Where’s the protein?
This is one of the first question people ask when considering vegetarian or veganism. However, contrary to popular belief, these diets don’t have to involve complex recipes and food combinations to stay balanced. Vegans and vegetarians certainly need to make sure they’re following a healthy diet – but so does everyone, including omnivores!
Protein is an important macronutrient that maintains muscle, bone, hair and nail health, as well as supporting a strong immune system and energy production. Protein is made up of compounds called amino acids – these are often referred to as the ‘building blocks’ of life. Nine of these amino acids are called essential amino acids because we need them to survive and can’t manufacture them ourselves – which means we have to get them from our diet. Meat, eggs, dairy and fish contain all nine essential amino acids and are often referred to as complete protein. But what about plant foods?
Complete protein for vegetarians and vegans
A number of plant sources contain the essential amino acids, including soya bean and quinoa. Other protein sources from plants usually have all of the essential amino acids but their amounts are very low. For example, grains are lower in lysine (an essential amino acid) and legumes are lower in methionine (another essential amino acid). As long as vegans and vegetarians eat a variety of plant proteins throughout the course of a day, they will meet their protein needs.
How much protein does one person need?
The amount of protein each person needs depends on their weight and level of physical activity. It is generally recommended that the base level (for someone leading a sedentary life) is around 0.9g protein / kg of body weight. People who exercise regularly will need more, and this will vary depending on the type and level of training – anywhere from 1.2 – 2g protein / kg body weight.
Example: a 65kg person who exercises 3 – 4 times per week will need around 70-75g protein, spread out over 3 – 5 meals, each day.
This can change depending on other health factors, but the above example gives you an idea of intake for an ‘average’ person with no major health complaints.
How do you know how many grams of protein a meal contains? Here are some examples:
EXAMPLE FOOD SOURCES
AMOUNT OF PROTEIN
½ cup cottage cheese
½ cup natural yoghurt
½ cup tofu
½ cup cooked beans
½ cup cooked lentils
½ cup cooked quinoa