This week (11-17 May 2020) is National Vegetarian Week in the UK. Whilst I’m not a vegetarian myself, I do have a keen interest in meat-free food, and a few years ago I did some research into the basic principles of vegetarian and vegan cookery.
Officially, a vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat in any form, and this includes fish, shellfish and poultry. Vegans take this principle one stage further, and do not consume any animal-derived derived products at all.
So how do those who don’t eat meat obtain the protein they need in their diet?
The answer is: surprisingly easily. Proteins consist of 22 different amino acids, of which eight are essential to our health. Non-meat proteins contain some – but not always all – of these eight essential amino acids. The secret of getting all your protein from non-meat sources is simply knowing how to combine foods to ensure that all eight amino acids are present.
Non-meat sources of protein fall into four main categories:
GRAINS: Rice, cereal, corn, wheat (including bread and pasta)
PULSES: Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts (which, despite their name, are not actually nuts)
MILK PRODUCTS: Milk, cheese, yoghurt
SEEDS (including nuts)
Three basic combinations of these food groups will provide the eight essential amino acids. These combinations are:
GRAINS + PULSES
GRAINS + MILK PRODUCTS
PULSES + SEEDS
It might sound complicated, but it isn't. In fact, you might already be eating some of these combinations without even realising it. For example, beans on toast combines grains and pulses, and cheese on toast combines grains and milk. One point worth remembering when planning a meal is that all the protein doesn’t necessarily have to be in the main course.
You don’t need to be a vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian food. To find out more about National Vegetarian Week, click on the link at the beginning of this article. If you’d like to know more about vegetarianism and/or veganism in general, including some tempting recipes, take a look at The Vegetarian Society website and The Vegan Society website.