27 October 2006

Protein in a Vegetarian Diet

Protein is essential for growth and repair. Proteins play a vital role in nearly all biological processes in the body. Thus adequate protein-intake is vital for any healthy vegetarian diet.

Although a healthy vegetarian diet usually meets or exceeds protein requirements, typically it is lower in total intake of protein than meat-diets. Experts believe that this lower protein intake may well be beneficial as some studies show that high protein intake is associated with osteoporosis and poor kidney function.

Sources of Protein in a Vegetarian Diet

Ovo-lacto vegetarians obtain protein from: nuts (eg. almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazel nuts, peanuts, pine kernels), seeds (eg. flax, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower seeds), legumes/pulses (eg. peas, beans, lentils), grains/cereals (eg. wheat, pasta, barley, rye, oats, millet, maize, sweetcorn, rice), soy products (eg. tofu, tempeh, tvp, soya milks), dairy foods (eg. milk, cheese, yoghurt), and free range eggs.

Protein Uptake in Vegetarian Diet
Protein that contains all 8 essential amino acids is called "complete" protein. Protein that lacks one or more essential amino acids is called "incomplete" protein. Most plant foods contain "incomplete" protein, so vegetarians need to eat a variety of "incomplete" protein foods to reach the total of 8.

Previously, it was thought that vegetarians had to consume ALL 8 amino acids at the same meal - from a mixture of foods that together contained all 8 amino acids - in order to consume the necessary "complete" protein. We now know that as long as all 8 essential amino acids are in the diet, it does not matter if the proteins are eaten at the same time.

Protein in a Vegetarian Diet - Bottom Line

A well-balanced vegetarian diet will supply all the protein and essential amino acids needed by the body.