If you are a vegetarian or a vegan you should definitely be asking yourself this question. Vegetarianism can certainly be a healthy way of living in many cultures but make sure it does not make you a “grain-a-tarian” or “pasta-holic” which is not how cultural vegetarians live. The question here is “Where is your protein coming from?” or rather “Is there any protein in your diet?”
What is Protein?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients required by the body in large amounts. Your body needs a constant supply of protein throughout the day for optimal muscle growth. Protein is made up of small compounds called amino acids.Your body can make 11 of the amino acids which is so wonderful…but the remaining nine amino acids need to come from your diet hence the name “essential” amino acids.
Check out this video on “Why is protein important”
What happens if my diet is deficient in protein?
Most people are reverting to vegetarian diet these days either due to health awareness or cultural and religious reasons. Protein deficiency has become very common largely among vegetarians. I have always been a vegetarian since birth and personally have the belief that vegetarian diet may be the healthiest option out there. There have been countless studies linking commercially processed meats to cancer and heart disease.
Some of the major symptoms of protein deficiency…
Joint pain or stiff muscles
I have seen this a lot especially in our Asian culture because of the diet being strictly vegetarian.
Our bodies protein reserves are stored in and around our joints and muscles to help rebuild them after any kind of physical exercise . When there is a deficiency of protein in our body,these muscles get stiff especially during colder months of autumn/fall and winter. Joints start to ache and off you go to the doctor for medications.
Lack of energy
if you are experiencing fatigue, low energy, moodiness…these could be all signs of protein deficiency. This lack of energy would in turn affect your sleep patterns.
Remember, the food you eat is supposed to provide your body with vitamins,minerals and water along with the three main energy nutrients carbohydrates, fats and proteins. You might not be having a balanced meal if one of your macro-nutrient is missing from your diet.
Well, I eat lentils and soy products for protein...
Lets talk about “Soy” first. When the vegetarian movement started soy got its glorious name of “super health food” in the form of soy hot dogs,soy burgers,soy ice cream,soy milk etc. I remember being so excited seeing all these products in the market especially the soy nuggets ,soy cheese and of course not to forget tofu. My excitement about soy was dampened since the dark side of soy was revealed to me.
Today I would not recommend soy products to anyone as a primary food source for protein because soybean though being a natural food is one of the largely used product for modernization and genetic engineering. This process of genetic modification makes it high in natural toxins and thus an “anti-nutrient” having adverse reactions on one’s health like depressed thyroid function, intestinal damage, negative effect on kidneys,pancreas etc….
It might be safer to consume fermented soy products like Tempeh, Tamari, Miso. The fermentation process negates some of soy’s harmful effects.
Protein from lentils
Most lentils (dals) have anywhere from 6-12gms of protein per cup. I love all kinds of lentil soups especially in winter months. You can always add greens to your lentil soup and up the grams of protein and fiber per cup. But is that protein enough for your body? The answer is “NO”.
You need at least 1 gm for each kg of your body weight. So if you weigh 60kg (approx 133 lb) you will need 60gms of protein per day. This is the minimum protein for all those who do not include exercise as part of their daily routine. Protein intake goes up for athletes and people on weight-training.
You must have heard this from many wellness coaches including myself that the protein from legumes (lentils) is not “bioavailable” to the human body. It means that the nutrients are not readily absorbed and utilized by the body. That is because legumes have anti-nutrients like phytic acid and lectins. Click on How to cook lentils (which is a part of my earlier blog “benefits of eating lentils”)and learn the best way to get rid of these anti-nutrients. Sprouting is another way to neutralize phytic acid and other enzyme inhibitors thereby making it easily digestible for the human body.
Lets get to the protein in nuts and seeds…
Nuts and seeds are also excellent source of protein and a substitute for meat products. I love to soak almonds overnight in filtered water and then eat them in the morning. This process releases the natural enzymes and makes them easier to digest and assimilate.
Protein from dairy products
Dairy products are also an excellent source of protein and a substitute for meat products. Low-fat or skimmed milk have a higher percentage of sugar. Organic full-fat non-homogenized milk is a better option. Also full-fat plain yogurt,raw cheeses, kefir etc are great sources of protein.
Being a vegetarian myself I was eating all of the above foods and was getting a diet rich in antioxidants,vitamins and minerals and the healthy fats but still was not reaching my recommended daily intake of protein.
I finally started on the Whey Protein pictured below and that is what I would recommend all my vegetarian friends as well. I have researched a lot of them and found the one with the best ingredients. It is available through amazon and this Whey protein is complete with protein contents and amino acids.
Please comment in the comment box if you want me to review any of the protein powders that you are currently using or plan to use. Will give you my honest feedback on how safe the ingredients are for you…
The OZIVA brand of Whey protein powder in the India market is one that I would recommend .It has special Ayurvedic blend of herbs customized for men and women.
Last but not the least increase your protein intake gradually and don’t forget to hydrate yourself. Hydrate,hydrate and hydrate…takes the stress off your kidneys.
People with health conditions please consult your physician before making any changes.