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