Often the subject of heated debate is the ability for vegetarians, and especially vegans, to receive their recommended daily dose of protein. Sceptics are often concerned about whether or not meat-free proteins are considered ‘complete proteins’, but what does this mean and is it possible?
Of course it is! The term ‘complete protein’ refers to the building blocks of protein called amino acids. These building blocks can be made up of any 20 different amino acids, nine of which the body is unable to produce on its own. Known as essential amino acids, these are necessary to consume because we can’t make them ourselves.
‘Complete proteins’ are therefore considered such due to their inclusion of all nine of these essential amino acids – in roughly equal measure.
Whilst meat and eggs are complete proteins, as opposed to nuts or beans, we don’t necessarily need to be concerned with consuming every essential acid in every bite of food. We do however need to focus on consuming a sufficient and recommended amount of each amino acid every day.
According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, the recommended daily intake for protein for a female aged 19-70 years is 0.75 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight. So, for a female weighing 65 kilograms, that’s a total of almost 50 grams of protein daily.
The easiest way to ensure you are consuming sufficient protein is to throw variety into the mix.
For vegetarians this means maintaining a diet that sees regular consumption of dairy, nuts, legumes and whole grains as well as fresh vegetables.
But whilst legumes are an excellent source of protein, consuming them as your main source of protein can have an adverse affect on the gut, due to their high fibre content. As well, as legumes are high on the FODMAPS scale, many find eating certain amounts places undue pressure on their digestive system.
Spirulina, chia, hemp seeds and quinoa are all excellent sources of essential amino acids. For example, one cup of cooked quinoa, with a side of roughly 30 grams of almonds will provide you with a protein boost equivalent to 75 grams of red meat.
Similarly, two poached eggs, depending on size, will provide around 11-14 grams of protein. Pair with a cup of delicious broccoli or other green leafs – like asian greens or kale and some hummus, will provide a protein dose equivalent to roughly 100 grams of red meat.
A truly balanced meal should always contain the right amount of macronutrients, healthy fats, complete proteins and quality carbohydrates, to maintain optimal health.