Vegetarian food: a new look

Essays > Health

Veet explains how easy it is to solely eat vegetarian food and have sufficient proteins and iron for the body to function well.

When I first met sannyasins I was elated to find myself amongst many vegetarians. It was so refreshing to be one of the majority rather than feeling like an outsider.

Twenty years on and at sannyasin gatherings I yet again find myself in the minority, often being the only vegetarian. As I have a well-known catering business in the Byron Bay area, people at gatherings will often start up the conversation by telling me they had been a vegetarian for twenty five years until their doctor or naturopath told them to start eating meat again.

Vegetarian Food

At one such gathering someone told me they had become a vegetarian in their early twenties and just ate vegetables and grains. When she was advised by a friend to eat more protein she had no idea what that meant; her friend then suggested she buy chickpeas. She did that, had no idea how to cook them and just popped the dried chickpeas into her soup. It was impossible for her to eat the hardened chickpeas and that was that. She never thought about adding protein to her diet again. By the time she got to her doctor ten years later she was depleted in all sorts of nutrients.

This is now my life’s work, my calling as some would say. Not to convince people to become vegetarians but to help educate those people who want to live healthily as vegetarians.

I know people go to their doctors when they are severely iron depleted and the easy option is to start eating animals again. However, it is my understanding that if you do things right with your diet you won’t need to end up in the doctor’s surgery as you will be able to regulate your own iron levels. If you have found yourself eating meat products again in order to increase your iron levels, you may find it doesn’t always do the trick either. If the thought of eating animals repulses you and you are iron depleted there are ways to get back on track.

If you are depleted in iron or B12 do what the doctor or naturopath advises and take those iron and B12 injections. They will help you get your iron and B12 back up to the level where you can function properly again and then from there take diligent care of your diet. By doing this, your meal planning could end up being a creative, pleasurable adventure rather than a chore.

For the first fifteen years of being vegetarian I really was only a vegetarian for health reasons as I felt my body could not digest meat. Later I tested this out when the blood type diet was all the rage and as an O type they suggested I was a meat eater. I ate animals on and off for 18 months and had so many digestive problems and also suffered from mental angst as it didn’t feel right to be eating animals. For the last five years and after reading Jonathon Saffron Foer’s book Eating Animals, I am now also a vegetarian for ethical reasons. I know Osho says many contradictory things on being vegetarian but throughout all the quotes I can find there is a recurring theme and when reading the following words I really felt a deep resonance.

But here, most of you are trying vegetarian food. In the future, that should be the food for all humanity. Life is not to be eaten. And when there is so much possibility for vegetarian food…. It has never been explored; otherwise there is so much possibility that there is no need for anybody to go hungry. And life should be respected, whether the life is in you, or in a lion, or in a deer. The man who kills a deer has fallen from his humanity. He has destroyed a beautiful living being. Have you seen the deer jumping and running? So alive!
Osho, From Bondage to Freedom Ch 14, Q 1

So whether you are already vegetarian, deciding to become vegetarian or want to decrease animal products in your diet, I would like to share with you what I have found to help stay healthy on a vegetarian diet. Many things I worked out through instinct and many I have learned along the way through advice given or reading new articles and research.

1. Protein: First and foremost I ensure with each and every meal I have enough protein. Depending on age, sex and how physical you are will determine how much protein you need each day. On average 55g a day is a good amount – below this article is a comprehensive list of what that means. I break this into 3 meals so eating about 18g of protein each meal.

2. Ensure you eat Complete Protein.

Osho also talks about protein in a vegetarian diet (at the time when eggs were introduced to the commune).

That’s why in my commune I have allowed vegetarian eggs. All the vegetarians of the world should allow vegetarian eggs, because they supply the necessary proteins for intelligence; otherwise, just vegetarian food is not enough. They will be against me, because just the word “egg” is enough for them to be against me. But these eggs are simply pure vegetable, because they don’t have the male sperm. They are not going to give birth to anything. They are not alive, so you are not killing anybody. For all vegetarians of the world, unfertilized eggs should become an essential part of the menu.
Osho, From Bondage to Freedom Ch 30, Q 2

What I feel Osho is talking about here is complete protein. Eggs are complete protein meaning that they contain all nine essential amino acids which help the smooth functioning of our bodies. Dairy and hemp seeds are also complete proteins. In a vegetarian diet you can also get complete protein by combining foods.

♥ legumes and grains
♥ nuts and grains
♥ legumes and nuts

There are recent studies that suggest that you don’t necessarily need to combine protein with every meal; for example, if you had lentils and salad for lunch and a few hours later realise you had no grain or nuts you could have a cup full then. However, I like to make sure I combine at each and every meal, it keeps it simple for me. What fascinates me with complete protein is that if you look at many traditional vegetarian diets they combine food to ensure the body gets complete protein.

