Friday, September 26, 2008

Superfoods for Vegetarians

This article is third in nutritionist Dipa Shah-Patel's series on vegetarian nutrition.

From time to time, many of my vegetarian friends ask me to identify foods that are nutritious, full of vitamins and minerals, yet still tasty and flavorful. Usually, I respond that it is best to eat a variety of foods to ensure the intake of all essential requirements for proper nutrition. However, in my next few articles, I will identify one food from each food group as a “superfood". My criteria for superfood status will be that the food must promote good health and be important in disease prevention. The superfood will also be especially beneficial for vegetarians because it will contain vitamins and minerals that sometimes fall short in a vegetarian diet, namely vitamin B12, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, iron, and essential amino acids such as lysine and methionine. After each post, a recipe that incorporates each of the superfoods discussed will be provided.


Quinoa, a grain from South America, is not only high in protein, but it contains all of the essential amino acids for humans, making it a complete protein source ideal for vegetarians and vegans. One cup contains 8g of protein, 4g of fat, and 5g of fiber1. It is also high in magnesium, phosphorous, manganese and iron. The fatty acids of quinoa are dominated by linoleic and oleic acids, which suggests that quinoa has applications in the treatment of immune response, suppressing inflammation and joint tissue injury2.

Quinoa cooks in about 15 minutes, and you can include quinoa in soups and salads. A great way to include quinoa in your diet is to chop some vegetables and add cooked quinoa for a quick and healthy dish.


In Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine), almonds are linked with the brain and nervous system. One ounce of almonds contains 6g of protein and 3g of fiber. Almonds are also a source of iron, calcium, riboflavin, and vitamin E.

Almonds are good for our bodies because they contain monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that is good for your heart. Recent studies have shown that almonds play an effective role in lowering blood levels of low density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) while elevating the blood levels of high density lipoproteins (good cholesterol)3. Other claimed effects of almonds include improved complexion, improved movement of food through the colon, and the prevention of cancer4.

Pack a small bag of almonds for a quick and filling snack. The serving size of almonds is 1 ounce, or about 24 almonds. Try to maintain portion control when eating almonds and all nuts, because even though the fat they contain is heart healthy, they are still high in calories.


1. Schlick, G., Bubenheim, David L. Quinoa: An Emerging "New" Crop with Potential for CELSS. (November 1993). (NASA Technical Paper 3422)
2. Bhargava A., Shukla S., Ohri D. Chenopodium quinoa - An Indian perspective. (2006) Industrial Crops and Products, 23 (1), pp. 73-87.
3. Spiller, G, Miller, A., et al. Effects of Plant- Based Diets High in Raw or Roasted Almonds, or Roasted Almond Butter on Serum Lipoproteins in Humans. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 22, No. 3, 195-200 (2003).
4. Davis P., Iwashashi C. Whole almonds and almond fractions reduce aberrant crypt foci in a rat model of colon carcinogenesis.” Cancer Letters, 165 (1): 27-33. (2001).

If you have a question or comment for Dipa, please send an email to The recipe incorporating quinoa and almonds will be posted tomorrow.

Previous articles by Dipa Shah-Patel, MPH:
The Complete Story on Protein
Vegans, Vegetarians, and Proteins - Oh My!


Anonymous said...

Wow Dipa! Thanks for the awesome post. I didn't even know there are vegetarian foods that contain all of the essential amino acids. I hope to incorporate Quinoa in my diet at home, of course after getting my wife to understand its benefits that is.

Anonymous said...

This is exciting and very helpful! I'll be looking forward to all the upcoming posts and testing/tasting them all out :)

Anonymous said...

I think the choy family deserves mention as a "Super Food." Chinese vegetables such as ong choy, bak choy, choy sum, see sin choy, and others are packed with nutrients. They're also great sources of fiber. I remember a patient who made a strong recovery from heart surgery -- he lost weight and was fitter and more active than he'd been in years -- telling me that the secret was the choys and exercise. Check out the choys!

Usha said...

I recently found out about almonds myself but did not know about quinoa having so many benefits,thanks for sharing will try to use more quinoa from now on :)