In Brazil and around the world, there is a growing trend towards a meatless diet. According to a survey by the consulting firm Inteligência em Pesquisa e Consultoria (Ipec), commissioned by the Brazilian Vegetarian Society (SVB), 46% of Brazilians do not consume food at least once a week, of their own accord. According to clinical and sports nutritionist Jessica Giannini, studies suggest that adopting a vegetarian lifestyle is attractive to patients with chronic diseases, such as hypercholesterolemia, hypertension and obesity. On the other hand, the specialist points out that even the lifestyle can cause damage, especially with regard to protein deficiency, if the diet is not well thought out and varied.
Legumes such as beans and oilseeds such as walnuts and chestnuts are foods rich in plant-based proteins – Photo: Istock Getty Images
– The most common harm of stopping eating meat (fish, chicken and red meat in general) is a lack of protein. A macronutrient essential for the maintenance of muscle mass, the production of hormones and enzymes, the health of the skin, nails, hair, cell formation and much more – says Giannini. – When you stop eating meat, you may also be deficient in some nutrients, such as vitamin B12 and iron. But with a balanced diet, it is possible to adopt a healthy vegetarian diet, making good food choices and adapting nutrients and supplementing if necessary.
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Before making the decision to change your lifestyle, it is important to point out that stopping animal products does not necessarily make a person healthy. For example, the consumption of industrialized foods, even if vegan, is not indicated.
– Especially if the diet is not based on “real food” (rice, beans, roots, vegetables, greens, nuts and olive oil). The food industry has a number of vegan products with a lot of fat and chemical additives, so the ideal is that the diet is not based on industrialized products – warns Jessica. – There are vegetarians who follow a diet of fried foods, such as french fries, packaged snacks, soft drinks and sweets. But there are healthy vegetarians, who have their food base in foods with nutritional quality.
Integration of vitamin B12 and iron
Nutritionist Jessica Giannini states that when the vitamin B12 level is low, it is normal for the individual to feel apathetic and irritable. For vegans, adequate supplementation is often required, as foods rich in vitamin B12 are generally of animal origin.
– Vitamin B12 is an extremely important micronutrient in our body, it acts directly on the nervous system, in the formation of neurons and blood cells. When the B12 is low, the person feels apathetic, lacking in strength, with bad memory, irritability. And B12 is mostly found in red meat. Vegans, since they do not use products of animal origin, must be on the alert and make an adequate supplement. In capsules, injections or with the daily consumption of fortified foods – reflects.
To avoid iron deficiency, vegetarians and vegans still have to bet on plant foods that are sources of the mineral, such as:
- Whole grains
- Dark green vegetables
- Fortified vegetarian products
– In order to meet the metabolic demand, the diet must be varied. Remembering that women naturally need a higher dose of iron, as during the menstrual period they end up losing more due to bleeding – says Jessica.
The ideal vegetarian dish
According to the expert, it is essential that the vegetarian dish is balanced in order to have all the necessary nutrients. Division can be done as follows:
- 50% of the dish stuffed with vegetables (cabbage, lettuce, rocket, watercress, endive, spinach, eggplant, chayote, zucchini, beets, broccoli, radishes and carrots);
- 25% of foods from the group of carbohydrates and cereals (rice, corn, sweet potato, cassava, potato and cassava);
- 25% of the dish with more protein foods, such as legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas and soy).
– Another tip is to dress the salad with a drizzle of olive oil, to also have an intake of good fats or even to put flakes of almonds, chestnuts or other oil seeds on the plate – advises Giannini.
The perfect combination of rice and beans
The nutritionist still emphasizes the perfect combination of rice and beans. This is because the duo has complete proteins, fiber, vitamins, minerals, iron, potassium and zinc, and bioactive compounds.
– The consumption of rice and beans is a great habit of Brazilians. Rice is also a source of carbohydrates and proteins. Rice protein has two important amino acids in its composition, called methionine and cystine, but it is low in lysine. Beans are rich in fiber and in their proteins we have an abundance of the amino acid lysine and a little of the amino acids methionine and cystine – notes Jessica.
Calcium for vegetarians
In the plant kingdom, you can find foods that are sources of calcium, such as chia seeds, sesame, flax seeds, white beans, green beans, and turnips. Additionally, many plant-based drinks and other products on the market are fortified with the mineral.
Jessica Giannini reveals that calcium is important for healthy bones, teeth, muscle contraction and blood clotting. However, supplementation is not the rule for all vegetarians and vegans.
– Calcium supplementation is not a rule for all vegetarians or vegans, the professional nutritionist individually assesses the need for supplementation.
Vitamin D supplementation
Vitamin D is often found in foods of animal origin, but most people can get a good supply of nutrients through sun exposure for 20 minutes a day.
The sun is our main source of vitamin D – Photo: Getty Images
– Most people, just by exposing themselves to the sun, can already guarantee a good supply of vitamin D. But you have to take this exposure as a habit. To find out if supplementation is necessary, the dosage of vitamin D in the blood is recommended, from which the nutritionist or doctor defines the need and dosage of supplementation – says Giannini.
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Strategies for vegetarians and vegans
With the guidance of nutritionist Jésica Giannini, the I Athlete strategies listed for the prevention of possible nutritional deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans. Take a look below:
- After consuming an iron-rich meal, include a source of vitamin C, as vitamin C improves iron absorption;
- Avoid drinking black coffee after lunch, as caffeine reduces the bioavailability of iron and calcium;
- Avoid combining foods with iron and a lot of calcium in the same meal. This is because calcium also “competes” with iron to be absorbed;
- Maintain good intestinal health by making adequate consumption of fruits, veggies, vegetables, exercising and creating a toilet schedule. The gut is responsible for absorbing most nutrients, so it’s important that it’s up to date.