India – dhal and rice or chapatti
Mexico – beans and corn or beans and rice
Africa – beans and millet or couscous
Middle East – beans and couscous, buckwheat and amaranth
UK – potatoes and baked beans (this is a joke because I am sure that this does not reflect traditional cuisine – but it is a complete protein)

3. If going out to eat I will call ahead to the restaurant and let them know I am vegetarian (and gluten free) and ask them if they can add some vegetarian protein to the meal.

4. Just in case I am out and want to eat on the spur of the moment I carry nuts and seeds (especially hemp seeds as they are a complete protein) with me in case I don’t have enough protein in a meal.

5. When working long hours where I put my body under stress as well as a week before menstruating I take iron supplements. When a body is stressed, overworked or does vigorous exercise it will have difficulty absorbing iron, so a supplement from time to time is useful. I generally can tell when I am becoming depleted in iron as I will feel a bit foggy by midmorning and tired when I normally wouldn’t.

6. Eat iron rich foods; there is a list below the protein list with each and every meal. If you have difficulty absorbing iron eat twice as much as the daily intake suggests as there is a better chance of absorbing what your body needs. Eat vegetables and fruit high in vitamin C along with iron rich foods as this will help in absorption.

7. Steer clear from preservatives in foods and gluten as these may cause problems with absorbing iron and anything unnatural just isn’t worth putting in your body. Caffeine and red wine can inhibit iron intake as surprisingly enough can uncooked spinach, leafy greens and beetroot leaves. If eating these, wilt them a little.

8. Eat freshly made tempeh at least twice a week (non-soy tempeh has now become available) to increase your B12 intake. Take a B 12 supplement every five to ten days as B12 is an issue in a vegetarian diet and with over-controlled food regulations in many countries it is difficult to find B12 in a vegetarian diet.

9. Eat organic food; there is a better chance of you receiving all the nutrients you need if your food is free of pesticides and chemicals which inhibit absorption.

10. Eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables which are in season. This way you have a better chance of your body obtaining all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals it needs.

Your food is not just food: it is you. What you eat, you become. If you eat something which is fundamentally based on murder, on violence, you cannot rise above the law of necessity. You will remain more or less an animal. The human is born when you start moving above the animals, when you start doing something to yourself which no animal can do.

Vegetarianism is a conscious effort, a deliberate effort, to get out of the heaviness that keeps you tethered to the earth so that you can fly – so that the flight from the alone to the alone becomes possible.

The lighter the food, the deeper goes the meditation. The grosser the food. then meditation becomes more and more difficult. I am not saying that meditation is impossible for a non-vegetarian – it is not impossible, but it is unnecessarily difficult.
Osho, Philosophia Perennis Vol. 2, Q 6

Protein Sources

Beans and Lentils (product protein content in 100 grams)
borlotti beans 8.3 g
chickpeas 8.86 g
lentils, cooked 9.6 g
cannellini beans, cooked 9.7 g
adzuki beans, cooked 7.5 g
Dairy Products and Goats Cheese
milk, 1 cup 7 g
yoghurt, 220 g 8 g
butter, 1 tbsp 0.12 g
goat’s cheese, 50 g 10 g
haloumi, 50 g 12 g
cheddar cheese, 40 g 12 g
parmesan, 50 g 18 g
pecorino cheese, 40 g 15 g
1 egg 60 g 8 g
Nuts, Seeds and Grains (product protein content in 100 grams)
almonds 21 g
pecans 9 g
macadamias 7 g
hazelnuts 14 g
pepitas/pumpkin seeds 19 g
sesame seeds 26.4 g
sunflower seeds 24 g
tahini 20.4 g
quinoa, uncooked 14 g
brown rice, cooked 2.2 g
Soy Products
tempeh, 1 cup 9.3 g
tofu, 1 cup 10.6 g
soya milk, 1 cup 8 g


Iron rich foods

Generally speaking, most people need 10 to 12 mg a day. Teens and women who are menstruating need 18mg a day, pregnant women need 30 mg.

Iron rich foods (product iron content in 100 grams)
pumpkin and pumpkin seeds 15 mg
cashews, almonds, hazelnuts 7.8 mg
beans and legumes 6 mg
whole grains 2.8 mg
leafy greens 3.6 mg
apricots 6.3 mg
raisins 1.9 mg
prunes 3.5 mg
tempeh 2.7 mg
artichokes 1.5 mg
raw cocoa 11.3 mg
tahini 9 mg
dulse 51.4 mg
dark chocolate 17 mg
spirulina 31.9 mg

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