It is well known that meat is rich in proteins. However, there is no reason why a vegetarian diet won’t supply the adequate amount of proteins that the body needs. With a little careful choosing, you can find plenty of plant protein sources and non-meat sources and ensure that your vegetarian diet is not protein insufficient.
In this article, I’ll go over some of the high quality sources of non-meat protein so you’ll be able to give your body what it needs even if you’re on a vegetarian or vegan diet plan.
Why is protein important?
Proteins are essential for health and strength. Proteins are responsible for strong muscles and bones. Proteins undertake tissue repair and they keep the immune system and the hormone system in great working condition. Proteins are also required to keep the skin, hair and nails in good health.
Proteins are vital for most of the biological processes within the body. Enzymes, which play an important role in digestion and assimilation of nutrients, are made of proteins. Hormones are also made of proteins. Proteins are responsible for muscular contractions and neural transmission within the body. In the absence of sufficient fats and carbohydrates, proteins even provide the body with much needed energy. Simply put, your body cannot function, survive and thrive without sufficient quantities of protein.
Some people need more proteins than others. Examples include people who are into bodybuilding, pregnant women and those who are recuperating from serious injuries. Protein is also important for weight loss as an adequte amount of protein can help to suppress appetite and reduce cravings.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. The body utilizes 20 different amino acids, 8 of which are essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that have to be supplied through foods and cannot be manufactured by the body. Therefore, it is important to take in the body’s daily requirement for protein on a regular basis.
Vegetarian sources of protein
Previously, it was believed that vegetarians do not take in sufficient amounts of proteins because vegetarian foods do not contain the same amount of proteins as non-vegetarian foods. However, most vegetarian foods contain some amounts of protein.
Some of the best vegetarian sources of protein include:
- Nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds)
- Legumes (chickpeas, beans, lentils, Lima beans, split peas)
- Soy and soy products (tofu, soy milk)
- Dairy products like low fat milk, cheese and yoghurt
- Whole grains (Muesli, Brown rice, buckwheat, oatmeal, rye, wheat germ, wild rice)
- Some vegetables (broccoli, potatoes, artichokes, beets, Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers, cucumbers, yam, zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, Onions, watercress)
It is important to note that some excellent source of protein are not used by all non-meat eaters. Vegans, for example, are not likely to eat any animal products such as eggs or dairy.
Plant proteins are generally said to be low quality proteins when compared to animal proteins that are high quality proteins. This is because animal proteins contain the essential amino acids in the required proportions. However, it must be remembered that animal products may also contain undesirable amounts of fat so choose your protein sources wisely.
Plant proteins on the other hand tend to be deficient in one or the other essential amino acids. However, the deficiency in one source can be made up by including another source of protein in the diet. For instance, whole grains are deficient in lysine whereas pulses lack methionine. But, by combining whole grains with pulses, it is possible to supply the body with all the essential amino acids it needs. So, a varied vegetarian diet supplies all the essential amino acids and proteins that your body needs.