Persnickety Proteins


Hello everyone! I hope you are enjoying the new year as much as I am. To kick off my first article of the new year, I want to address one of the most commonly used criticisms of vegan and vegetarian diets. While I am neither vegan or vegetarian, I understand and appreciate these lifestyle choices from a nutritional and culinary aspect, and from my experience, the first thing most people will ask is, “How do you get enough protein?”. It is a common misconception that vegan and vegetarian diets are protein deficient, but anyone who has five minutes of their time to do a little research for themselves instead of relying on advice from media sources and popular opinion will discover that these misconceptions are misleading or outright untrue.

Proteins are an important macronutrient involved in maintaining an optimal nutritional state, but not all foods containing protein are equal in nutritional value. This macronutrient can be broken down into two different categories: complete proteins and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins, which are usually derived from animal sources, are those that contain all the essential amino acids needed for proper maintenance and growth in humans, while incomplete proteins, which mainly come from plant sources, contain nonessential amino acids that assist in bodily maintenance but not growth. Of the 22 known amino acids, 9 are of the essential variety and must be obtained from daily dietary intake. To supplement the lack of essential amino acids in the diet, many vegans and vegetarians use a pairing method when eating called protein complementation. This method of eating involves combining two foods with incomplete protein profiles in order to supply the missing essential amino acids in each to create a complete protein profile. Protein complementation has been used in various cultures throughout history to provide an adequate source of protein aside from meat when animal sources would be unavailable. Many cultures utilize a combination of a form of grains and legumes. For example, in Mexico, corn (often in the form of tortillas) and beans are commonly eaten together, and similarly soybeans and rice is a common, staple dish in Japanese cuisine.

Armed with the proper knowledge, anyone will be able to form a balanced and nutritionally sound diet for just about any lifestyle, whether vegan, vegetarian and even omnivore. I know this may seem a little cliché, but when it comes to health and nutrition, knowledge is power, so take the time to learn new things and use that information to improve your own life. Until next time everyone!

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