If someone stopped you on the street and asked you “what is protein?”, would you be able to answer?
Everyone seems to know we need protein in our diet, but how many of us know what protein actually is, the important roles it has in our bodies (there are many), and how much to consume daily.
This information is critical for everyone, but especially those consuming a vegetarian or vegan diet. The difference between acquiring adequate protein intake or not may mean the difference between having symptoms of illness or not.
Since protein is critical for so many important functions in the body, symptoms of protein deficiency can range from, but are not limited to, the following:
- Dry/coarse/thinning hair
- Fingernail malformation
- Slow recovery from injury or exercise
- Hormone imbalances
- Digestive disturbances (protein is needed to create enzymes which help to break down our food) and
- Catching colds frequently
Protein is also fundamental to liver health and daily detoxification!
So, let’s get back to my original question: “what is protein?”
Simply put – protein is a structure made up of something called amino acids.
Now don’t let me lose you, amino acids are crucial for understanding this concept and luckily you don’t need to be a scientist to get the gist.
In total, there are 22 amino acids – and your body needs all of these – but luckily your body is smart and has the ability to make most. There are just 9 amino acids that we must consume through diet – these we call essential.
The key thing for you to know:
If a food contains all 9 essential amino acids (again, the ones your body can not make on its own) we call that a “complete protein”. If a food contains adequate levels of some, but not all 9, then it is called an “incomplete protein”. And your body needs complete protein to function properly and keep you free from the symptoms listed above!
Most complete proteins are not vegetarian or vegan friendly: meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
However, luckily for vegetarians and vegans, the solution is not so complicated. Variety and adequate intake are the answer. Your goal is to combine different plant-based proteins into your diet, ensuring that all 9 essential amino acids are acquired. The body is smart, so you do not have to consume all 9 amino acids at the same meal. Your body can store them for up to a couple of days.
The general rule of thumb is that combining the following food groups will create a complete protein:
|Combine with ONE OR MORE of the following:|
|Beans||Grains, nuts, seeds|
|Brown rice||Beans, nuts, seeds, peas|
|Other grains||Leafy greens, peas, legumes|
Imagine: AMINO ACIDS are PUZZLE PIECES
You have a puzzle in your liver (where amino acids are stored) and you need 9 different game pieces to complete the puzzle (or in this case, to complete the protein). If you continue to consume the same pieces (aka: the same types of proteins), you can never complete the puzzle. So, you must eat a variety of amino acids to successfully complete the protein and win your prize (health!). Also! It’s a time sensitive game, so if you don’t complete it within a couple of days, you have to start over again (oh no!)
The next logical question you may be asking is: “How much do I need”
Calculate your RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance):
Average person: 0.86g of protein per 1kg of body weight (ideally using lean muscle tissue because adipose tissue does not have the same requirements for amino acids)
Endurance Athlete (Moderate Intensity): 1.1-1.5 per 1kg
Advanced Strength Training/Ultra Endurance: 1.5-2.0 per 1kg
My suggestion: Do the Math!
- Use the calculations above to determine your daily protein requirements
- Write down everything you eat for a few days
- Calculate how much protein you consumed per day
- Determine if you’re meeting your needs and adjust your intake accordingly
Need help or sounds like too much effort? I would be happy to assess your protein intake and help you to meet your dietary needs! Call me – Jessica – at the clinic or email jessicaRNCP@eatingalive.com for further details on my “Protein Package”.
This offer includes:
- 20 minute consultation
- Calculation of your daily protein requirements
- A dietary assessment to determine if you’re meeting your daily recommended intake and properly food combining
- A 3-day dietary adjustment
- Tips for increasing your protein intake
- Information handout on protein including a reference list of foods with their protein content
Your investment: $120
Next month I will be discussing the importance of sodium and potassium in your diet in Part 2 of 2: “Balancing” Your Vegetarian/Vegan Diet – Sodium/Potassium
Yours in health and happiness,