive tract reasonably quickly, which is the reason why we get a rapid energy boost from a bar of chocolate, pastry etc. A hormone called Insulin is released, which then starts to lower the blood sugar level very quickly . When the sugar level in our blood goes down rapidly, we often feel weak, agitated or lethargic (hypoglycaemia), so we often have another sweet food to boost our sugar level. We might feel better for a while but soon Insulin kicks and we feel weak again and so the cycle goes on.

Most people associate Insulin with Diabetes, in which there is a problem with Insulin production which is true, but actually, Insulin is an essential hormone  in everyone. Insulin has many essential functions in maintaining life, but there is one function that is very important for the dieter. It causes excess carbohydrate to be stored as fat. In other words, it actually stimulates the deposit of fat around our bodies, especially around the waist and hips. Even worse, it actually prevents body fat from being used to provide energy, so the body cannot break down fat if Insulin levels are elevated. If the amount of Insulin released in the body is decreased, the blood glucose (blood sugar) will not plummet so dramatically, so the person does not become weak and irritable and will not feel the need to eat more carbohydrates for energy. Therefore, the body will not deposit the fat on the waist or hips. Even better, if someone lowers the Insulin levels, the body’s mechanisms are actually directed to “burn” fat preferentially. In simple terms, you have then switched on the body’s automatic fat-burning mechanism.

Reduce the refined carbohydrates.

The production of Insulin, is essentially controlled by the carbohydrate intake. Not fats or proteins. So if the consumption of refined carbohydrates is reduced drastically, Insulin levels are reduced as well.

Some people can now see why some previous diets have failed. Many diets recommend a huge amount of carbohydrates, such as cereals, grains,pasta, rice and pulses. Even if someone reduces the calorific intake and actually loses weight, the fat is still stored in the body, as Insulin continues to work. It is not medically possible to lose fat on some of the mainstream diets. Of course, the purpose is not to switch off Insulin completely here, We do need Insulin, but our bodies were not designed and never needed such large quantities of refined carbohydrates.

On the other hand, in”Starvation Diets”, again we lose weight but not much fat. When in starvation mode, the body uses up the energy stores of carbohydrates first (in the form of a substance called Glycogen). However, the body can only store a certain amount of Glycogen and it is usually used within two days. Then, it starts breaking down protein. Too much of protein break down will eventually compromise the Immune system  and the muscle mass.

A good balanced diet excluding refined carbohydrates or even complex carbohydrates for a few weeks and introducing high quality protein, could contribute towards a healthy weight loss.

If any questions or for more information, contact me.

Giovanna De Angelis Terzaki