All cells in the body contain protein. There are proteins in cartilage, ligaments, bones, hair, skin, and nails called structural proteins. There are pigment proteins such as melanin that determine the color of your eyes, hair and skin. There are clotting proteins that are needed to clot our blood. Certain hormones such as insulin is a protein that acts as a chemical messenger, which regulates body processes and responses. Enzymes are proteins. There are transport proteins such as hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to the tissues. And of course we all know that proteins make up the muscles, which enable us our muscles to move.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Think of amino acids like charms on a chain to make a Pandora bracelet. There are 20 different amino acids that can make up these bracelets. There are 9 amino acids that must be supplied by the diet. These are considered essential amino acids. The body can make the rest of the 11 amino acids. However, under certain conditions some nonessential amino acids can become essential.
Where should we get our essential amino acids? How can we be sure we are getting enough of the essential ones? If we are vegan, do we need to combine different plant sources together?
Nearly ALL foods contain some protein, but no natural food is 100% protein. That is right, even strawberries contain protein! Animal products contain high amounts of the 9 essential amino acids. Plants contain all the 9 essential amino acids, but may be lower in one.
Does this make plant protein inferior?? NO! because the plants do contain all essential amino acids, just some in lower amounts. Technically they ARE complete.
As long as your body is getting as much protein as it actually needs, it doesn’t matter what form the protein comes in. It is VERY easy to get enough each day. More is NOT better. And keep in mind that animal protein contains cholesterol and saturated fat.
Think about it. If you’re shopping for a car and one goes 200 miles an hour and the other goes 400, does it really matter which one you get, since the maximum speed limit is 80 mph? If you can get enough protein through plants then why get more through other sources? Not to mention too much protein has adverse effects.
Do we need to combine different plant protein sources each meal if we do not eat meat? No, most vegans and vegetarians eat a variety throughout the whole day. Check out this quote: “You may have heard that vegetable sources of protein are “incomplete” and become “complete” only when correctly combined. Research has discredited that notion so you don’t have to worry that you won’t get enough usable protein if you don’t put together some magical combination of foods at each meal.”
Andrew Weil, M.D
This begs the question: Why are we singling out protein????? Meat can be called an incomplete vitamin or mineral…..it deficient in many vitamins and minerals. And most certainly deficient in antioxidants and fiber. Plants at least have small amounts of all essential amino acids. So why don’t the authorities ever caution us that we need to combine various foods to get a complete vitamin, enough antioxidants or enough fiber?
How much protein do you need each day? If you are an average American all you need is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. If you are a 150 pound woman that equals to only 55 grams per day. Very easy to get from a vegan diet. If you are a serious endurance athlete or strength-training athlete you may need 1.2-1.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. It is never necessary to go over 2 grams of protein per kilograms of bodyweight.
Interested in increasing your muscle mass? More protein isn’t always the answer. Remember to increase total calories and not just protein to support larger muscle mass. Generally speaking, add about 200 calories more per day. It is best to get most of the extra calories from carbohydrates, as these lead to insulin being secreted and insulin is anabolic. We must also have enough carbohydrate stores to prevent the breakdown of protein for energy. And remember we must also strength train or forget it…it those extra calories and protein= fat!!
If you have questions about the sources of my information please do not hesitate to ask.
Colleen Poling, RD, LD- The Nutrition Translator