As I continue to embark on this vegan lifestyle I continue to encounter more and more things that I have never really thought about before. This excites me to fill my brain with knowledge about the things our bodies need and what they are all about.
In this post I would like to continue talking about protein. Last post I talked about how much protein we need and examples of how to get it through a plant based diet. In this post I would like to talk about, why we need protein, what a protein actual is and can we get "complete" protein from a plant based diet.
With all the hype around the whole protein things I thought it might be nice to know why we need it. Protein is essential for many bodily processes these include building and repairing tissue. But protein is also used to make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. It is also a very important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Plus, your hair and nails are mostly made up of protein.
So what is protein anyway? Proteins are made up of a long strip of a smaller components called amino acids. There are twenty different amino acids you need for good health. Of the twenty different amino acids only 12 are manufactured by the human body. The remaining 9 amino acids can not be made by the human body so it is "essential" for us to get them from our diet. That is how these 9 amino acids are also referred to as "essential amino acids".
When you hear the term complete protein being thrown around it is merely the fact that it also contains the essential amino acids. When we begin to label foods as being either complete or incomplete this begins to say that some protein are better for you than others.
All animal proteins are complete including red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy. But it also complete with saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones, antibiotics, and unsavory things like E. Coli. Unlike vegetarian protein, animal protein is high in saturated fat, are very acidic, and lack phytonutrients, water, antioxidants, enzymes and fiber. Vegans will be happy to know that complete proteins can also be obtained through certain plants such as soy, spirulina, hemp seeds, amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa. Other plant proteins are only slightly incomplete. But these foods can be combined to make complete proteins like pairing beans with rice or corn. Other combinations would include beans and seeds, beans and nuts and beans and grains. So when you eat hummus and pita bread, nut butter and whole grain bread, pasta with beans, veggie burger on bread, split pea soup with whole grain bread and tortillas with refried beans you are eating complete proteins.
The next time you eat nut butter on whole grain bread not only are you having a vegan meal you have also having a complete protein that you need for a healthy body. As long as you're eating a variety of plant based foods you are getting a complete proteins.
Also a recent study shows that beans and grains don't need to be eaten at the same meal, so if you eat beans for lunch and rice with dinner you've gotten yourself a complete protein.
You may even spread your food combinations over a two day period.
Next time you have concerns about getting "complete" protein rest assured that if your eating a well balanced diet with or without animal products you are on the right track.