Is a Vegetarian Diet a Risk for Health?
Because most plant proteins are incomplete and therefore lacking one or more of the essential (or indispensable) amino acids, vegetarians have to choose a variety of plant foods so that the amino acids missing in one food are supplied by another. This is the art of combining plant protein foods so that they complement one another and supply all nine indispensable amino acids.
A well-planned vegetarian diet is more likely to comply with food-based dietary guidelines for reducing long-term risk of certain nutrition-related chronic diseases (NCD). There is evidence that vegetarians suffer less NCD than non-vegetarians, but this may be due to vegetarians adopting other health-promoting behaviors, e.g. being physically active, avoiding smoking, or drinking less alcohol. However, those who rely heavily on full-fat cheese and dairy foods could have a high saturated fat diet.
In general, vegetarians can be described as one of the following four basic types:
- Lacto-vegetarians: These vegetarians accept only Dairy products from animal sources to complement Their basic diet of plant foods.
- Ovo-vegetarians: The only animal foods included in the ovo-vegetarian diet are eggs.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: These are vegetarians who follow a food pattern that allows for the consumption of dairy products and eggs.
- Vegans: Vegans follow a strict vegetarian diet and consume no animal foods. Their food pattern consists entirely of plant foods
Food combinations that help you complement Essential Amino Acids
Complementary food combinations are made by mixing families of foods (e.g. grains, legumes, dairy for lacto-Vegetarians) to balance the needed amino acids. For example, grains are low in threonine and high in methionine, whereas legumes are just the opposite. Therefore, grains and legumes help to balance one another with regard to the accumulation of all indispensable amino acids.
Following are sample food combinations to illustrate complementary protein combinations
- Grains and peas, beans, or lentils
brown rice and beans; whole-grain bread with pea or lentil soup; wheat or corn tortilla with beans; peanut butter on whole-wheat bread; Indian dishes of rice and dal (a legume); Chinese dishes of tofu and rice
- Legumes and seeds
falafel; soybeans and pumpkin or sesame seeds; Middle Eastern hummus (garbanzo beans and sesame seeds) or tahini
- Grains and dairy (for lacto-vegetarians)
Whole-wheat pasta and cheese; yogurt and a multigrain muffin; cereal and milk; a cheese sandwich made with whole-grain bread.
Dietary intervention with a vegetarian diet seems to be a cheap, physiologic, and safe approach for the prevention and possible management of modern lifestyle diseases.