Wouldn't it be great to know at least some of the healthy food groups so that we can create balance, harmony and enrichment. These food groups would include protein, carbohydrates, fats and oils as well as vitamins and minerals. By including enough of all these food groups you'd be well on your way to living a bountiful and healthy lifestyle. Enjoying a delicious meal featuring your favourite dishes is one of the great pleasures of life. But you don't want to just eat because of its pleasant taste, you'd need to take in all the nourishment to survive. The foods we eat as vegans and vegetarians contain important nutrients each of which plays a vital role in our bodies.
Proteins also referred to as Amino Acids are the building blocks of our body. They build our muscles, organs and glands. They also help to repair damaged tissue - For instance, if you scrape your knee, proteins help it heal. Proteins also build haemoglobin which transports antibodies to fight off disease. Proteins can also serve as a reserve energy source if you haven't eaten enough carbohydrates.
So many meat eaters I've spoken to over the years have this misconception that vegans and vegetarians don't get enough or any protein in their diet. Vegetarians and vegans respectfully. What a load of bollocks. They couldn't be further away from the truth if they tried. Both vegans and vegetarians get plenty of the good stuff from protein-rich plant foods. What's more, protein in plant-based food is of a far superior quality than that of animal protein.
Whether you want to believe it or not, vegans and vegetarians get their source of protein from vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds as well as products such as soya which includes milk, miso and tofu. Vegetarians also have the advantage of dairy product protein if they so wish.
I never could quite understand why we were told so often that the greatest source of protein comes from flesh-related food. Very few understood or even bothered to research plant-based protein and if they did, they'd come to realise that this source of amino acids is of a much higher standard than their counterpart. It's just that we were so ill-informed of the protein quality of plant-based food. And to a much larger degree, we might have to place this misguided misinformation on past generations. Was it not one of them who failed to get the memo?
Carbohydrates are our body's most important source of energy. It's the fuel we need to get things done. There are two types of carbohydrates - Sugar and Starch. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate - Your body digests it easily and quickly. Not really the right kind of fuel for our system. Foods containing simple carbohydrates include sugar, pasta, bread and potato.
Starch, on the other hand, is a complex carbohydrate and takes longer to digest. Complex carbohydrates are the ones our body needs the most. Foods containing complex carbohydrates include whole grains such as oats, brown rice, millet, bulgar wheat and quinoa. Now, these are the right fuel for our system.
Fats also play an important role in the functioning of our body. They serve as a reserve energy source especially if there is a shortage of complex carbohydrates in our system. Fats also protect our organs from injury. To give you an example - Our kidneys have a layer of fat surrounding them. The layer of fat beneath our skin keeps you warm in cold weather as well as keeping your skin and hair healthy.
You only need a little fat to enjoy its benefits. Too much fat, on the other hand, can lead to obesity - That's when people weigh too much for their height and body type as well as it's one of the leading causes of heart trouble when you're older.
There are two types of fat.
Saturated Fat is called bad fat because, in excess, it can clog your arteries. But we've always known that, didn't we? Saturated fat is found mostly in animal products as well as things like cheese, butter, margarine, milk, cakes, biscuits, potato chips and other deep-fried foods. All the foods we love so much but are not good fuel for us.
Unsaturated Fat is the good fat and it includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They are a much healthier alternative. This type of fat is found in nuts, seeds, avocado, olives and coconut oil to name but a few. Now these are part of the healthy food groups we need to keep our engines running smoothly.
By now we should all be aware that our bodies need vitamins to function properly. That's because vitamins as well as minerals provide us with energy. They boost the immune system (the body's ability to fight disease). They keep your skin healthy. They ensure your brain and nervous system works properly. They help to repair tissue as well as a whole host of other things. There are two types of vitamins.
Fat-Soluble Vitamins. They usually found in fatty foods such as oily fish and liver. These vitamins are stored in the body's fatty tissue and used when needed. Water-Soluble Vitamins are soluble in water and are found mainly in fruits and vegetables. They are excreted in your urine. So you need to ensure you take in enough of them regularly. For example - Citrus fruit such as oranges, grapefruit, limes and lemons are excellent sources of vitamin C.
The table below lists some of the vitamins that are essential for a healthy body. You can take vitamin supplements in a pill or capsule form if you think your diet lacks a certain amount of these nutrients. However, it's much better to get your vitamins directly from the food you eat.
Fat-Soluble Vitamins in plant-based food
Vitamin A - Dark yellow and green fruit and vegetables ensure healthy eyes, teeth, hair and skin. Also protects against nose, throat and lung infections
Vitamin E - Soy, nuts, avocado, peanut butter, brown rice and grain oils all slows down the ageing process and helps heal wounds and reduces scarring.
Fat-Soluble Vitamins in plant-based food
Vitamin B1 - Dark leafy vegetables, Whole wheat bread and brown rice helps with digestion, keeps the nervous system healthy and helps muscles and heart to function properly.
Vitamin C - Citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and strawberries help your body to prevent infections, blood clots and high cholesterol levels.
Minerals, on the other hand, are chemical elements such as calcium, magnesium and iron, each of which has an important function. For example - Enough calcium in your diet ensures that your teeth are strong and healthy.
The table below lists some of the minerals in plant-based food essential for a healthy body. Again, you can take supplements should your diet lack certain minerals. However, it's much better to get your minerals directly from healthy food groups.
You'll get calcium from broccoli which helps build strong healthy teeth and bones. You'll get magnesium from apples, citrus fruit, bananas and brown rice which helps to prevent heart disease and muscle cramps. You'll get iron from dark green leafy vegetables which are used to manufacture red blood cells that transport oxygen to your body.
Please take note that the information on this site is designed for educational purposes and is intended solely for a general readership. The contents herein are not intended to offer any personal medical advice or to diagnose any health issues you may have. This information is also by no means a substitute for medical care by a licensed healthcare provider. For that, you'd need to consult your medical doctor or a health care practitioner for any advice should you require prescription medication.