New Leaf Vegetarian

Protein

Protein

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The major nutritional concern of a vegetarian diet is getting enough protein. Dairy products, eggs, and fish supply adequate amounts of good-quality protein, but vegans must plan their diet carefully in order to get adequate protein. Some plant products, such as grains, nuts, and dried beans, contain proteins. With the important exception of soybeans and soy products such as tofu, most of these protein foods, when eaten alone, are not adequate for human nutrition.  Proteins are long chains of smaller compounds called amino acids. There are, in all, 20 amino acids that, when joined in various combinations, make up over 100,000 proteins in the human body. Eleven of these amino acids can be made in the body, so it is not necessary to include them in the diet. All remaining nine amino acids must be included in the diet in order for the body to make all the proteins it needs. These nine are called essential amino acids. 

Any food protein that contains all nine essential amino acids is called a complete protein.  Proteins found in meat, poultry, seafood, milk and milk products, and eggs are complete proteins. Some plant foods, especially dried legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds, contain incomplete proteins. This means that one or more of the essential amino acids is either missing or is not present in high enough concentration. Soybeans, quinoa, and amaranth are unusual among grains and legumes in that they contain complete proteins.  The key to getting enough protein in a plants-only diet is to eat, in the course of each day, a balance of these foods, so that amino acids missing from one of these foods is supplied by another one of them. Such proteins are called complementary proteins. For example, kidney beans are high in the amino acids isoleucine and lysine, but low in some of the others.  Millet is low in lysine but high in the amino acids that kidney beans are missing. So if both kidney beans and millet are eaten during the day, all the essential amino acids are included in the diet.

The following pairings of food categories are the most useful complementary proteins for planning vegetarian diets:

Dried legumes plus grains
Dried legumes plus seeds and nuts
Grains plus milk products

The first two of these pairings are important in vegan diets. The third pairing can be included in the diet of lacto-vegetarians.

Examining the cultures and cuisines of other lands, we see these complementary protein groupings have long been a part of the staple diet of peoples with limited supplies of meat.  Think, for example, of the beans and corn tortillas (dried legumes plus grains) of Mexico and the rice and dal (also grains plus dried legumes) of India. People who have long relied on these foods have found tasty and varied ways to prepare them. Studying traditional vegetarian
cuisines is a useful way to learn how to include these items in your own menus.
The first two of these pairings are important in vegan diets. The third pairing can be included in the diet of lacto-vegetarians.   Examining the cultures and cuisines of other lands, we see these complementary protein groupings have long been a part of the staple diet of peoples with limited supplies of meat.
Think, for example, of the beans and corn tortillas (dried legumes plus grains) of Mexico and the rice and dal (also grains plus dried legumes) of India. People who have long relied on these foods have found tasty and varied ways to prepare them. Studying traditional vegetarian cuisines is a useful way to learn how to include these items in your own menus.

– Source:  Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen

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