With the new year, many of us are interested in health, fitness, and diet, and one of the largest concerns most people have is whether or not they are getting enough protein. For plant-based eaters, a better question, is “am I getting enough complete proteins?” The answer is most likely yes, but if your diet isn’t as varied as it should be, this is worth a read!
It’s a misconception that we need a ton of protein in our diet. Of course, we do need some, and pregnant women and young children need more than others. Meat-eaters take great delight in saying that there is not enough protein in vegetables, but that is far from the truth! In fact, one of the first questions that a vegan/vegetarian is asked is “What do you eat for protein?”
So let’s dig in. There are 23 different amino acids that make up a protein. Complete proteins (or whole proteins) are those that contain all the essential amino acids. Most animal products contain complete proteins and most non-animal foods, like nuts and vegetables, do not contain them. Because of this, it is important to combine or balance your foods to get all the essential amino acids your body needs. These amino acids are necessary for cell growth, to repair and reproduce tissue and to manufacture the substances that protect us against infection. So it’s obviously very important for our bodies to have protein daily, and to have the right kinds!
However, it is the amount of protein that we need that most people are concerned with. The daily requirements are really quite small. It is probably due to the exceptional marketing strategies on behalf of the meat industries that we have been led to believe that the best source of protein is meat. True, there is no denying that meat is rich in protein; however, carnivores probably consume more protein (and other elements) that can overload the body.
It is fairly easy to get hung up on your about the daily intake of protein. The western world eats far too much protein, and the excess is usually converted into body fat. Very rarely can someone have protein deficiency when eating a diet rich in whole foods and fresh fruits and veggies (or even when eating fast food and takeout.)
What most American’s should be worried about is too much fat, sugar, and salt!
So how do I make sure I am eating “Complete Proteins?”
There are eight essential amino acids that cannot be made by the body and must be obtained directly from specific food sources – the body can make all of the others with just an adequate diet. Protein from animal sources has all the necessary amino acids and are therefore complete proteins. Foods such as eggs, cheese and yogurt and, of course, meat, fish, and poultry are also complete proteins. Unfortunately, these foods also often contain too much fat and other toxins, so they should be eaten in moderation.
Getting protein from vegetable sources, on the other hand, has the added bonus of a high fiber content. Fiber is recognized by the FDA as, when part of a healthy and balanced diet, may lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar, and create feelings of fullness that help prevent overeating.
For Vegans, it is a bit more “difficult” to get Complete Proteins, and this is where combining food comes into play.
Here are a few simple examples for combining foods in order to get all of the necessary amino acids:
•Dhal and rice
•Beans and corn.
•Hummus and pitta bread.
•Peanut butter on wholemeal bread.
•Baked beans on wholemeal toast
•Split pea soup and a bread roll
•Brown rice and chickpeas.
•Rice and tofu.
•Corn tacos with kidney beans.
•Beans and vegetables.
•Vegetable pies – potato, spinach.
•Muesli with nuts and seeds.
•Chickpeas and couscous.
As you can see, there are many different combinations to make sure you’re getting enough Complete Proteins, even on a Vegan diet, and experimenting with a variety of foods makes for an easy, delicious and nutritious meal!