Where do you get your protein?

I’m not at Nutritionist or a Dietitian. I’m just a mum who wants the best for my family. I’ve spent the last 6 months of this journey to a plant based lifestyle doing lots of research. As a plant based or vegan mum, you face extra scrutiny about the health and development of your children. This comes not only from friends, family and strangers; but from health professionals such as GP’s, Midwives and Plunket Nurses who don’t understand the lifestyle and who’s practice and values are often steeped in the food myths that protein must come from animal products and cow’s milk is good for your bones! I’m not saying that you shouldn’t listen to these professionals, but do your own research so you can make informed decisions.

If you’re going to make any significant changes to yours and your family’s diet and you have an existing medical condition, are pregnant, breastfeeding or have children; you should always consult with a health professional. I would definitely suggest seeing an Integrated Health Professional (fancy name for a GP who has also studied alternative medicine).

So after months of research here is what i now know about protein and the plant based lifestyle.

The daily protein requirement for an adult human is about 0.8 grams per 2.2 lbs of body weight. It can be higher in growing children and pregnant women.  If you’re eating a balanced diet, it’s unlikely you will be protein deficient. Unless of course that is your medical condition! Excess protein intake (over 200 g/day) may lead to kidney damage over time. Are you cringing about that huge piece of steak you had last night?

When some people say vegans/plant based eaters don’t get enough protein or ask “where do you get your protein?”  They are often speaking about the specific amino acids that vegans/plant based eaters may have a harder time getting. Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins which help carry out body functions. There are 9 amino acids that our body CANNOT create; meaning we need to get them from a food source.

Meat and dairy are considered “complete proteins” because they have all 9 of these amino acids.  However, eating a variety of foods will give us the 9 essential amino acids that we need. There are however vegan/plant based foods that are complete proteins. Foods such as quinoa, buckwheat, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and spirulina are just a few. It is a common misconception that vegans/plant based eaters don’t get enough protein and this is where it all stems from.

The foods listed below are considered complete proteins, meaning they contain all 9 of the essential amino acids:

-Nuts
-Soy foods, such as tofu, tempeh, miso, and soy milk
-Sprouted seeds — each type of sprout has differing proportions of nutrients, so it’s best to eat a variety of them
-Grains, especially amaranth and quinoa
-Beans and legumes
-Spirulina and chorella (blue-green algae), which are over 60 percent protein

These are the 9 Essential Amino Acids and the foods which contain them. We should eat a variety each day, even if your an omnivore.

Histidine: Apple, pomogranates, alfalfa, beets, carrots, celery, cucumber, dandelion, endive, garlic, radish, spinach, turnip greens.

Arginine: Alfalfa, beets, carrots, celery, cucumbers, green vegetables, leeks, lettuce, potatoes, radishes, parsnips, nutritional yeast.

Valine: Apples, almonds, pomegranates, beets, carrots, celery, dandelion greens, lettuce, okra, parsley, parsnips, squash, tomatoes, turnips, nutritional yeast.

Tryptophan: Alfalfa, brussel sprouts, carrots, celery, chives, dandelion greens, endive, fennel, snap beans, spinach, turnips, nutritional yeast.

Threnoine: Papayas, alfalfa sprouts, carrots, green leafy vegetables such as celery, collards, kale, and lettuce (especially iceberg), lima beans, laver (Nori – a sea vegetable and its wrapped around your sushi!).

Phenylalanine: Apples, pineapples, beets, carrots, parsley, spinach, tomatoes, nutritional yeast.

Methionine: Apples, pineapples, Brazil nuts, filberts, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chives, dock (sorrel), garlic, horseradish, kale, watercress.

Lysine: Apples, apricots, grapes, papayas, pears, alfalfa, beets, carrots, celery, cucumber, dandelion greens, parsley, spinach, turnip greens.

Leucine: Avocados, papayas, olives, coconut, sunflower seeds.

Isoleucine: Avocados, papayas, olives, coconut, sunflower seeds.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a health professional but I have done lots of research. If you look at my children, you will see that they are healthy, full of beans (pardon the pun) and thriving on the plant based diet. As for me, I’m feeling better than ever. We are still on this journey and we have days where we eat vegan junk food; such as chips and shop bought bread. We don’t beat ourselves up about it.

I really believe that it’s what we do everyday, not what we do sometimes which will make the biggest difference to our health.

Happy eating! xx

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