Monday, January 21, 2013

Protein Pack Your Diet

>Protein is essential for the growth, maintenance, and repair of our cells, for energy, fluid balance, immune function, and enzyme function. We need it to survive. So when people ask
the infamous question asked of all vegetarians and vegans: "where do you get your protein?" I love to answer because its what I consider to be a teachable moment. There are a host of foods that are packed with protein but its all about the combination and quantity eaten of these foods to ensure your diet is protein packed. 

First thing to know is that all protein is not the same. Animal and dairy protein are higher in protein per serving and easier to digest. While, plant proteins are lower in protein per serving and harder to digest. Thus, it is important for non-meat eaters to eat a variety of protein sources that are complete proteins.

A complete protein contains 8 of the essential amino acids our body needs. A serving of animal protein contains all 8 amino acids and is thus a complete protein within itself. However, plant, grain, nut, and bean proteins lack one or more of the essential amino acids and are thus incomplete proteins.


Complete proteins: All 8 essential amino acids, found in animal meat and dairy (some grains).

Incomplete proteins: Lack one or more of the essential amino acids, found in all other food groups outside of meat and dairy. 

 Don’t get discouraged my non-meat/dairy eating friends, there is another group called complimentary proteins which are incomplete proteins that can be combined with another incomplete protein to create a complete protein.

To ensure that your diet is protein packed the following complimentary proteins should ALWAYS stay on your plate, these include: 

Beans (legumes): Full of protein, calcium, fiber and iron. Beans (legumes) are a win-win option they are inexpensive and easy to prepare (slow-cooker style). When combined with a grain they provide the body with the essential amino acids it needs.

Nuts/Seeds: Go crazy with a few handfuls of almonds, pecans, walnuts these tasty nuts are packed with flavorful nutrients. They are great in trail mixes, salads, yogurt, oatmeal, as a paste on bread, or as is. In addition, seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax, and chia are also great in salads, smoothies, cereals, and as baking substitutes for dairy. 


Vegetables: Dark-hued veggies always rule in the nutrition factor. Colorful foods such as peas, chickpeas, broccoli, artichoke, spinach, kale, and potatoes contain both phytonutrients, fiber, and protein. When these vegetables are added to rice and bean dishes consider your body protein insured. 


 Grains: My go to is always "Oats for breakfast" and "Quinoa for lunch". There are may grains that offer a lot of bang for their buck. Many of these grains are ancient traditional staples for many around the world. They are now being recognized by America for their efficient source of protein. My first time tasting millet was in a village in Mali where it was being pounded by a woman into a paste that we dipped into an okra stew. It was delicious and filling. I had never tasted anything like it before. Grains such as oats, quinoa*, millet, amaranth, bulgur, and buckwheat are high in fiber and provide ample protein. These foods are great additions to bean and vegetable meals and tasty on their own as hot or cold cereal.

Remember although these items contain a good source of protein they are incomplete proteins and must be combined with one another to become a complete protein to give your body the nutrients it needs. Below are a few combinations you can try at home.

Beans + Rice + veggies
Beans + Corn or wheat tortilla + veggies
Lentils + Rice + veggies
Pea Soup + Bread or crackers
Peanut butter + Bread
Pasta + Beans (Pasta/Bean Salad) + veggies


* Some nutritionist argue that quinoa is a complete in itself.

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