Vegetarian protein sources are faulted for their lack of sufficient essential amino acids. But Adam and Eve survived on plant foods in the Garden of Eden. So, why can’t we?
Proteins are classed according to their constituent building blocks known as amino acids. There are two classes of amino acids: those that the body cannot produce or it can only produce in inadequate quantities are known as essential amino acids; those that the body can produce in sufficient quantities are known as non essential amino acids. Protein food sources containing all essential amino acids are known as complete proteins while those lacking one or more essential acids are known as incomplete proteins.
Complete proteins are animal based while plant protein sources are incomplete. This doesn’t mean that plant proteins are useless. In fact, it is very possible to follow a clean eating diet while being a vegetarian or vegan. It is something I do and you can too! The important thing is find a way to provide all the essential amino acids and have them assimilated into the body? But first, let us understand the place of protein in the body.
Protein provides the building blocks (amino acids) for the various muscles and other tissues. These are also required for maintenance of muscles and body tissue as well as the immune and hormonal systems. Other uses include: water balance, metabolism, body defense and energy source in times of need. Depending on the physical activities and the stage of growth, the need for protein may vary. Very active people such as sportsmen, infants, children and adolescents, pregnant and nursing women as well as recuperating people need more protein.
Vegetarian Protein Foods
Plant protein sources may not individually provide all the essential amino acids. People who also eat dairy products and/or eggs will get the missing amino acids from them. But those of us who are truly vegans, the secret is to look at the following source groups and to use them complementary by consciously combining them or to cook complete vegetarian protein sources such as quinoa. This way, we get all the essential amino acids.
Dried Legumes (beans) – of the more than 10,000 varieties of plants which produce beans in pods, only about 40 are consumed as food. Beans are most beneficial when eaten as the main meal. Important beans include soybean, kidney beans, peas, chick peas, haricot and lentils.
A soybean is a legume worth mentioning on its own. It is nature’s richest source of protein. Its protein is also readily available to the body when it has been processed. Soy derivatives available in the market include: flour, soy meat substitute, tofu, soy milk, and tempeh. Because soy is so rich in protein, it needs to be combined with other foods such as cereals and grains.
Nuts and seeds – Consumed as food in many parts of the world. They normally grow within a hard protective shell. They have substantial quantities of protein. Cashew nuts, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, squash blossoms are some good representatives. They can be purchased shelled or un-shelled.
Cereals and grains – Contain mainly carbohydrates but also reasonable quantities of protein. They may be purchased and used as cereals, flour, bread pancakes, noodles, pasta and crepes. They include wheat, corn, rye, barley, buck wheat, oats, brown rice and amaranth. Whole grain and whole grain products as opposed to refined derivatives should be used for full benefit. Combine with legumes for best results.
Fruits and vegetables – while these may not contain much protein, they are important in its assimilation into the body. Some of the fruits containing protein include apricot, chestnut, date, dried fig, mulberry, passion, dried prune, tamarind and currants. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your meals.
When you are eating clean, vegetarian protein sources and fat burning foods are tops!