There’s been a fantastic explosion in the provision of vegetarian meals during the last couple of years – not just with more vegetarian cafes, but with more vegetarian options in regular cafes, more recipes in newspapers and magazines by non-vegetarian cooks, more blogs by vegans and vegetarians – it’s all quite wonderful!
It’s fun, and colourful, to play with cooking different combinations of vegetables and grains and lentils, but we do need to be alert to what constitutes a healthy vegetarian protein.
Our bodies need protein for maintaining good bone and muscle mass. This is especially important as we age – our bodies need more protein, not less. Protein builds a strong immune system, and helps get rid of toxins from the liver and arteries, and prevents fatigue.
All protein consists of amino acids. All plant proteins contain some of every amino acid, though legumes are lower in the amino acid methionine, and I’ve recently learned that many vegetarians are deficient in methionine.
Why? Because we need quite a lot of methionine and when I list foods that contain it, you’ll see why: chia seeds, avocado, sunflower seeds and ricotta cheese are at the top of the list, along with soy products such as tempeh and tofu. Also useful are peanuts, almonds and brazil nuts, oats, sweet corn, sesame seeds and chickpeas.
These aren’t foods that we necessarily include in substantial amounts in our meals every day – at least, I don’t – on some days, for sure, but not every day unless we’re paying attention.
What happens when we don’t get enough methionine? We become tired and listless and this can become chronic. Of course you can take methionine supplements, but why not save yourself the cost and add deliciousness to your meals and snacks at the same time?
Nuts and seeds are best eaten lightly roasted for digestibility. Or soak a handful of almonds in boiling water overnight and peel off their indigestible covering to make a tasty mid-morning snack, along with a handful of raisins.
Variations on this theme include nut butters (made from almonds, peanuts, brazils, sunflower seeds, or sesame seeds aka tahini), hummus (left, combines chickpeas and tahini); falafel (made with chickpeas and served with hummus); gomasio (a table condiment of toasted sesame seeds ground with a small amount of salt, ratio about 1:8); oat-based muesli or cookies; gluten-free polenta (try it as a base for a flan or pizza) … and who doesn’t love avocado, or succulent fresh sweet corn as the essence of summer?
All simple, delicious and important to eat.