Getting Complete Vegetarian Protein Is Easy In Mother Nature's Kitchen

Many people think that a term like "vegetarian protein" is an oxymoron.

Very likely, one of the first questions you'll be asked when someone learns that you are vegetarian is;

    "Where do you get your protein?"

This question reflects a common misconception that it is necessary to eat meat in order to get the protein you need.

While it is true that complete proteins are available in most animal-based food products, it is relatively easy to satisfy our need for proteins by following a widely varied vegetarian diet, even without the consumption of any animal products.

Proteins are commonly called the building blocks of life. Actually proteins are comprised of differing combinations of some 20 different amino acids. When we consume proteins, our digestive process breaks down the proteins we eat into the various amino acids that they contain. These amino acids then enter the blood supply and are distributed throughout the body for our cells to utilize. So the amino acids are the real building blocks of life.

Amino acids have been grouped into two main types; essential and nonessential. Nonessential aminos acids can be produced by our bodies for our nutritional needs. However, the essential amino acids cannot be produced by our bodies and therefore must be provided from outside the body in the form of our dietary intake.

All foods (except oils) contain protein to some degree. Most animal-based foods are protein-rich and contain the highest concentrations of the essential amino acids.

Vegetarian proteins are usually lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids. However, by eating a wide variety of vegetarian foods from the different vegetarian food groups, the variety of our amino acid intake will tend to balance out any amino acid deficiency in any one food group.

For example, whole grains are a rich source of most of the essential amino acids with the exception of lysine. Beans, however, are a rich source of lysine. By combining vegetarian proteins from both of these food groups we derive the benefit of a full complement of all the essential amino acids we need.

We commonly combine foods in this manner already as in peanut better on toast, green peas and rice, pita bread with hummes (pureed chickpeas) or tortillas and beans.

Another common misconception is that vegetarian proteins must be combined together in the same meal in order to provide this complete complememt of amino acids. It is now known that our bodies maintain a pool of unused amino acids that can be accessed from day to day to complement any individual amino acid deficiency that may temporarily be present.

Therefore, we need not worry too much about food combinations on a meal by meal basis. It is quite enough to concentrate on consuming a nice variety of vegetarian proteins by adhering to a varied diet of fresh, unprocessed vegetarian foods.

Moreover, if we are ovo or lacto vegetarian, consuming eggs, cheeses, yogurt and other dairy products will also provide us with all of the essential amino acids. Minimally processed soy foods also provide all of the essential amino acids and can supplement other plant-based proteins included in the diet.

And don't forget your nuts and seeds which also contain many of the essential amino acids. Almonds, filberts, pecans, walnuts and macadamia nuts contain the highest concentrations of the essential amino acids but all fresh raw nuts and seeds are good sources of high quality plant proteins.

In the developed countries, protein deficiency is relatively rare. It is most prevalent in very poor, famine plagued areas of the world where it is particularly severe in weaning babies and small children subsisting on a mono-diet of starchy gruel. The medical term for this malady is "kwashiorkor". The antidote is simply to round out the diet with a wider variety of foods, thus increasing the variety of amino acids that are consumed.

In our modern society, this is not a problem. Only by severely restricting our dietary intake to a very small spectrum of foods, as in a totally raw or all fruit diet, do we run the risk of ever developing a problem like protein deficiency.

All of the available information we now have about human nutrition suggests that what is most important is not whether we are vegetarians or carnivores, but that we are omnivores...we'll eat just about anything!

Consuming a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as other foods to round out the diet provides us with the most optimal results. A multiplicity of current scientific studies all point to this and what we know about the diets of our ancient ancestors also bears this out.

Variety is the key, with an emphasis on foods that are fresh and unprocessed.

Just be sure to include a variety of different vegetarian protein foods in your diet, as outlined in Vegetarian Food Groups and enjoy your vegetarian lifestyle.

Then when someone asks you where you get your protein, just tell them;

    "I get it from Mother Nature's kitchen, just like you".

What about all-natural or organic "Health Foods"? Are they really healthy?

Return to Vegetarian Food Groups from Complete Vegetarian Protein