There is increasing documentation throughout the research fields as to the benefits of good nutrition in terms of good health. Sometimes however it can be overwhelming when we try and identify the essential vitamins and minerals required to keep the body in good health. Eating the right combinations and amounts of foods to provide energy and make it possible for that energy to be released into the body is what nutrition is all about.
Maintaining a balance of the essential nutrients can be easily achieved with a vegetarian diet; there is such a perfect balance in nature that using a great variety of fruits and vegetables and unrefined, unprocessed whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, will easily and naturally provide all the necessary nutrients. Good nutrition calls for a balanced diet, which means the right proportions of the right things. The three nutrients that are required in larger quantities by the body and which make up the bulk of our nutritional intake are: carbohydrate, protein, and fat—these are called “macro” or major nutrients because they comprise the major part of our diet as far as quantity is concerned (they are not called major because they are more important).
Carbohydrates Carbohydrates have a fairly bad public image in that they are generally thought of as fattening. This is because most of the carbohydrate that people consume has been processed or refined. In their whole, natural, unadulterated state, carbohydrates come packaged with the vitamins and minerals which make the energy in the carbohydrate digestible by the body. When food is eaten that does not contain vitamins and minerals, i.e. those made with refined products — white sugar, flour etc. then vitamins and minerals must be drained from the body; in this way eating empty calories literally robs nutrients from the body. The body is also “robbed” in another way. Because refined carbohydrates make the body feel full, a person may fill up on them and leave out foods that would actually offer good nutrition. However refined carbohydrates get burned rapidly making the body get hungry shortly after the meal is eaten so a person usually ends up snacking on yet another refined carbohydrate.
Carbohydrate-rich foods are our best source of energy, being free from the problems associated with the consumption of large quantities of protein or fat. Centering a diet on complex carbohydrates like whole grains and legumes ensures a supply of B vitamins in the proper proportion to enable the body to burn the energy present in the starches. Also, the protein, fat and fibre which are naturally part of the grain or legume slows the digestive process down and stretches out the assimilation of the carbohydrate into the bloodstream over a long period of time. Thus, the carbohydrate in its whole, natural state doesn’t rob the body of nutrients in order to burn the energy present, and it also gives a fuller feeling for a longer period of time, keeping the blood sugar levels steady. Carbohydrates are also available, along with vitamins and minerals, in fruits and starchy vegetables.
Grains have been in the past and are presently the most important food staple in many cultures around the world. They have been refined for centuries, but only in recent years has the science of nutrition clearly established that refined grains are indeed inferior to unrefined grains. Try the following recipe which is delicious made with rice or any other grain. Pre-toasting the grain adds a unique flavor.
Toasted Grains and Vegetables
- 3 T oil
- 1 tsp asafetida
- 1 tsp marjoram powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- pinch clove powder
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 2 cups water
- 3 T soy sauce
- 2/3 cup uncooked millet, cracked wheat etc.
- 6 cups assorted chopped vegetables (bite sized chunks)
Toast the spices and grains in oil over a medium-high heat until the grain gets toasted golden brown. Add the vegetables, water and soy sauce, cover the pot and bring to a boil. When it’s boiling, turn the heat down to medium and let it boil for about 20 minutes. Turn down to simmer for about 15 minutes. Serve as a main dish (top with chopped nuts or seeds) and a green salad, or as a grain dish.